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Should You Build an Apple Watch App?

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Posted May 5, 2015 By EnterpriseAppsToday.com Staff     Feedback

Considering building an Apple Watch app? Ask yourself four questions first.

By Glenn Gruber, Propelics

The allure of Shiny Object Syndrome (SOS) is strong. And whether it be "a-loo-min-ium" or gold, the Apple Watch is very shiny.

With Apple Watch now available in stores, I for one am intrigued and plan to buy one. (If my wife is reading this, it’s a great Father’s Day gift!)

Now that it has been introduced, we have a sense what it can do and we know which apps are available. And companies (99.9995 percent of all companies) who haven’t built an Apple Watch app yet are wondering if they should begin shifting resources to get one developed.

While at the EyeforTravel Mobile conference, judging the Mobile Innovation awards, I discussed this with key suppliers in the travel sector. Many of them wanted to know whether they should shift resources to develop an Apple Watch app.

Just a few days ago, Tim Cook mentioned there were already 3,500 Watch apps available during the recent Apple earnings call. That seems a strong number for the first week of product availability.

Outside of fitness apps, the travel sector announced the most Watch apps at the launch event and on the Apple website. This includes American Airlines, SPG, TripAdvisor, Expedia, Uber, OpenTable, CityMapper, Air Canada and Hailo. (It looks like Quantas plans on it too.)

I’m guessing there may be a keep-up-with-the-Jones’ element that comes into play. Stop thinking like that. It’ll only get you into trouble.

The question of whether to build an Apple Watch app has multiple layers. First, consider building a Watch app only if you can answer these four questions in the positive:

Do you have a good use case? Never build anything without a strong use case or you’re just wasting time and money -- two things never in abundance. Be sure you’ve thought through the entire user scenario: identifying need and also determining if it’s plausible to fulfill that need, given Apple Watch’s limited screen real estate and interaction. American offers good use cases (boarding alerts) as does Starwood (keyless entry). Does TripAdvisor? Do you?

Will there be enough users to justify an ROI when you ask for budget? Let's put some numbers in perspective. Pebble has sold 1 million units in its entire existence. According to a report in Recode, all of Android Wear sold just over 700,000 units in 2014. Let’s assume Apple Watch is wildly successful and sells an order of magnitude more in the first year alone. That would put Apple Watch sales at 7 million units. Analyst firm Strategy Analytics estimates about twice that number (15.4 million) for 2105, a plausible number since we know that Apple sold out of the initial allocation on the first day of pre-orders (reportedly about 1 million units).

Now let’s compare that to the fact that Apple sold 74 million iPhone 6 and 6 Plus in the 4th quarter of 2014 and will probably sell over 250 million for the year.  Not to mention the installed base of iPhones that takes the number of iPhones well above 500 million. In comparison, Apple Watch is almost a rounding error. When you think of your core user and the role you expect Apple Watch to play in your business, ask yourself: Do these numbers justify the investment today?

What’s the current state of your smartphone app? Before you adopt a new platform, be confident you have your house in order. Is your smartphone or tablet app where it needs to be? Air Canada has already launched support for Apple Watch in its latest update, but their app is terrible. (I could go on about it…they can’t even get the home screen right.) I strongly recommend investing resources in your existing app experience before moving on.

Did you build your app in Objective C? It’s not a pre-requisite to have a true native app built with xCode and Objective C to build for Apple Watch, but it helps. Some mobile application development platforms like Appcelerator and Xamarin provide some level of support for WatchKit but others don’t. For example, it’s not possible to run apps built in Apache Cordova or PhoneGap directly on Watch as it lacks support for a WebView. You need to build native WatchKit extensions and apps.

So if you are using a cross-platform development environment like Cordova, does your development team have the skills needed to build native WatchKit extensions and apps? If not, you may have a problem.

Glenn Gruber is a senior mobile strategist at Propelics. He leads enterprise mobile strategy engagements to help companies determine the best way to integrate mobile into their business -- both from a consumer-facing perspective and also to empower employees to be more productive and improve service delivery through the intelligent use of mobile devices and contextual intelligence. He has helped a wide range of enterprises leverage mobile, including Bank of Montreal, Dubai Airports, Carnival Cruise Line and Merck. He is a contributing Node to Tnooz, where he writes about how mobile and other emerging technologies are impacting the travel sector.

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