Apple Watch doesn’t need a killer app. It *is* the killer app.

As smartwatches have slowly faded into existence from their sci-fi past, I have always wondered: what is the killer app? What is the feature (or actual app) that would do something so useful I’d wear it on my wrist, put up with a mostly-off screen and laggy voice control, learn a new interface, and charge it daily. What would it do that makes me want to actually buy one despite the limitations?  After living with my Apple Watch for a few weeks I think I finally know. The watch itself is the killer app.

The Killer App

We expect platforms to have a killer app to launch them. A smartphone has tons of uses, but when Apple launched the iPhone they focused on email, iPod (playing music), phone calls, and a mobile Safari.  Given that iPods and hand held devices that made phone calls already existed we could probably shorten this to say:  the iPhone gives you the full Internet in your pocket. And it really did. From that base the world’s developers created many amazing things. Facebook wasn’t useful to me until I could upload a photo anytime, anywhere; but it all started with the internet in your pocket.

It would be logical to assume the Apple Watch has a killer app. The iPod was the a thousand songs in your pocket. The iPhone was the internet in your pocket. The Mac was a computer that just works. What is the Apple Watch?  At first I thought it would be notifications, which is the only thing the Apple Watch does really well right now (assuming you use an iPhone). But now I think I’ve got it wrong.

The Apple Watch isn’t a computer that sits on my wrist. The Apple Watch is a watch that also happens to be a computer.  That’s a huge mental shift.

The killer app isn’t any one feature or app. It’s that Watch is on my wrist. Always. Every day. It’s the proximity to my body -- and to my nervous system thanks to the haptic feedback -- that makes all the difference.  A notification on my phone lock screen would seem to be the same as a notification on my wrist... but it’s not. The wrist is different. More immediate. More discreet (I always have mine set to mute). More personal.

Daily life

As always, the real test of a device is whether I use it. Have my daily habits changed?  I think they have.  I use the timer and alarms a lot more than I did before. When you have to wrangle a four year old kid timers really help. Having them on my wrist, and being able to set them with a voice command, makes a huge difference. Sure, I’ve been able to do that for years with my phone, but being on the wrist makes a contextual difference.

After some tweaking I’ve found the notifications to be useful. Responding to my wife’s text while driving. General awareness of a Slack channel. I love going to the park with my son without having the feeling of missing something, but also without feeling like I’m always in my phone. Again, placement on the wrist is the important thing.  Filtering the notifications is still a challenge. It will take a while before we can filter messages the way we can with spam, so I expect to see improvement from Apple on that front over time.

I was surprised to find that none of the 3rd party apps have made much of a difference. I’ve searched and found nothing indispensable. The keepers, for me, have been Slack (company chat) and Things (todo list); but in both cases they are the same content as my phone, just closer. Proximity is once again the killer app.

Should you buy an Apple Watch?

So should you buy one?  No.  Not yet. 

I’ve spent the last few months testing lots of smart watches. Apple Watch is a definite one oh (1.0) product. It's slow and limited. As is the Zen Watch, LG Watch R, Microsoft Band, and basically everything else on the market.  All smartwatches will get tremendously better in the next year or two. 

However, if you really feel compelled to buy something, then yes: buy an Apple Watch if you have an iPhone. Or a high-end Android Wear watch if you have an Android phone. But please, for the love of all things good and decent, don’t buy a Samsung product; especially the train wreck that is Tizen.

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Posted May 15th, 2015

Tagged: apple watch