Apple will sell more than 10 million Apple Watches and dominate the smartwatch category in 2015. But despite the hype, the smartwatch category will represent just 1% of the 2 billion smartphones on the globe. So should marketers even be paying attention to the Apple Watch?
The short answer: Yes.
For now, it's a good way for marketers to learn how to deliver extremely contextual experiences to a niche set of early adopters and influencers. Down the line, we can expect Apple Watch to increase visibility and appeal for the entire wearables category, and unleash innovation focused on delivering more intimate brand experiences.
A month in, some early lessons
It's fair to say that the majority of third-party apps now available on the Apple Watch do not deliver value -- we've yet to see brand new experiences that could only exist on the Apple Watch. When (not if) these experiences come, they will first be offered in the health and fitness space, where access to personal data will enable precisely targeted recommendations based on behavioral data analysis. For example, Lark is already leveraging artificial intelligence to deliver personalized coaching to help consumers solve insomnia and obesity problems.
Along these lines, it's clear that the Apple Watch and other smartwatches will primarily help to services customers -- and are unlikely to play a major role in acquiring new customers or driving direct revenues. We're already seeing value delivered in this way from airlines -- notifying customers with travel updates, and Uber, which buzzes Watch wearers when a driver has arrived, so the busy traveler does not need to take his phone out of his pocket.
According to Renaud Japiot, VP in charge of digital operations at Accor, a hotel operator, the Apple Watch "can play a significant role in smoothing the customer journey before, during, and after the trip." He expects it will play a role as a luxury concierge service moving forward beyond just the keyless room, which is challenging to scale.
The key takeaway here is that marketers should not think about telling a story via ads when it comes to smartwatches and wearables. This is not just because the real estate is limited, but primarily because the ad message will become the content notification itself. In reality, the primary use cases for smartwatches are just glances -- or micromoments. Your customers will quickly start to ignore you in those fleeting moments if you are not offering them a glance that brings them immediate value or convenience.
New doors will open for innovation
Apple Watch users may be few and far between for now, but expect this device to open the gates for a new wave of innovation centered on delivering individual brand experiences in context. To avoid replicating the mistakes brands made when launching iPhone apps for the sake of it in late 2008, marketers should cut through the hype and understand what new doors the Apple Watch will open:
● A new wave of innovation. Moving forward, new business and service models will emerge, enabled by wearables. Marketers can already take a page from Disney's MagicBands manual in the hospitality space or from Vivametrica in the health space. Bear in mind, this is still the first iteration of the Apple Watch, and we expect evolutions as dramatic as the ones we saw for iPhone apps since 2008.
● A task- and app-centric companion to the iPhone. While not a standalone device, the Apple Watch offers limited functionalities to control your iPhone. However, with no browser and limited text input functionalities, the Apple Watch will primarily offer passive computing interaction modes on a much smaller screen and a new UI, closer to a push, instead of pull, mode.
For brands willing to engage with consumers via the Apple Watch, they must be mindful of designing hyper-relevant content for two different screen sizes, and offer simple and immediate call to actions via NFC (near field communications)-based swipe motions like Marriott's keyless room, voice commands and simple quick taps or swipes.
● More intimate brand experiences. Smartwatches are the most intimate devices we use, even more so than smartphones. Because smartwatches are worn on consumers' bodies potentially all the time -- even when sleeping -- marketers could create previously unreached brand proximity and preference.
Because the Apple Watch will launch the entire wearables category and drive innovation, marketers do need to start learning how to extend their iOS apps. But if you wanted to benefit from the buzz around the Apple Watch launch, it's too late now. Translation: