Jim Harrer

STARTUPS, TURNAROUNDS, APPDEV, AGILE & LIFE...

7 Weeks with the Apple Watch–A product guy’s perspective.

FullSizeRenderI received my space gray (black) Apple sport’s watch on June 11, 2015.  People ask about it all the time, so I thought I would share my “first impression” with you.  If you're on the fence, this review may answer the question, "buy now or wait until v2?"

A couple disclosures to help balance the review.  I am a watch guy.  I’ve worn a watch since my parents purchased my first Timex for my 13th birthday (long ago).  I have a lot of watches, high-end and low-end, I don’t like to wear the same watch all the time.  I had an early calculator watch, I participated in Pebble’s initial Kickstarter.  I have a specialty watch for when I scuba dived, did Triathlons, biked and monitored my heart rate (both Polar and Mio) during workouts. I used a BodyBugg 5 years ago to measure my activity and food intake. Today, I wear a Fitbit charge, I wear a MOOV when I swim and kickbox. So, I like wearables.

I thought what might give this review a little different slat is to write about this product from a Product Manager’s perspective, looking at this product simply as a v1.0 product launch.  For those of you who have been following my blog, you also know that I can’t resist adding my predictions on the future product roadmap and offer up a couple suggestions on what would make the product perfect.  I hope you enjoy it, as always, I enjoy your comments and emails, so drop me a note with your feedback.

A Strong Product Introduction

It’s actually mind bogging to think about the challenge Apple faced with this product introduction.  I’m a software guy, which means I have a great deal of respect for hardware designers.  Prototyping, alpha & beta physical product testing, iterating, tooling, supply chain management are all challenges we software guys get to avoid.  In the early days we did worry about how many disks or CDs we needed, which is why we figured out how to allow people to download our software and install it; we needed to simplify distribution.  Hardware designers don’t get this option. Consider this, most of the analyst have Apple selling 30 million watches in the first 12 months, though I suspect this number was a huge miss – more on that in a moment.  Anyone what to guess how many units they ordered for the launch?  2, 3, 5 million?  Then juggle 38 different models, it’s a crazy number for a version 1.0 product.  New merchandizing challenges, cases, displays and training for their gurus.  Add a new operating system (OS), new activation, and new integration with the iPhone – it was an amazing orchestration. Today, Apple Watches are available in their retail locations for immediate purchase, around the globe and soon will be in Best Buy. 

The Apple Watch as jewelry

FullSizeRender 1The watch is nice, I wouldn’t call it beautiful like some of the reviews.  The reason is, 99% of the time, the watch display is off.  Unlike a Rolex, Omega and similar priced Citizen watch, the Apple watch will not get you any compliments, because it’s turned off.  Unlike other smart watches, like the Pebble, Apple decided it couldn’t risk the batter life to have the watch always telling time.  I get the reason, however this choice places it more in the fitness tracking category for me, not a watch.  A watch should always tell you, and anyone else around you glancing at it, the current time. Once the watch face is always on, the Apple watch case, band and watch face will take on the style of it’s owner.  Not before. 

I would have appreciated a low power time display, with just the time and date instead of it just turning off. I would have appreciated giving me the option to have the clock face always on.  What if I only wanted to wear the watch at work?  Even if it means it only runs for 12 hours before a charge, I would have liked that option.  I typically have the watch on for 12-15 hours a day.  The days I use the Activity app to track a workout for an hour, it has about 40% power remaining.  The days I take it off to swim, I have 65%+.  I really would have appreciated the option to leave the watch face on, or set it to stay on for a defined period of time.

The Apple Watch UX/UI

The Digital Crown is a very smart design with the ability to press it and turn it.  Likewise, the Digital Touch (some call it force touch) has opened up a whole new way to interact with the device.  For example, when my workout is completed, I just press down on the watch face to end my workout.  I see Digital Touch coming to the iPhone and iPad because it often removes a scroll, swipe and press on the UI. The side button on the watch brings up your friend list.  I still prefer to call and text from my iPhone, so this button gets very little use.  I would have appreciated having the ability to customize it, for example, press it for my heart rate or to view my calendar.  Finally, the watch is pretty slow at loading apps and data, likely because it’s getting the data from my iPhone via Bluetooth, the Apple Weather app is a great example of this.  It is slow to load and the display turns off while you’re readying it.

