Apple Watch: Five-second checks, 200 times a day

By Mike Martineau

For the better part of the last two years, I have written and spoken about the Apple Watch and the related HealthKit ecosystem. A little over a month ago, in what might be best described as an overwhelming desire to “walk the talk” (or, perhaps, to put my money where my mouth is), I purchased an Apple Watch. While it is still, in many ways, an expensive tech gadget that suffers from the limitations inherent in any first-generation device, the Apple Watch offers a compelling glimpse of a future in which computers are worn as well as carried.

A little over three years ago I wrote an article entitled mHealth Rant that appeared in Technology for Doctors. This article was the inspiration for and the basis of a presentation by the same name at the 2013 Canadian eHealth conference. In the article and during my presentation, I argued that mHealth was a marketing term created for the sole purpose of introducing an artificial distinction for a specific class of computing devices. I proclaimed: “Although smartphones, tablets, and other mobile technologies offer many benefits, perhaps, just perhaps, their supporters are overplaying their virtues. Despite their smaller size, they are, in essence, a computer and not all that different from other computers such as desktops and laptops.”

The key difference, I argued, “is the smaller size of mobile devices and the consequent ability to carry them on your person.” This smaller form factor opens new possibilities to use computers in situations not previously considered. The Apple Watch, like the other small form factors made possible by technological advances (e.g. laptop, tablet, and smartphone), is just another computer, though unlike its predecessors, it can be worn instead of carried.

Evernote CEO Phil Libin, in a fascinating and wide ranging interview with Nicole Torres – host of HBR IdeaCast from Harvard Business Review – suggests that “when you’re building an app for the watch you’re not actually building it for the watch, you’re really building it for the person and for multiple devices.”

Our use of each device is different yet complementary. The main difference, Mr. Libin contends, is the length of time that we use each device. He notes that the average session length for an Evernote user on a desktop computer is about 40 minutes while on a smartphone the average session length is about 5 minutes. However, although the session length decreases dramatically, users will access the smartphone app roughly 20 times a day. For smartwatches, a user might access the app up to 200 times per day, with an average session length on the order of 5 seconds.

According to Mr. Libin, “making that transition to five seconds at a time is really pretty profound.” However, he notes that we are “no longer working in a world where someone is going to do everything on their particular device.” The challenge is to figure which elements of an app to offer on each device that make best use of both the device characteristics and the typical session length for that device. This approach, Mr. Libin asserts, is “much more about product experiences that are about the end user, that are about the person.”

After a month of use, I can certainly concur with Mr. Libin’s observations. There are many tasks that, while performed often, can be completed quite quickly with the Apple Watch. Take, for example, figuring out what’s next on my calendar. I need only turn my wrist, look at my watch, and I can see where I have to be next and when I have to be there. Should I wonder about the rest of my day I simply touch the middle of the watch face and a scrollable calendar appears.

Since I started wearing the Apple Watch, I noticed that I look at my iPhone much less frequently. I can quickly triage incoming messages (email and text) to determine which ones justify either pulling out my iPhone or sitting down at my computer to read and reply.

Bottom line, the Apple Watch, albeit suffering from numerous first-generation teething pains, is useful, at least to someone like me who already makes extensive use of a variety of computing devices. Is the Apple Watch ready for a mainstream audience? At its current price point, I don’t think so. Like early GPS units in luxury cars, I think Apple is targeting the early adopters willing to pay a higher price. Both Apple and third-party software vendors will learn from these early adopters so that the next generation of smartwatches and applications will have wider market appeal.

Are you considering purchase of an Apple Watch or other smart watch? If not, why not? Drop me a line at michael.martineau@avenant.ca comment on my blog posts on this topic at eHealthMusings.ca.

Posted July 16
, 2015