The rookie mistake developers can't afford to make with Apple Watch apps

Shane Schick

Of course, I expected the recent launch of the Apple Watch to be a big day for developers. I knew many of them would try to make good use of the product's availability as an opportunity to introduce new apps and games. Rather than a major step forward into the future of technology, however, the whole thing took me back more than a decade into technology's past.

"XYZ Corp. announces new Apple Watch app," was the typical headline on a slew of press releases that came my way on April 23 and 24. "123 Studios Adds Mobile Game for the Apple Watch," said many others, suggesting that wearable computing was more of an afterthought than anything else. "BigCo Plans App To Be Available for Apple Watch," was the best the rest could do to cling to the bandwagon.

Do people ever learn? In many respects, the arrival of the Apple Watch--which might as well be equated with the arrival of the wearable app market in general--looks like nothing more than the early days of the Internet itself. In the mid to late 1990s, it would not be unusual for me to regularly receive pitches that XYZ Corp. had launched a website, which was intended to convey that it would be a cutting-edge leader in its field. There was also a surprising number of firms and startups (though we didn't call them startups then) that simply added a ".com" to their brand name to signal their supposed forward-thinking.

Of course, we all know what happened to those early dot-com companies. Hopefully the future is a little brighter for the first wave of wearable mobile apps, but that's by no means certain. In fact, it took a nearly cataclysmic industry-wide failure for all kinds of organizations to realize that a website, in and of itself, was not going to be compelling to consumers who were still feeling out their interest in the Internet. Mobile apps, at least, have already become a habit for many people today, but you could also argue that there are so many of them that merely building onto the Apple Watch is only an incremental step. 

I think it's worth developers' time to think through some of what was learned from the dot-com bust as they try to get the attention of wearable device users. While the original dot-coms often seemed little more than companies that were doing the same thing as traditional companies (except that they could do it online!), the startups of the last 10 years have refined the art of the elevator pitch. In other words, they have grown accustomed to conveying in a few minutes or less not only what their organization does, but why it's different from the competition, the needs of its target market and how quickly it will scale.

Developers making Apple Watch apps need to think through their elevator pitches too, but not for investors. It's for the Apple Watch users who will probably start with the default apps on their device, and only gradually start to weed through the growing number of choices available to them. You've created an Apple Watch app? That's great. But it's also what you would expect of a developer who takes themselves seriously. What is that Apple Watch going to do for me? If you can't answer that question, the implosion of dot-com companies may be nothing compared to what could happen in the wearable market.--Shane