The Apple Watch as a Fitness Tracker

I do think the main reason I wear this watch from the time I get out of the shower until I go to bed is because I want to be able to track my activity, exercise, stands, etc… Feedback works for me, it did when I wore my first polar heart rate monitor and it still works today.  Information is a powerful tool.  Just think if all those devices I’ve worn through the years recorded the data and placed it in cloud storage.  Knowing what my heart rate did on a 3 mile run 40 years ago and how fast I recovered would be great to know?  How has my resting heart rate changed over my life?  I’m sure many of you wonder the same thing, so I appreciate the power of a fitness tracker.  The original BodyBugg (worn by biggest loser contestants) was a terrific fitness tracker in its day because it measured  your daily calorie burn, which you could then compare to your food plan.  The interesting thing about this device is, it was pretty dang accurate to the results on the scale.  For each 3,100 deficit between calorie intake and calorie burn usually showed-up on the scale as a pound loss.  I talk about this because Apple doesn’t take this approach, which I think is a huge mistake. I wish the Apple Watch measured our total metabolism (Resting and Active) and displayed my total calorie burn through the day based on the sensors in the watch.

I do like being able to view my heart rate when I’m running or lifting weights.  However, I don’t often trust it.  On many occasions I’ll look at my watch the first two minutes in the run and it says my heart rate is 174.  At my age, that would put me in the red zone, above the anaerobic zone.  I don’t think the watch has any idea what it’s telling me, it’s sampling isn’t intelligent.  In fairness to Apple, I’ve seen the same behavior with my Mio watch.  When I really want to see what my heart is doing, I wear my Polar H7 chest strap and send the data to my iPhone. I know what you're thinking, yes, these technologies will get better and trustable. It's just not there for me, yet.

The Apple Watch does a nice job of reminding you to get up and walk around every hour.  I actually appreciate these reminders most of the time, however just like all distractions, sometimes the distraction will hurt my productivity.  I wish I could just tell Siri to turn off my stand-up notifications for the next few hours. 

When it comes to counting steps, my Apple Watch and Fitbit seldom agree during the day. They’re pretty close during exercise, but casual walking around the office, I think the Fitbit is much more generous than the Apple Watch.  It is a pain to check the steps on the Apple Watch, it’s a tap, swipe, tap and swipe.  Siri has no idea how to respond to, “Show me my step count?” which is just silly.

My Favorite App

My favorite application on the watch is actually the Watch Face and how easy it is to customize, something Apple oddly (to me) calls Complications.  The UX/UI is very, very well thought out.  Once you pick the Watch Face you want, you can customize what you want on it.  Day/Date, Appointments, Sun rise/sets, battery, activity, etc.  This is where Apple really got it right, everyone is different, with the customizations available, it could be rare to find someone with the exact same face.  Which is why it’s a shame it’s not always on, for you and others near you, to admire. 

I like the Workout App, especially with the option to have it show your Heart Rate.  I like the fact you can tell this app to be sticky when it’s running, so each time you lift your wrist you see your current heart rate and not the time.

Message and Notifications are nice to get on the watch.  I’ve turned a lot of them off so only the important messages make it through.  It’s nice to see who is calling or texting without reaching for your phone.  I no longer look at my phone as much, which is a lifestyle improvement.

I’ve answered the phone a few times on my watch when my phone is in the other room.  It’s nice not having to run to get it, however keep in mind these are not private conversations, but all you need to do is get to your phone and it takes control from the watch, turning off the speaker and mic.  It’s surprising how many times I’ve answered my phone from the watch, illustrating how I no longer keep the iPhone close to me at home.

The weather app is useful, however since it gets its data from your iPhone, it can be slow to load.

I’ve used just about all of my other apps, and I must admit, I can take them or leave them.  Yes, you can control Apple TV and Pandora from your watch.  You can scroll through your stocks, pay with things via Apple Pay.  None of these apps are must have, IMHO. 

How is the Apple Watch selling?

In May 2015, Morgan Stanley's analyst Katy Huberty raised Apple Watch sales estimates 20 percent from 30 million units to 36 million units for the device's first 12 months of availability. Trip Chowdhry, Managing Director of Global Equities Research estimate is at 20-25 million. Apple hasn't published numbers, so it's a guess at this time. I know I have no clue, I can tell you I've only seen one other person with one.  Intelligence data firm, Slice, believes the numbers could be much lower than this, though they believe 4.2 million watches have been delivered through June 30th.

