Sunday 25 February 2018

Apple may find out that the market hasn't got any time for its watch

The Apple Watch
The Apple Watch
Steve Dempsey

Steve Dempsey

The Apple Watch went on sale last week. There were nearly one million pre-orders in the US, and as standard for a new Apple product, plenty of gushing PR.

While the watch is an object of desire for mac-ophiles and digital poseurs, it's unclear whether this smallest of screens will be any worth to publishers and advertisers. Is it a potential pot of gold on every wrist, or is it just a fancy timepiece tethered to a phone?

First off, let's figure out what the watch actually does. It's essentially an easy access display for your phone. Can't be bothered to pull your iPhone out of your pocket when it buzzes? Then the Apple Watch is for you. It also has what's described as a "taptic engine", which uses the contact with the wearer's skin to provides a host of different physical signals or alerts.

And it's integrated with Apple's near field communications payment system, which means wearers can ditch their ATM cards and pay by holding their watch over a point of sale terminal. Like the watch itself, it's unclear when Apple Pay will be available in Ireland.

But marketers seem to have zeroed in on the watch's glance feature. Glances are swipe-able updates from the apps on the watch. Most media outlets that have developed Apple Watch apps seem to be using glances to host the content from their iPhone apps - albeit in tiny bite-sized portions.

'The New York Times' has created an app that promises one-sentence stories. The paper referred to one-sentence stories as a "new form of storytelling", in a bizarre attempt to claim brevity as their own brainwave. 'The Guardian' app uses glances to show the wearer their own personalised feed of stories. The 'Der Spiegel' app will offer wearers the ability to read articles, save them for later reading, and post comments. Spot anything in any of the above that your phone doesn't do? No, me neither.

But let's be fair, innovation from developers is unlikely to happen right off the bat. The problem is that all innovation will be on Apple's terms. The Apple Watch hardware isn't the free for all it could be, thanks to a restrictive software-development kit. Sure, there's potential for developers to design apps that can serve ads for sports drinks if a wearer has an elevated heart rate for a sustained period, but not just yet. Not till Tim Cook is good and ready.

So is the Apple Watch a damp squib for media outlets and marketers? Not according to TapSense, a mobile ad exchange, which launched the first programmatic ad platform for Apple Watch earlier this year. The platform purports to be a one-stop-shop for developers and brands to get started serving ads on wrists. They're promising interactive ad formats and hyper local targeting. The founder of TapSense, Ash Kushmar, seems keen to do a whole lot more than replicate what happens on phones on watches. "Wearables and Internet of Things are the next frontiers in the mobile revolution," he said.

"While most of our competitors are focused on banner ads and legacy platforms, we are focused on innovation and next generation platforms. Apple Watch has the potential to be a category disruptor similar to iPod or iPhone and we believe it provides great opportunities for brands and developers to deliver engaging experiences to consumers."

Yes, it smacks a little of tech-hyperbole, but the watch does offer huge potential. Any device that can gather data on location, shopping habits, combined with biometrics offers a heady cocktail of data for advertisers. As a means of collecting data on wearers, it's a goldmine. But marketers who decide to target audiences on wearable devices need to tread carefully. They have to walk a fine line between relevance and irritating interruption.

People want to look at their watch on their own terms, not when a brand determines they should receive a marketing message. What's more, the tactile relationship with the device means brands that get this balance wrong could make their intended audience's skin crawl. Literally.

Another reason that the Apple Watch may not be a hugely successful device for pushing marketing messages is the fact that it's designed to be used sparsely. Here's what one reviewer, the Verge's Nilay Patel, had to say about it: "I've had this thing on my wrist for something like six hours now, and the truth is that I've barely used it."

The Apple Watch seems to be cut out for short bursts of use - ten to 15 seconds tops. Checking the time, calendar, social media alerts; these are the things wearers will do most often. Such short and infrequent use is hardly a recipe for building or maintaining awareness.

But some smart brands will undoubtedly develop popular applications that make the most of the Apple Watch's features in the future.

Success stories are far more likely to take the form of utilities, rather than pushing information and updates onto wearer's wrists. The last thing modern consumers need is another device that buzzes and blips with yet more alerts, mails and messages. Does anyone have the time for even more distraction?

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