Why Apple Watch apps should be usable in 10 seconds or less

As Apple reportedly prepares developers to ready the first batch of Apple Watch apps, the company is setting a guideline: Try to keep your app usable in 10 seconds. That tidbit comes from Bloomberg in advance of next week’s “Spring Forward” Apple event where the new watch is expected to launch.

Tim Cook Unveils iPhone 6 and Apple Watch

[company]Apple[/company] CEO Tim Cook said in September that the Apple Watch would require a daily recharge, so I’m not at all surprised by the guideline as it almost seems obvious to me from that perspective and also based on my own smartwatch usage experience since 2004. The more you use an smartwatch app, the more of that little battery inside the watch will get used by the screen, processor and other components, of course.

But it’s worth a mention because of January reports on the expected Apple Watch battery life. Sources then told 9t05Mac’s Mark Gurman that Apple was shooting for between 2.5 and 4 hours of active run time on the watch, with 19 hours of mixed use. The key bit here is “active time” because the more you use the watch — any smartwatch, not just the Apple Watch — the more strain you put on the small battery. Here’s how Apple is trying to manage that with app developers, according to Bloomberg:

A big challenge for Apple and its developers is building applications that are useful without being annoying. Apple has recommended that developers be judicious about interrupting people with constant alerts that will buzz their wrist or drain the battery. If desktop computers can be used for hours at a time, and smartphones for minutes, the watch is being measured in seconds. Apple is suggesting developers design their applications to be used for no longer than 10 seconds at a time.

I think the strategy here isn’t just to maximize battery life, though. If you haven’t used a smartwatch, let me explain.

These wearable devices are best suited for short bursts of information and interaction. Once that burst becomes too engaging and takes up more time, the benefit is lost; at a certain point, you actually get a richer experience by handling the activity on your phone.

Apple Watch dial crown

How long should that burst be? In my experience 10 seconds is a pretty decent threshold and allows for a margin of error of a few more seconds. Get beyond 15 seconds on any smartwatch and you probably would have been better off using a phone in the first place, where you have a larger screen, more information and additional room for interaction or other features from an app.

Put another way: Do you want to be fiddling with a device on your wrist for a minute or more? Why bother when you can probably accomplish more in less time with the smartphone you have with out.

Is Apple trying to manage expectations for the Apple Watch battery life with its reported developer guideline here? Sure it is, but that’s only part of the reason. Providing a compelling user experience is the other. If Apple Watch developers deliver on providing very useful functions in 10 seconds or less, Apple can offer both benefits — a smartwatch that will get you through the day with the convenience of glanceable notifications and application functions.

Why a new 12-inch MacBook Air could debut alongside Apple Watch

12-inch MacBook Air is in production for the second quarter of this year, reports the Wall Street Journal. That leads to a question about Apple’s “Spring Forward” press event this coming Monday: Will Apple introduce a new laptop alongside its Apple Watch?

There’s little doubt [company]Apple[/company] plans to reveal all of the Apple Watch details and unanswered questions next week; I’ll be at the event with a live blog and first impressions of any new products.

If Apple indeed does plan to offer a MacBook Air with a screen size between the currently available 11- and 13-inch models in the second quarter, a March event is plausible. The timing with respect to chips makes sense as well: Intel’s new Broadwell processors were announced in January and are becoming available to device makers. Production could be underway as a result; Apple would have waited for next-generation chips for a new MacBook Air at this point.

silvergray-copy

News of a 12-inch MacBook Air hit in January with 9to5Mac super-sleuth Mark Gurman detailing the product from internal Apple sources and publishing in-house renders (above) created from the information.

Gurman reported that the 12-inch laptop will actually be closer in size to the current 11-inch MacBook Air due to slimmer bezels, an edge-to-edge keyboard and fewer ports, along with a reversible Type-C USB connector that works for both data transfer and power. Gurman also said the new MacBook Air will have a higher-resolution screen, likely meaning what Apple calls a Retina display on its products.

While the Apple Watch could stand on its own at an event, it’s worth remembering that it’s an accessory product to an iPhone. To my knowledge, Apple has never held an event solely for an accessory, although the watch is a completely new product line.

In that regard, I think there’s a better than 50-50 chance we see a svelte new 12-inch MacBook Air on Monday. Unless Apple plans another event before its WorldWide Developer Conference, expected this year in early June, the timing is right for a new laptop announcement next week.

Hyundai car start here for Android Wear, coming for Apple Watch

Yes, the Apple Watch could replace your car keys, Apple CEO Tim Cook said in an interview with the Telegraph last week. It won’t be the only watch to do so, though. On Wednesday, Hyundai debuted its watch app that lets Android Wear owners do the same. The car maker had previously shown an early version of the app in January at the Consumer Electronics Show, notes The Verge.

Blue Link Smartwatch

Obviously, you’ll need a Hyundai vehicle for the app, and that vehicle will have to support Hyundai’s Blue Link cloud platform. If you meet those requirements, the app will let you remotely start or stop your vehicle, lock and unlock the doors, flash the lights or honk the horn — the latter two options being helpful to find your car or truck in a parking lot.

The Hyundai Blue Link smartwatch app for Android Wear works through a Bluetooth-connected phone to send car commands through the cloud. The watch app supports both touchscreen and voice commands: Saying “Start my car,” for example, will do just that.

