Is Watch-First The New Mobile First?

The prospects of a Billion Dollar Watch App

After the iPhone was released in 2007, it took about 4 years for a billion dollar mobile first company to emerge. Although the initial reviews have downplayed the hype, the Apple Watch has the potential to unleash a new wave of business opportunities that could match that of the iPhone. This article will examine what it will take for a new design methodology to develop around the Apple Watch, as well as the prospect of a billion dollar business to result from the new medium.

A mobile first approach is characterized by designing an app for a mobile device and then expanding it to larger screens. This concept helps designers focus on the core use case of the app instead of trying to fit a desktop app or website on a mobile display. Starting with mobile and expanding the design to the desktop is typically easier than going the other direction because the designer begins with constraints that focus the process.

The mobile first approach was translated into a business concept when it became apparent that people preferred using mobile devices for functions that were once subjugated to the PC. Many traditional tech companies struggled with this paradigm shift and lost marketshare to new entrants. Billion dollar mobile first companies were minted a few years after the release of the iPhone including Instagram, Uber, Lyft, and Snapchat. During the same time almost every consumer internet company began employing a mobile first approach in one form or another.

Replacing mobile first with a watch-first strategy is a little contradictory in terms because wearable devices are in fact mobile (and technically all mobile devices are PCs). However, the mobile first idea is rooted in designing for smart phones. In order for a watch-first strategy to be successful it must embody the form factor, technologies, and use case of the watch and then expand the design to mobile devices (smart phones), PCs, etc.

Just an accessory or a game changer?

The current incarnation of the Apple Watch is more or less thought of as a companion to the iPhone. The prospect of a watch-first success seems a little ridiculous considering the role the iPhone has in the control, storage, and access of the watch. The watch isn’t going to replace the need for the iPhone like mobile devices replaced, expanded, and reduced many of the functions of PCs.

A watch-first design process needs to be rooted in the relationship between the phone and watch. This could change as the capabilities of the watch increase. The watch could become a storage hub, with inexpensive bluetooth enabled devices at the user’s disposal, or interfaces could become primarily accessed through voice or thought.

Instagram, Uber, Lyft, and Snapchat are all mobile first businesses. However, they are closer to mobile only because the primary use case is accesed on the phone. The companies wouldn’t have been successful without mobile devices because their value is enabled by the capabilities of the smart phone, like geolocation, high-resolution camera, etc.

If a billion dollar watch-first business comes into being it will will result from the expanded possibilities the watch enables.

The capabilities of the Apple Watch may give birth to new billion dollar tech giants, expand the market of existing businesses, or fade in relevance if wearables don’t live up to the hype.

Here is an incomplete list of opportunities the Apple Watch enables. Please provide your own.

1. Personal Communication

Communication is quick and focused on the Apple Watch. It allows a new level of intimacy at the same time as reducing conversation to a set of canned responses. Also, voice dictation is surprisingly good and will only get better, resulting in increased authenticity.

2. Unconscious Monitoring

The beauty of the Apple Watch is that it can track things your iPhone can’t — like your heartbeat. It is not farfetched to envision an app that can passively track your mood, health, and overall wellbeing. The data could be presented in a series of reports, or even a diary that users can expand on with writing and multimedia.

3. Fitness

Fitness apps are an obvious extension of the Apple Watch. Competition will be strongest in this category, and Nike is already miles ahead with their learnings from the Fuel Band. There will be many niche opportunities, and perhaps the watch will enable new ways of exercise.

4. On-Demand Economy

The on-demand economy will be expanded by the Apple Watch. Imagine an app that has anything you desire at the sound of your voice. Perhaps an app that aggregates all the on-demand services will develop.

What else?

After the iPhone was released it took about 4 years for a billion dollar mobile first company to emerge. It is July 2015. Do you think a billion dollar watch-first company will appear before 2020?

The race is on!