In our work with large consumer-facing brands to create, refine and fix their applications, these are the five recurring challenges we have seen that are particularly relevant to wearables
With the recent launch of the Apple Watch, all eyes are on the wearables space and where it’s moving. Wearable technology has been around longer than most think. Remember the calculator watch from the 1980s? How about the shoe-based computer from the 1960s that helped a player’s chances in Vegas? The larger question is whether Apple’s foray into wearables will turn it into a mass market consumer category, as it did with smartphones and MP3 players in decades past.
Most agree that the Apple Watch holds great potential for brands. However, to conquer this next frontier and stay relevant to hungry consumers who expect everything to “just work,” companies must make their apps functional, stable, highly usable, and appealing.
But it’s never that simple. Early adopters are demanding and savvy. Mainstream users are every bit as demanding, but often not as technically savvy. And the vast majority of all users have impossibly high expectations, from boosting connectivity, to enabling entirely new use cases, to a flawlessly interoperable user experience.
While early adopters may realize the first iteration of a product invariably has limitations, mass market users are not nearly so understanding. In our work with large consumer-facing brands to create, refine and fix their applications, we see five recurring challenges that are particularly relevant to wearables: usability, compatibility, battery life, new era issues, and even greater word of mouth.
One of the biggest mistakes we see is new apps that try to be “everything to everyone all the time.” Developers should focus on those killer use cases that fit the device and their audience. While being feature rich looks great on a whiteboard or an investor deck, it often harms the user experience. It’s vital to know thyself and know thy users; listen early and often to feedback to avoid such errors in judgment.
Microsoft’s Windows 8 is an example of what not to do when it comes to usability. According to research by the Nielsen Norman Group, Microsoft reversed its interface strategy for Windows 8 to smother its usability with big colorful tiles while hiding needed features that were important to users. The underlying problem uncovered by the research is the idea of recycling a single UI/UX for two very different classes of devices. It would have been more effective to create and support two different designs: one for mobile and tablets, and one for the PC.
For many companies, the Apple Watch will bring this discipline (or lack thereof) around design and feature set into stark focus.
Most consumers don’t know or care what technical issues are to blame for upsetting their digital experience. In fact, the blame almost always falls on the app and the brand behind it. Almost.
With new device form factors – especially those that are hyped – the blame for complex issues related to device and app interoperability can land squarely on the new device’s shoulders. In order to succeed, developers need to think past the minimum requirements and envision past the standard view of siloed applications that live on a single device. And Apple will have to continue to be proactive to ensure that developers are empowered to succeed in these increasingly complex use cases (for users and developers, alike).
3. Battery life
When products like the Apple Watch advertise “all-day battery life,” users rightly expect just that. It has been said that battery life may just be the Achilles heel for the Apple Watch.
Screens are always on, as are location-based services. And so app makers must ensure they are responsible stewards of scarce device resources. Invariably, some companies will fail this test with their Apple Watch apps and drain battery reserves with little regard for the user’s device and experience.
Developers need to consider this a requirement for that Apple Watch app. Remember, if consumers can use your app longer, then everyone wins. But when a phone or watch dies and leaves the user stranded, no one wins. Also, if and when Apple makes this information available to users, it will become even more visible which apps are the battery hogs.
4. New era of bugs, defects and issues
Time-to-market is vitally important, and will remain so. But having a stable, bug-free, high-performing application is now considered table stakes. Companies developing products need to get it right, and nail the use cases and functionality that users crave. In the world of finicky app consumers, developers often have only one shot to get it right. Big, established brands have a lot to lose if they disappoint users, but startups and SMBs often aren’t lucky enough to get a second chance.
Even after initial hype and popularity, apps can still be plagued by problems that lead to inevitable failure. Take Color App as an example – it raised an impressive $41 million in series A round funding, but ended up shutting down after its photo sharing app didn’t catch on. More proof that users wield the power in the apps economy, regardless of big funding or hype within the industry.
5. Louder word of mouth
The old adage, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression,” is apt for the worlds of mobile and wearable apps. If a user has a good experience, they may tell others about it and share their nice experience on their social network. But if they have a bad experience, like discovering a bug during their first use, you won’t get a second chance as users will delete your app and surely tell others not to download it. The reality is, bad user reviews can kill an app quicker than anything. Developers need to be very aware of “word of mouth” and not release their apps and products until they are heavily tested and fully ready.
User sentiment and reviews play a crucial role in determining an app’s success or failure. Users are quick to point out what they like or don’t like about an app, which will forever live in the review sections of various apps stores around the world.
The broader answer to these challenges is closing the feedback loop with users in a timely, detailed and actionable manner. Whether it’s simple crash reporting, in-app feedback, beta management programs, in-the-wild testing, or user sentiment analysis, creating this real-time closed loop between companies and their end user experience across devices, connectivity, locations and use cases is critical.
As for the Apple Watch and its fellow wearables, this is just the beginning. No one knows for certain what the future will bring, but for companies to succeed on the Apple Watch, they must get their wearable experiences right. And to do so, they must put the app users – and their must-have use cases – firmly in the center of the product, development, and testing conversation.
The views expressed are of the author.
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