Why the Apple Watch Will Change the Mobile Industry For the Better

By Thomas Sommer | September 2nd, 2015

This article was originally published on Apptweak's blog and can be found here.

Three months after its launch, the Apple Watch hasn’t left anyone unmoved and seems to crystalize the somewhat ludicrous feud between Cupertino haters and fanboys. One thing is certain though: commentators don’t seem to agree on whether the Watch is a success or not. Take as examples a few recent, confusing article titles from major tech publications:

Even if the Apple Watch does turn out to be a successful flop, I believe that everyone involved in the mobile ecosystem should take the ridiculously small amount of real estate offered on the device as an opportunity to improve their products and services.

A few years into the rise of mobile, there is now a widespread acceptance that transposing traditional, online practices onto the smaller mobile screen, be it in the fields of UI, UX, marketing, advertising, or publishing, does simply not work. Take a device as small as the Watch, and using the old ways of desktop is clearly impossible.

In the famous Japanese anime series Dragon Ball Z, Goku, the main character, trains for months in the so-called Gravity Machine, a contraption that multiplies Earth’s gravity level by 100x. Training under these extreme conditions helps him increase his strength level. Once back in normal gravity, he then feels like a feather. Similarly to Goku’s gravity machine, the Watch can be an opportunity for mobile stakeholders to develop best practices that will then also serve to improve the mobile experience on larger screens. In other words, he who can do with less, can do with more. Here’s how.

#1. Why the Watch Will Force Developers to Improve their UX practices

For some time now, the traditional vision of mobile as merely being “Internet on the move” has been being seriously challenged. In a 2014 Ofcom survey held in the UK, 25% of respondents declared to use Internet on their phone either “only at home” or “mainly at home”. This result shows that the use cases of mobile usage are very diverse, and that mobile as a phenomenon goes beyond an extension of desktop Internet.

A more comprehensive and realistic definition of mobile is rather the capacity, through omnipresent Internet connectivity and consistent experiences, to enable a brand or a service to tend to a user’s specific intent or need in a given situation. As such, the mobile experience needs to be designed in a way that facilitates a clean and efficient capture of the user intent. In this context, the more clutter, the more distraction, the more chances there are to miss on the opportunity to convert on specific goals.

The Apple Watch exacerbates this phenomenon, with controls that are more limited (smaller screen), but slightly more complicated (digital crown), making users even less patient and less tolerant of a short-of-perfect UX with an Apple Watch app than they would for a phone app. For this reason, developers cannot afford to design their app in a way that does not convey immediate value, or it’s likely to be kicked to the curb even quicker than a phone-only app would.

#2. Why the Watch Will Force Publishers to Improve Their Monetization Practices

If there is one area where chucking desktop practices onto mobile is particularly cringe-worthy for users, it is advertising. The small amount of real estate offered on the device makes banners and other disruptive formats particularly intruding and annihilates the user experience. In the last couple of years, the realization that traditional online formats do not work on mobile led the rise of native advertising. Native, on mobile, cannot be defined as a new format per se, but rather as a framework allowing apps and mobile websites to display advertising and monetize their traffic while preserving their user experience.

What is a more-than-welcome initiative on mobile screens is a downright obligation on the Watch and any form of advertising other than native is simply not conceivable on such as small screen.

Luckily, some initiatives have already come up. For instance, PubNative, a mobile supply-side platform focused on native advertising, recently announced support for native on the Apple Watch with a campaign from German bank ING-DiBa running native ads in a soccer app, TorAlarm.

As you can see, the strict amount of space available on the Watch, as well as the short attention span provided by users, forces publishers to come up with innovative solutions to monetize their traffic without alienating their audience.

Every industry should have its Gravity Machine, and, to a large extent, the Apple Watch is that of mobile, as it presses everyone to do better with less. Here’s maybe something that everyone can finally agree on: the Watch is a great opportunity for developers, advertisers, and publishers alike to finally embrace what mobile is all about.

What about your thoughts? What do you think of the new Apple Watch? Let us know your opinion in the comment section below, thanks!

Thomas Sommer
Thomas heads up content marketing at AppLift. As such he’s in charge of sourcing, curating, creating and distributing insightful content to increase visibility and thought leadership for the company. Thomas loves to scrutinize the relentless and trilling developments of the mobile industry. You can follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.