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Two months on, our Wearable Mavens debate if Apple Watch has a killer app?

Or does lack of battery life trump all
Two months on, our Wearable Mavens debate if Apple Watch has a killer app?

It's been two months since the Apple Watch (and nine months since perhaps its most comparable Android Wear competitor Moto 360) launched.

In their own ways and for their own reasons, neither device has had as strong an impact as wearable enthusiasts would have hoped.

And more generally, there doesn't yet appear to be any overriding reason for mass market adoption.

So we asked our Wearable Maven group:

Do you think Apple and Google can find a killer app/experience for their devices?

Or will it become clear that there won't be any widespread uptake of wearables beyond the early adopters, until battery life for these devices - itself the primary killer exp - is measured in days not hours?

Christopher Kassulke

Christopher Kassulke

CEO at HandyGames

I use the Sony Smartband privately as it provides a great battery life. Yes, battery life time is one of the key issues that has to been solved very soon to get to a mass market.

Apple and Google need to provide also a good app ecosystem for smartwatches cause currently it's not perfect to find what you need on both portals. So we are back on the old topic of discovery in an app store.

Sony Smartband takes a different approach to smartwatches
Sony Smartband takes a different approach to smartwatches

So the two big topics that has to been taken care of are:

  • Battery life
  • Real app stores for wearables

I personally use several great features of my wearable that I didn’t used before so so I see an advantage for the wearables. So my experience are great with the devices.

Liam Patton

Liam Patton

CEO at Big Imagination Games

Killer Apps? Yes, there will be. We firmly believe smartwatches are a great complement for phones, specially in three areas:

  • Notifications: definitely will become massive, as for now Whatsapp notifications on the watch are great for not having to grab the phone to read. So many type of apps in the notification space will be a "killer experience" for the watches - reminders, calendars, flights, weather...
  • Games: quick and casual time-killers also fit perfectly on the watches, although we think that battery life for gaming can become an issue.
  • Apple Pay: another great complement to use the watch. This can become a killer app.

Our conclusion so far: watch apps are a great complement for the phones and our view is this definitely will become a substitute to phone usage.

In terms of battery life, I also agree that they need to improve this to reach mass market (and waterproofing), and we expect that in few iterations this will certainly improve. Remember the early days of smartphones when we all said: OMG, the battery lasts only 1 day! We are used to charging at night, aren't we?

So, to become massive, smartwatches need:

  • Retail price below €200, and
  • A SIM card for the Apple Watch, and
  • Ability to function unattached to an iPhone

Paul Virapen

Paul Virapen

CEO at WearGa

I don't think the battery life is as big an issue as some people are making it out to be. I haven't had my Apple Watch battery run out yet, and I'm used to taking it off at night and putting it on the magnetic charger.

I just wish my phone had a wireless charger now as well (iPhone 6S maybe?).

So far the convenience of notifications is probably the biggest strength of the devices.

Is Passbook a killer app to drive mass market adoption?
Is Passbook a killer app to drive mass market adoption?

I've also had a great experience with Passbook on Apple Watch (soon to be renamed Wallet). I recently used it for a train ticket to the airport, then my boarding pass going through security and finally getting onto the plane and checking my seat. All without having to repeatedly take my phone out or carry several paper tickets with me.

And once Apple Pay comes to the UK, I can see it being used a lot more frequently to pay for things without taking out an actual wallet and credit card.

So there might not be a "killer app" just yet, but it's got some pretty great features and this is only version one.

William D. Volk

William D. Volk

Chief Futurist at Forward Reality

As a fitness device the Apple Watch excels.

“The Apple Watch Companion App only shows about a dozen games, as an example, even though there are over 1,000 available.”
William D. Volk

I always hated chest strap heart rate monitors and the Apple Watch does this function magnificently. When the fitness apps (Strava comes to mind, as my thing is cycling) get fully integrated (with the new native interfaces), it will be even better.

I agree with Christopher that the App Store situation for the device is a real problem.

The Apple Watch Companion App only shows about a dozen games, as an example, even though there are over 1,000 available. It disappointed us, as we had scrambled to get BlackJack Anywhere released for the launch of the Watch only to find it nearly impossible for users to browse for it.

