Keith O'Neill

Apple Watch: A Digital Product Company’s Perspective

There have been a lot of opinions presented on the Apple Watch lately. Some, like CNet, think “the Apple Watch is the most ambitious, well-constructed smartwatch ever seen.” While others, like engadget, say it is “more status symbol than wearable revolutionary.” We decided to ask a few members of our own team ( Geoff Pado – Dev, Josh Oakley – Design, Mike Daly – Engineering, Rob Howard – Engineering, and Chris Brummel – Design) to tell us how they felt the device stacked up. Here are their perspectives:

Unique Features

We asked our team: In your opinion what is the most unique feature of the Apple Watch?

  • Interactivity – “The relatively short interaction times you spend with it are unique. You don’t have a tendency to sit there and fiddle with a watch app for more than a few seconds; the Watch OS seems to even actively push back against long-term interaction. Everything the Apple Watch does is about quick hits.”
  • Complications feature – “Complications are important pieces of information you can see on the watch face, like Activity rings or upcoming Calendar events. While they’re limited to a few Apple-specific things (right now), the complications feature is already easily the most useful part of the OS, since the information is right there every time you raise your wrist.”
  • Brand integration – “I think people were sold when they saw the way the icons moved like a swarm of little creatures living in some space pod, and what it actually does was/is secondary. That is the magic of Apple.”
  • Digital Crown – “Apple describes the digital crown as a versatile tool that answers the fundamental challenge of how to magnify content on a small display.  It’s obvious that the idea was much more lofty then the implementation and I expect it will evolve.”
  • Developer involvement – “I am impressed with Apple’s sheer force of developer involvement. iOS developers have picked up the Apple Watch far quicker than Android (Android Wear) or Windows Phone (Microsoft Band) developers.
  • Camera remote control – “I enjoyed using it as a remote control for my camera. I was able to set up the camera and use my watch to frame my girlfriend and I remotely. I could then snap the photo, which was a much better experience of setting the camera for a 10-second delay and hoping for the best.”
  • iPhone control – “I didn’t realize how much time I spent pulling my phone out only to see it was an unnecessary notification. While wearing the Apple Watch, I felt like I was controlling my iPhone experience and not the other way around.”


Next we asked their impressions on the Watch design and what design features were stood out for them.

  • UI limitations – “If you’re going to use buttons, make them big. I think the most frustrating part of interacting with the watch for me was trying to navigate around with the small buttons. Punching in my Pin was especially error prone (I was on the smaller version of the watch).”
  • New design paradigm – “It’s a totally new design and development paradigm. What we thought were best practices before aren’t best practices now. It’s a chance for everyone to learn something new, and I’m excited to see how apps evolve as the OS and hardware get more powerful.”
  • Strong first iteration – “I was actually pretty surprised at how good it was for a first-attempt product. Battery life was perfect, and the voice recognition was superb—above and beyond even Siri or dictation on iPhone. Lefty mode could have been better, but I’m used to it. :)”
  • Contextual awareness – “Anticipating the user’s needs beforehand and having action items ready seems like a future the big companies are trending toward (See ‘Google Now’). The Apple Watch incorporates contextual awareness into the design, detecting, for example, location/time when I am searching for a flight so the information I need is readily available from my watch.”
  • Fast time to market – “With the kit and the limitations of design options, it’s quicker to bring new applications to market.”

User Experience

We had the team comment on some of the key user experience elements of the Watch that surprised them.

  • 3rd Party app challenges – “Third-party apps developed before the hardware came out frequently deliver a poor user experience. They’re slow, buggy, and try to do too many things in a single app. It’s easy to see why this happened: the watch simulator works like a small iPhone—it’s super-fast, super-reliable, and with easy tap targets. It’s easy to think that you can just shrink down your entire iPhone app and call it a day.” “3rd party apps were far too slow to use, but that’s going to change soon and make a huge difference. The Transit app will be far more useful once that happens.”
  • Distraction – “It gets back to the problem they were trying to resolve with Google Glass: having people looking down at something, absorbed in their world of distractions rather than interacting with the world around them. It’s just another distraction as a consumer product, at least. For various industries like health care, it will find its greatest use. Use cases that entail pulling data from system(s) and feeding it into the app is where it can shine. For a consumer using it on the bus, though, my guess is it will just end up as another way to waste time and distract yourself.”
  • Simplicity – “It’s a device that allows you to keep your phone in your pocket.  Good for quick reminders and simple interaction.”
  • Directions – “I was pleasantly surprised by using turn-by-turn directions. I wore the watch while visiting in Austin, a city I’m only marginally familiar with. While wearing the watch and using Apple Maps, the watch would tap me in specific ways telling me to turn left or right. I had no need to look at my phone *or* my watch, which I loved.”
  • Battery life – “I had serious battery issues the first day, mostly likely due to my fascination with flipping my wrist and seeing the time unnecessarily.”

Application Development Tips

We asked our team of digital product development experts to share any tips, secrets or suggestions for companies looking to create applications for the Apple Watch.

