There was a lot unveiled during the Apple WWDC keynote last week and, as to be expected, some of the hotter and bigger products stole the limelight and relegated others to be simply an extra in the over two-hour-long production. watchOS 4 might not have seemed significant, especially to those who have been so eagerly calling Apple Watch a failure, but I saw it as one of the best examples of how Apple sees the future.
The wearable market remains a challenging market for most vendors. According to IDC, sales in the first quarter of 2017 saw Apple and Xiaomi sharing the number one position with volumes of 3.6 million units. While volumes are the same, it is when you look at average selling price (ASP) for these two brands that the real issue with the wearable markets surfaces. Apple controls the high-end of the market and Xiaomi the lower end. In between, Fitbit is losing ground and failing to move ASP up.
Delivering a clear value continues to be key in convincing consumers that wearables have a role to play and for now that value for mainstream consumers remain health and fitness.
There is More Value in a Coach than a Tracker
Since Apple Watch 2, Apple has been focusing on fitness and the release of watchOS 4 builds on it by adding to the Workout app support for the highly popular High-Intensity Interval Training, an autoset for pool swim workouts and the ability to switch and combine multiple workout types.
Apple is also attempting to turn Apple Watch into more of an active coach than a simple tracker. This might seem like a subtle differentiation, but if implemented right it could actually drive engagement and loyalty. Tracking, while clearly useful, has more a passive role and one that some users might think could be taken on by other devices. Turning Apple Watch more into a coach through daily inspiration, evening push and monthly challenges deepens the relationship a user has with the device. Delivering suggestions on how to close the circles, praising the goals achieved thus far and pushing to achieve more can make users feel that Apple Watch is more an active driver of their success which in turns increases the value they see in it.
The new GymKit which allows gym equipment to sync with Apple Watch might take a while to materialize given the required updated hardware roll out by key brands such as LifeFitness, TechnoGym StairMaster, etc. but it makes sure Apple is not losing sight of critical data. Today, some users might just rely on the gym equipment rather than their Apple Watch due to the duplication of functionalities which leaves Apple Watch missing out on valuable data to which Apple and other apps could otherwise have access to. GymKit puts Apple Watch right at the center of our fitness regime. Apple Watch talking to gym equipment via NFC also makes me believe that more devices will come in the future. Think about having your gym membership card or your hotel room card on your watch rather than having to carry a physical card.
Reinforcing the Strong Pairing of Apple Watch + AirPods
I talked about the magic that Apple Watch + AirPods can deliver to users before and I remain a believer. In a similar way to HomePod, music on the Apple Watch is the easiest way to appreciate Siri as well as the combo with AirPods. With watchOS 4, Apple is making it simpler to get to the music you want for your workout thanks to a new multi-playlist support and automatic import.
Apple also introduced the new Siri face that makes Apple Watch much more context-aware by delivering information that is relevant to you at a specific moment in time. While Apple did not talk about it, one could see how that Siri Watch face could integrate very well with voice when you are wearing AirPods. Siri could, for instance, tell you that you need to leave for your meeting while showing you the calendar appointment on Apple Watch.
So, as Apple Watch becomes more like a coach, Siri becomes more a visible but discreet assistant that is being liberated from the iPhone. I think this is a very powerful paradigm and before nay-sayers jump to point out that Apple Watch penetration is limited, I underline that Apple Watch users are highly engaged in the Apple ecosystem and represent Siri’s best opportunity. Similar to CarPlay, Apple Watch also has a captivated audience not just for Siri’s brains but also for voice-first. With Apple Watch, voice interaction is the most natural form of interaction, especially when wearing AirPods. So much so that, with watchOS 4, SiriKit adds support for apps that are used to take notes, so that now you can use Siri on Apple Watch to make changes in any note-taking app.
Smarter Watch, Smarter Apps
Some Apple Watch critics have used the news that circulated last month that Google, Amazon, and eBay were killing support of their Apple Watch apps as evidence that Apple Watch failed. The reality is, however, as I explained numerous times, that Apple Watch cannot be seen as an iPhone on your wrist and therefore its success will not be driven nor defined by the same enablers.
Don’t get me wrong, there is certainly a place for apps to play, but context is going to be much more important than it has been so far on the iPhone or the iPad. This is why I believe Apple’s latest watchOS will help in making apps not just faster and smoother to run but much more relevant for users.
First, there will be a single process that runs the app’s UI elements and code. This helps with speed and responsiveness and means developers do not need to change their code. Access to Core Bluetooth will allow apps to bypass the iPhone and connect directly to Apple Watch so that data is transmitted faster between Apple Watch and an accessory for instance. Apple also increased the number of app categories that can run in background mode like for example, navigation apps.
While it will be up to developers to think differently when it comes to delivering apps for Apple Watch, I believe Apple has given them a much easier tool set to succeed.
Apple Watch and its Role in Ambient Computing
HomePod was the sexy hot product that everybody paid attention to and ambient computing is the buzzword of choice at the moment. Both extremely relevant in how one should think about home computing and even office computing, to be honest. It is easy for me to see the role that Apple Watch can play in helping me navigate my ambient computing network in a personal and highly relevant way. It is early days, but Apple has laid the foundation!