I agree that simple "quick play" games will make sense as well. Even elaborate games can use the watch as a notification device that allows the player to make quick decisions about a game in progress.

The battery life is NOT an issue so far, and that includes hours of tracking cycling with the fitness apps, during a day. I typically end the day with 40% of the power remaining.

Oscar Clark

Oscar Clark

Chief Strategy Officer at Fundamentally Games

Notifications is the killer app... especially for me, Google Now.

There are lots of apps I love showing off although mostly my demos fail for some reason or other!

Then comes Runkeeper. At the moment I'm trying to run everyday for 30 days so I use it to see how long I have left in a desperate act to ignore the pain ;0)

But at the same time being able to control my music (or more commonly my audio book) from my wrist is brilliant.

Oscar loves nothing more than putting on blue nail varnish and playing <em>2048</em> on his Android Wear device
Oscar loves nothing more than putting on blue nail varnish and playing 2048 on his Android Wear device

Then there is Google maps which means I can (mostly) find my way without having to get my phone out. It breaks down a bit in highly urban areas but is mostly fab.

Shazam feels much better via the watch too and there are silly things like a Magic 8 ball and dice rolling app that I use occasionally.

Games-wise I've yet to find a killer app. Although I enjoy the version of 2048 from ScaryHouse and HandyGames' Guns & Glory, but I've not got into a habit of using the watch for play yet.

And battery power is usually no problem... Though if you have a broken adaptor like I had to replace it can be highly annoying.

Adrian Hon

Adrian Hon

CEO at Six to Start

Unless you think battery life is a problem on phones, it's not a problem on watches at all.

We charge our phones every day, we'll get used to charging our watches every day as well (or at least, I have).

People like to knock Apple for various legit and non-legit reasons and I think if there was even the slightest hint of a battery issue, we'd be getting batterygate, just as we got bendgate and antennagate.

Bard Hole Standal

Bard Hole Standal

Designer and Illustrator

I think the killer app might actually be out there already, except no one's capable of finding it through app discovery. This is the main app problem for the Apple Watch right now - discoverability is near impossible for anyone with a Watch app that isn't featured.

“Discoverability is near impossible for anyone with a Watch app that isn't featured.”
Bard Hole Standal

Our Much Memo game has performed quite badly so far and is literally impossible to hunt down through the Watch Store.

Given how poorly third party apps are performing on the Apple Watch, I think the downplay of the
Watch store is actually intentional by Apple. Once watchOS 2 is released though, I think this will change dramatically. We will see Apple pushing third party apps hard, and they will optimize the Watch store significantly.

Battery life is a problem people are willing to deal with in this first generation, simply because it's so new and exciting.

For the next gen of wearables however, battery life will be a serious focus for both Apple and Android.

Aki Jarvilehto

Aki Jarvilehto

CEO at Metacore

I think as game developers all of us will agree that the killer app will be games. I'm sure there will be other killer apps as well, but on any successful software platform games have always been in a key role.

As consumers we love to be entertained, we love to participate and experience new platforms though games.

“Our most active players are clocking more than 100 sessions per day.”
Aki Jarvilehto

People did not expect games to be an important driver when iPhone shipped. And then Angry Birds defined what fun meant on mobile phone. Originally iPad was meant to do a lot of different things from web browsing to watching movies, but it was games which stole the show. And exactly same dynamics will happen with smartwatches.

That's why we're so excited about Apple Watch and this market right now when it is still early.

At Everywear Games we see this as our chance to define what's a fun and memorable gaming experience in the context of smartwatches. This is our chance stand out of the crowd and deliver brand new kind of gaming experiences on a global scale - experiences like Runeblade, our debut launch title for Apple Watch.

And what we are seeing out there is very impressive. The feedback on the launch of Runeblade has been phenomenal and I don't mean that just in the sense of PR coverage.

What's most striking is the feedback from players. They send us email telling that this is the most fun smartwatch game they've played. They have put up forums for the game. But the breath taking part is the level of engagement we're seeing out there.