Recap

Likes

  • Great platform for new innovation.
  • Well thought out UX/UI.
  • Great Watch Faces and customization features.
  • Comfortable band, nice size.
  • Ability to answer the phone from the watch.
  • The watchOS development platform will draw the attention of the best and brightest.

Suggestions

  • Allow users to configure how long the watch face will remain on. 
  • Make the side button configurable, to launch whatever you want, like activity, calendar, timer or weather.
  • Better Siri support, like asking what my current step count is.
  • Improved activity tracking, including resting and active metabolism tracking and management.
  • Give developers time to create those must have, personal applications.
  • More sensors: skin temp, blood oxygen levels, blood pressure, etc... 

Conclusion, for now anyway…

When the iPhone first came out 8 years ago (June 29, 2007), many of us purchased it simply because it was a phone, iPod and Internet browser.  We could stop taking our iPod everywhere and use Google on our phone. Today, there are 1.4 million apps available for your iPhone.  Uber would not be possible without smartphones.  I would still need a paper ticket to board my favorite airline, Alaska Airlines.  Time in traffic jams would still be unknown without Waze, the best traffic app on this planet. My point is, back in 2007 we didn’t really fully grasp the awesomeness of what app developers and product managers had planned for us.  Considering it takes about 10,000 hours to get really good at something, we're starting to see great phone apps.  The tools are better, testing is better and education is better. App development is finally catching up to the hardware and amazing new, useful, must-have products are appearing, like Uber and Waze.

Apple went all in and is looking at this sector long term.  I believe the same will be true for product managers and developers for the Apple Watch.  With this traction, it won’t take 8 years for these new Apple Watch apps to appear. They'll come sooner, but in 8 years, holy cow!  Remember, this is Apple’s v1.0, their first public beta.  “Build, Measure, Learn” – these are the words Product Managers live buy, trust me when I say, Apple is measuring and learning, as well as a couple million other people.

Buy now or wait?

I don’t really have a reason I must wear my Apple Watch today.  I do it more so I can experience wearable technology and to think about its possibilities. I was recently at a restaurant that delivered their wine list on a iPad 2, I could read about the wines, food pairing and and see how many stars other guests rated it. It was integrated with their Point-Of-Sale system so I could see the most popular wines purchased with a specific meal. When I made my choice, I ordered right from the iPad and the waiter showed up with the bottle a few minutes later.  Great vertical.  What verticals will be developed for Apple’s Watch?  Police?  Teachers?  Store Personnel? I predict, thousands.

I get it, the Apple watch is expensive for these individual use cases. I asked the restaurant owner how he could afford to have a wine list on an iPad 2 and he told me he got them for $125 each and his point-of-sale system has the app for free. Prices are falling on older closeouts. By the way, the restaurant owner also told me his wine sales increased 28% when he switched to iPads. 

Should you buy an Apple Watch?  If you like to play with gadgets and like being called an early adopter, yes. I don’t think you’ll regret it.  If you don’t wear watches today, I would really hold off until that must have app is developed.  There is no hurry, Apple is already working on the next watch and we can only dream about what the future holds, while developers and product managers come up with the killer application. It won't be long before we laugh and remind people the first Apple watch didn't stay on all the time.

The Apple Watch is an incredibly personal device, it will also develop some very personal applications. Sending your heart beat to your spouse is a great example of something unique and personal.  The field of biometrics, biofeedback and skin chemistry are getting a huge shot of adrenaline right now.  I suspect as the Apple Watch matures it will be able to monitor continuous heart rate, blood pressure, skin temperature,  blood oxygen saturation levels and total calories burned, among other things I have no clue about.  When the Apple Watch can warn diabetics when their blood sugar is in dangerous territory, or inform someone suffering from incontinent when their bladder is full, then this truly personal device will “connect” with its owner.  It’s going to happen and I think it’s going to happen in the next 5-10 years.

Will I continue to only wear the Apple Watch?  Probably not.  I miss my other watches and will probably start changing it up, unless that killer app appears.

…Jim

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