  • Focus on usability – “Pare down the application to the smallest thing that’s actually useful. Trying to add every feature of your iPhone app to the watch is a recipe for a bad app, both in terms of user experience and performance.”
  • Prepare for a slow response – “Interaction with the phone isn’t as real time as one would expect.  You will have to create an experience that takes this into account when building your app. “
  • Build with a purpose – “The watch should be used for specific things.  Everyone who has an iPhone app doesn’t need to build an apple watch app. “
  • Keep the UI simple – “The interface you create needs to be very simple and consumable in a single glance as well as the features you create.”
  • Think about the use case – “It is important to first determine how users will interact with your application’s notifications. Do they just need to view and dismiss? Is there a subset of watch-capable actions that can take place in response to a notification? Some apps failed to take these interactions into account and left me wanting a bit more.”
  • Prepare for testing challenges – “While it’s easy to quickly test and QA the features of an app with the simulator, performance on actual hardware can vary widely for no obvious reason. The loop of tracking update performance is hard to test.” “Automated testing might pose issues because of how the watch is coupled to the phone. So, automated tests will have to somehow bridge the connection between the app running on the phone and the app / notifications running on the watch.”

Biggest Challenges

We asked: “What is one of the biggest challenges in developing apps or services for the watch? “

  • Limitations – “There’s a pull between Just Enough information and Wanting More. I noticed that there were certain situations where I’d get an alert and it the content would load (email) or there would be such a small amount of information that I would need to get out my phone anyway.” “You can’t hide behind cool graphics or the elaborateness of the project. It’s really naked and plain, and that means the idea and UX have to be perfect.” “There are many things you would want to do but cannot with what is in the SDK at this time.  It’s essentially a very limited and slow second screen.  You don’t get to have access to any of its interesting bits, like the heart rate sensor, haptic feedback, accelerometer, temp, sound, mic, etc, but I hear they are coming soon.” “I felt like I was missing a lot and had to keep checking my phone anyway.”
  • Small form factor – “Developing a user interface that works for the small form factor.  There isn’t a lot of space, so all items must be carefully planned.” “Making an app that’s actually usable on a small screen with short interaction times is a real challenge. The temptation is still there to try and cram the watch app full of features, but doing anything more than a single tap or swipe quickly becomes frustrating to use.”
  • Performance – “Building your app in the simulator can be done relatively quickly without much fuss. Put it on the actual hardware, and boom, your sweet app is a piece of trash. With one simple app I wrote, it took me 10 minutes to get it working well in the simulator and another 2 hours to get it to work well on the watch itself.”


We asked our team to tell us their impressions on the quality of the Watch and the associated components.

  • Quality hardware – “The hardware is the most solid smart band / watch on the market.  It “feels” like quality.  The software is definitely a first version and seems to be incomplete.”
  • Solid toolset – “The toolset is pretty good with debugging and working with the watch.  As more developers use it and provide feedback I am sure it will become even more complete.”
  • Durable – “After I acquainted myself with the device, the Watch OS and hardware seemed very stable and hardened. I didn’t feel like I had to worry about damaging the watch swinging my arm around as I normally am prone to do.”
  • Bulky – “We’re going to look at this like we look back at the first iPhone, like a puffy loaf of bread. It looks like a big thing on your wrist.”

Favorite Features

We asked them to tell use their favorite Apple Watch feature.

  • Natural integration – “I liked how quickly the Watch seems to disappear. While I spend all day looking at my laptop or my phone, the watch quickly became something I more or less forgot about because it did its job so well and so quickly that I rarely needed to spend more than a few seconds looking at it.”
  • Unobtrusive notifications –“It takes a second to look at your watch. It takes 5+ seconds to get out your phone, turn on the screen, and unlock it. And then you have to go check all your unread emails and Facebook notifications as well. With the watch, you take a brief look and you’re done.”
  • Fun – “It’s kind of just a fun toy. Setting up Bluetooth is fun, you get this cool image you hold your phone up to, and that’s magic. Then you get to play around in this grid of icons.”
  • Health & fitness tracking – “Even though these were things I was already doing (walking, standing, etc) it was a bit exciting to see what my day actually looks like in terms of overall “health.” “Activity tracking.  Mainly all of the things you cannot do with just an iPhone.  Track Heart Rate, calorie burn, etc.” “The fitness features are fantastic and are the number one reason I’d be interested in an Apple Watch. I have been interested in the health tracker market for a few years and always held off on any purchases because I didn’t want to invest in one out of hope that Apple was going to blow me away with theirs. I love their fitness tracking and have a strong feeling that it’s only going to get better with the next generation of sensors.” “I was disappointed the watch did not have built in GPS and requires the phone for any outdoor activity tracking.  One of the main reasons I am interested in a wearing a watch when I workout is so I don’t have to carry my phone!”

Overall the consensus from L4 Mobile was that the Apple watch was good and inspired us to get creative on how to build digital applications for a whole new platform. However, it needs more time and completeness before people find it a “must-have” device for everyone. As one of our team members summed it up: “This is the best smart-watch on the market, but it’s still not good enough.” Perhaps it is now up to us and other members of the development community to now design the digital products that will make the Watch live up to its potential.

Image courtesy of Crew for Unsplash.

Keith O'Neill

Keith co-founded L4 Digital after more than a decade working with successful wireless and technology ventures. Keith oversees L4ʼs strategic partnerships, customer acquisition, and revenue goals. Keith is also responsible for company marketing initiatives and is the lead spokesperson evangelizing L4 products and services at industry events and to members of the press.

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