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BLOG:Why You Shouldn’t Make An Apple Watch App  … At Least Not Until You Read This.

Why You Shouldn’t Make An Apple Watch App … At Least Not Until You Read This.

Imagine if a friend you haven’t seen in a while stops by unannounced and presents you with a neatly-packaged gift. It’s not your birthday, but hey, it’s a nice gesture so you open it up. The gift is something that never came to mind as something you would want, but you still thank your friend. They leave thinking they have just made your day.

Over the next few days, you try to find ways to put the gift to use. However, you soon find that it doesn’t serve any real purpose — even when you try hard to make it work. Also, it takes up valuable space in your home and it makes random noises before it broadcasts announcements (that you really don’t find useful). Beyond all that, it gave you a “rash”!

Now, stop imagining. The gift I just described is the Apple Watch App that you want to build for your customers. Don’t build it… at least not until you read this.


iPhone App Gold Rush Of ‘08

7 years ago this month, Apple opened up the App Store for business. Like many other times in the past — and foreshadowing times to come — they were purposely late to the party, and made a huge entrance. Getting a third-party app for your smartphone was certainly not a new thing at the time, but Apple had made it a seamless, pain-free experience. Read: Much better than what had existed.

What’s more important about that event in July 2008 is that the app model that Apple introduced forever changed the definition of what a smartphone could be: a cash register, a weather station, a film studio, a newsroom, and so much more. Since that time we’ve seen a world of products, services and entire businesses replicated in code, shrunk down, and neatly placed on the home screen of a supercomputer that fits into your pocket.

In this age of amazing apps and an evolution of how businesses are doing their business-ing, we’ve also become victims to an abundance of terrible apps. And trust me, we’ve all had our hands in this mess. It’s a vicious cycle of companies becoming experts in designing absorbing experiences and users demanding more of them.

There are too many apps that provide zero value to the end user, hiding the ones that are actually useful. Some refer to these bloated, useless apps as Crapps. Crapps are simply designed for the sake of it, robbing a user of their time and attention. Time and attention are the currency of the 21st century; people want meaningful, quality things. They value their time and are willing to pay for that time to be well utilized.

Useless Things Are Easy To Make

Quarterly Roadmap, Project Plan, Requirements… BINGO! Concepts for new products and services are easy to come up with. And at least 50 horrible ideas for new features on existing products at your company were just spawned in that meeting room across the hall from you as you read this.

Marty Cagan says that one of the reasons products fail is because the process of many businesses today is very project-centric. Within this project environment – all about the appearance of busyness – it’s effortless to make a lot of things that are shiny, useless, and don’t meet any kind of objectives for the company. Everyone then shrugs their shoulders and moves on to the next thing.

Projects are output and product is all about outcome. __- Marty Cagan

Making products are about an outcome. Solve a problem; fix a pain-point; fit a need. Those tasks are much more difficult to do. Nikkel Blaase explains in his post on product thinking, that to be successful, we need to uncover the jobs that a product is hired for and fill a need or solve a problem:

If the problem is non-existent, or the solution doesn’t fit to the problem, the product becomes meaningless and people won’t use the product; which in turn leads to the downfall of the product. Wrong solutions can be fixed, but non-existent problems aren’t adjustable at all.

There are certainly a lot of approaches floating around in terms of what people are claiming is the right way to making a product or adding features. They are names like: Jobs To Be Done, Lean UX, Product Discovery and Design Sprints, and so on. They each have their own nuanced differences, but at their core they have a similar goal: Create the right thing (and avoid the product death cycle.)


In the end it comes back to the user-centered design process. It’s an iterative cycle of setting out to understand something, making a goal, designing it, testing with users, validating, learning and then either refining it (or tossing it). The key is that it is continuous. This leads to an improved understanding of a need or problem and knowing how to better address it.

We need to always ask why something should exist and validate that before all the effort (time, money, resources) of making it real. Creating a valuable product doesn’t start with a statement, it begins with a question.

“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask… for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”

- Einstein

I’ll summarize this section with a quote from Captain Obvious: You can’t make money (or, raise money) for something that doesn’t have any perceived value.

Go Make A Valuable Product

This brings us back to that Apple Watch app (or any other new product or feature) that you want to build. Like the iPhone App Gold Rush of ’08, there’s a rush to build apps for the technorati’s current flavor-of-the-month. History repeats itself, so don’t become a victim of this cycle.

Some companies like Evernote are effectively designing for new devices because they are thinking less about the actual cool, new device and more about the human behind that device:

“You don’t really build an app for the Apple Watch. You build an app for the person who has an Apple Watch. And that may sound like a strange distinction, but it’s actually a pretty profound distinction. Everyone who has an Apple Watch also has an iPhone. So you’re not actually building a watch app, you’re building an app that is at the same time watch and phone.”

- Phil Libin, CEO of Evernote

They are then thinking about things within the context and constraints of time through the eyes of a user, and if that individual can be productive within that period – if you are building an Apple Watch app, the user will only glance at the Watch app and make a very quick decision or action. So they ask things like: “What can a user do in 5 seconds in Evernote that would provide them with value?” If they can begin to define that and validate if their users need it, then they are well on their way to building something valuable for the Watch.

The next time you are in a planning meeting and someone starts to make a statement like: “Team, we need an Apple Watch app that has to be built by Q2 of 2016.” Politely let them finish, then begin to pivot the conversation by asking questions like: “What problem are we trying to solve? How will this make our customer’s experience better?” Shift them to thinking about it in terms of product and a customer’s perspective of their problems or needs and how your company can approach solving that problem.

Most of this is easier said than done. If it wasn’t hard, then we wouldn’t have so many terrible products sucking up space on our devices, overflowing our trash, or snuffing out good content online with product reviews and ads. The truth is that it’s a lot of work up front. There are also a lot of claims about the best way to do this. Again, it’s about asking the right questions and validating those ideas. If this doesn’t convince anyone to think about this stuff first, then show them the chart below.


Credit: A List Apart, Unsuck the Enterprise, by Rian van Der Merwe

Oh, and if you do find, after all this, that you really do need to build that Apple Watch app, then make sure you avoid giving your customers a “data rash“.

“A data rash is kind of this unexpected, unwelcome, and certainly unsightly eruption of data and notifications on your skin, which is the danger, I think, maybe the fear, of this idea that as anything can be an interface, the horrible potential outcome of that is that we have everything screaming for our attention, including now wearables that we’re putting on our own bodies. We don’t want our skin to constantly be itching with this rash of notifications, right?”

- Josh Clark