By adaptive - September 28th, 2015

The wearables market has been growing steadily for a few years now, but after Apple entered the fray with Watch, mobile businesses have been wrestling with whether it’s the right time to jump onto a new platform. And as Robert Gray writes, most mobile businesses see a need to be on the devices but the functionality for wearables is a work in progress.

The wearables market is growing quickly although it’s still in a nascent stage. IDC forecasts 72 million devices will ship worldwide this year. That’s nearly triple the number in 2014, and the research firm sees the number doubling again by 2019.

Many mobile companies say they feel a need to be on the biggest wearable platforms (especially Apple Watch), but while it’s all well and good to be notified that you have mail or a text, executives at these firms have different strategies for proceeding onto the devices, especially in the nascent stage.
Mobile entertainment and social game company Seriously was one of the first apps to debut on Apple Watch. Company co-founder and CEO Andrew Stalbow says, “As our goal is to be the “Pixar of mobile,” combining creativity and data is essential to our growth. Apple Watch provided a unique opportunity to extend our Best Fiends brand to a new platform and we wanted to be there from the start.”
But the question remains: how does a game translate onto wearables? Stalbow said the answer was creating a complementary experience--not a replacement one--for the mobile app.
“Best Fiends for Apple Watch required a new and unique design for an ‘entertainment at a glance’ experience,” he explains, adding, “The biggest change with Apple Watch is that it’s always available and accessibility and convenience is much superior than any other device. We developed the gaming experience to be different, focusing on shorter sessions that consumers could come back to multiple times a day.”
There’s little surprise that Seriously and other established web and mobile brands are staking claim to Watch space. Many of these firms have seen Apple come into market segments and not only disrupt them, but dominate the competition. IDC reports that in its first quarter on the market, Apple Watch entered the best sellers list with a bullet--shipping 3.6 million units worldwide. That was 800,000 fewer than Fitbit, but some five times more than the amount from rivals such as Garmin and Samsung.
That may explain why Seriously’s Stalbow says they are focusing exclusively on Apple Watch at the moment: “Our current focus on wearables is on Apple Watch. There are other platforms that are interesting to us, but we have nothing to announce at this time.”
And while Stalbow admits it’s still early days for the platform, he says it offers a different opportunity for customer interaction: “Apple Watch provides a great experience for us to be connected to our consumers. It provides an opportunity that can translate into the game being present on some level through a consumer’s entire day, and as a content creator that’s an incredible opportunity.”
Fitbit may be number one at the moment, but mobile and web companies say the jury’s still out on which devices will be best suited for their apps.
“I love my Fitbit, but I’m not sure I see a clear Trip Advisor alignment,” says Adam Medros, senior vice president of global products for the online and mobile travel review and booking firm.
Medros adds, “As we refine use cases--what are users actually doing--then you ask yourself, ‘which devices are good for the app?’ It’s a category where people are excited to experiment; one product manager built an app for Pebble. It’s cool, but is it going to be the next big thing on our roadmap? Probably not. It’s a good place to experiment and figure out how people use these devices.”
It’s also a good time to reevaluate a rapidly changing marketplace for smart gear. Research firm Gartner predicts that half of people considering a smart wristband this year will instead opt for a smartwatch, which would seem to bode well for Apple Watch and be bearish for fitness trackers.
If consumers follow through and actually purchase those Apple Watches, mobile commerce companies will no doubt keep an eye on whether Apple Pay picks up new users, and if more consumer-facing businesses expand its acceptance at POS, as Watch sales grow and more consumer mobile apps allow for payment using the device.
Earlier this year American Express teamed up with Jawbone for payments via the UP4 smart wristband. This is an example of a financial institution literally banking on the devices becoming a method of payment.
OpenTable is allowing customers to settle their dining bill with Apple Watch. Jocelyn Mangan, senior vice president, product management, for the restaurant reservation and payment service, says, “It reminds you that your bill is ready and you can pay on your Watch,” she says, but adds they are still considering other use cases for the device beyond payment.
Mangan says, “We have to think about whether making reservations on the Watch makes sense. What’s the right thing to be doing for a diner when they have the Watch on? In our first iteration, it will notify you three hours before your reservation is upcoming. It has a map and all the notifications you get on your phone, you can get on your Watch.”
While payments offer an interesting opportunity for consumer-facing mobile firms, Seriously’s Stalbow says wearables offer another benefit: “Apple Watch provides a great experience for us to be connected to our consumers in a way that is complimentary to our mobile game. Apple Watch provides an opportunity that can translate into the game being present on some level through a consumer’s entire day, and as a content creator that’s an incredible opportunity.”
It’s hard to say what opportunities will present themselves, or be discovered in the near-term. After all, Mangan and others frequently bring up the fact that the iPhone and mobile apps have been around less than a decade. She notes, “For the Watch, this is probably like 2008 was for the iPhone.”
As far as design goes, Jamie Hull, vice president of mobile products for Evernote, says creating apps for smartwatches present even more challenges than going from a web-based business to mobile first. She says contextual information is crucial: “Our wearables strategy is to provide this sense of ambient awareness of things you need to know in that given moment. Our wearables apps were designed to be very simple and approachable and distill the complexity of Evernote to be useful and valuable right from your wrist.”
And of course, as the form shrinks, Hull says the design becomes “crucial”. “We spent a lot of time focused on nailing a clean and very efficient UI (user interface). The key lesson with wearables: Don’t try to recreate your entire app for the tiny screen.”

For all the latest mobile trends, check out The Open Mobile Summit 2015 on November, 9-10, San Francisco 

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