Our most active players are clocking more than 100 sessions per day. Let that sink in and do the math on how many times that is for each waking hour. I don't think that would be possible on any other gaming device out there?

This is a level of engagement which is completely unprecedented in the games industry! And you can only achieve it with Apple Watch or a similar smartwatch because they are the most accessible and convenient gaming platform ever created.

Now it's up to us as developers to figure out where to go from here, but from our perspective this is a beginning of an exciting journey...

Sarah and Mark

Sarah and Mark

Co-founders at Wearlynx

The current killer app for wearables is smart notifications.

And as Google Now, Siri, and the like get more contextual awareness of our lives, our wearables will bring us more and more useful "smart notifications" from "Time to leave for the airport" or "Near a store where you can get milk" to "Jim's waiting for your answer" or "Did you mean to leave the oven on at home?".

“The killer experience for wearables is around the ability to provide ambient information - information that is always there, contextually sensitive in real time, and doesn't require an explicit interaction.”
Sarah W. Stocker and Mark Danks

Getting that note instantly and proactively on your wearable without having to find and dig out your phone makes it much more integrated experience.

As smart notifications improve, we'll be able to customize how integrated with, connected to, or shielded from our digital lives we'd like to be at any given time, and better engage with the real world and the people around us. That's the killer experience.

But the other "killer apps" that will define the wearable experience are yet to come, and they're far more likely to come from third party developers than from Apple or Google, which means that Apple and Google - and Pebble - will need to empower the monetization ecosystems that make that possible: dedicated, sortable, curatable app stores dedicated to these wearable devices.

If monetization isn't possible, or if discoverability for watch experiences drowns under the weight of the existing mobile apps, these killer apps won't be created - or found if they are. But all that's coming. Apple and Google see that need even more clearly than we do.

Days and days of battery life is not the "killer experience" we're fine with charging our phones every night, our smartwatches too.

But fear of a shorter than day-long battery life is getting in the way of a critical requirement for creating true killer experiences: having the watch "always on" and watch apps running independently and in the background as needed.

So yes - having a battery that can last all day and support that is critical to widespread adoption.

The difference in the usefulness between Android Wear/Pebble and the Apple Watch is striking when you use them all day because the Android Wear/Pebble have the screen always on, the Apple Watch screen is mostly off.

You can see the information on your Android Wear/Pebble at a glance, even out of the corner of your eye, just as you could see the time on your classic watch. The Apple Watch requires you to actively interact with it in order to display. That's a surprisingly big obstacle to seamless experience!

Of course, our assumption is that Apple turns the screen off to conserve battery, and that as the battery life improves to last a full day with active use, you'll be allowed to set your screen to remain on all the time.

When that happens, the watch will have much wider uptake because it will be able to provide much more compelling experiences.

The killer experience for wearables is around the ability to provide ambient information - information that is always there, contextually sensitive in real time, and doesn't require an explicit interaction.

That ability, whether in lifestyle, fitness, games, informational or social apps, allows for a huge leap in user experience. When the user and the user's context is automatically driving that ambient information, that's the "killer experience".

John Passfield

John Passfield

Owner at Red Sprite Studios

I think the killer app/experience for Apple Watch was casually announced during the keynote at WWDC 2015.

Kevin Lynch said that the Watch will support FaceTime Audio and that when you wander away from your phone, Watch apps will be able to communicate with known wifi networks. For cities that have free public wifi this means your Watch does not have to be tethered to your iPhone to be able to function and send/receive audio calls. That's pretty killer!

For the killer game app, I think that WatchOS 2 being able to run apps natively will open up a lot of new potential.

<em>Return of the Amazon Queen</em> is returning
Return of the Amazon Queen is returning

The slow load times for a lot of games does diminish the experience, even for great games. I'd like to plug my upcoming Return of the Amazon Queen game as delivering a classic adventure game experience, but in a fresh way for the wrist, maybe this will be a killer game?

Being native will enhance that experience a lot!

I don't see battery life as an issue. I always took my previous analogue watch off before bed, and I'm used to charging my phone nightly, so charging my Watch doesn't bother me.

In fact, the upcoming Nightstand mode where you can use your Watch as a bedside clock turns nightly recharging into a feature!