Along with its new Google Android Wear app, Hyundai’s Blue Link software will be available for the Apple Watch shortly after Apple releases its smart timepiece, which it’s expected to do this coming Monday.

Preview 27 different Apple Watch apps in your browser

Apps that run on Apple Watch will likely be a major focus of Apple’s upcoming event on March 9, but if you can’t wait that long, check out App Advice’s new website, WatchAware, which is collecting Apple Watch mockups and putting them on a single page.

The site has 27 Apple Watch previews. Although the page feels interactive, most of the time, it’s just playing a canned video inside of a Apple Watch mockup when your mouse skims over the image. It’s not an emulator. But it does offer the suggestion of what an app could feel like when it’s running on an actual Apple Watch.

WatchAware screengrab

Although most developers don’t have access to Apple Watch yet, Apple has released a set of developer’s tools called WatchKit, as well as human interaction guidelines. So these apps likely already resemble the form they’ll take when Apple Watch is released. They appear to hew to the best practices Apple itself is suggesting, complete with separate interactions for glances, notifications and full-blown apps.

Some of the apps featured were announced last fall when Apple revealed the Apple Watch. Those previews are using Apple-provided imagery. Other previews have been contributed by third-party developers, including FeedWrangler, Deliveries, Todoist, and, yes, a fart app.

Apple's Maps preview on Apple Watch

Apple’s Maps preview on Apple Watch

If Apple Watch ends up being a hit, I suspect many of the interactions users will employ on a daily basis have yet to be invented. The first iPhone didn’t have a pull-to-refresh interaction, for instance. One day, this batch of previews could be an interesting time capsule: What we thought Apple Watch apps would look like before we actually had them on our wrists.

Check it out here.

Report: Google preparing iOS app for Android Wear smartwatches

Right now, you need an Android phone to use an Android Wear smartwatch. But according to a report from French technology website 01net, Android Wear might be going cross-platform with an iOS app, possibly launching at Google’s annual developer conference in May.

When Apple Watch launches in the next month, it will require an iPhone to work. Android compatibility is extremely unlikely. If Google were to allow Android Wear smartwatches to work with iOS devices, that would be a significant difference between the platforms, and some users would see it as a reason to pick an Android Wear device over an Apple Watch. At the very least, it would expand the market of possible Android Wear users.

Last year, Android Wear senior product manager Jeff Chang hinted that Google was contemplating cross-platform compatibility for Android Wear but had run into technical obstacles. “It’s not always completely up to us right? There are technical constraints, API constraints so we are trying really hard, ” Chang told the Huffington Post.

Currently, we have to treat this report as a rumor. Although 01net is a reputable website, it doesn’t cite a source — only “according to our information” (selon nos informations) — and warns that it hasn’t been confirmed.

Still, it’s fun to imagine a time in the near future when your Moto 360 could talk to your iPhone 6. Recently, a developer who goes by MohammadAG hacked his Android Wear smartwatch to talk directly to an iPhone using Apple’s notification services. Although it was more of a concept than a working Android Wear solution for iOS, it showed that it’s possible. Given that Google has native iOS support for many of its products, it wouldn’t surprise me if Google is working to bring Android Wear beyond Android. Let’s see it happen, Google.

Mobile recap: Pebble Time; Pixel 2 coming; Apple Watch questions

After selling one million of its original Pebble watches, the company is zigging when the competition is zagging. Pebble Time is the next product in the line, and while it adds new features and a new interface, the watch isn’t likely to be confused with either an Android Wear or Apple Watch.

pebble time timeline

That’s because Pebble Time is a gently improved watch that doesn’t sacrificing the original product’s of core strengths. It still has an e-paper display and should run for a week on a charge, for example. Pebble Time will also still work with both [company]Apple[/company] iOS and [company]Google[/company] Android handsets; there’s been some chatter and evidence of Windows Phone support, but it’s still not coming from Pebble.

So what’s new and better with Pebble Time? The device is a little wider but thinner and has a color e-paper screen. It also has a microphone for responding to notifications or dictating quick notes. And the software uses a timeline to help you manage your days, even though all of the old Pebble apps and watchfaces will still be available. Clearly, this package resounded well: Pebble Time has already surpassed its original then-record funding amount on Kickstarter and has raised nearly $11.5 million at time of writing.

While we have all of the details on Pebble Time, we don’t have the same for the Apple Watch. That’s likely to change soon, however: Apple is holding a press event on March 9, where it’s expected to launch the watch with shipping to follow in April.

Apple Watch launch event

Even though I attended the September event that introduced us to Apple Watch last year, I’m waiting for Apple to show off some additional features that will make the device a compelling purchase. I see much potential in Apple Watch but not yet a “killer feature” or must-have application. Google Now on the wrist is that feature for some with Android Wear; Siri isn’t there yet but perhaps she’ll get an upgrade soon.

Two-Pixels

One device that is getting an upgrade is Google’s Chromebook Pixel. Google confirmed that a new model is coming soon, although no details have been provided yet. I outlined my thoughts this week: Expect few if any changes on the outside of the Chromebook Pixel 2; instead, look for a new fifth-generation Intel chip and some radio upgrades. Hopefully, we see a price drop as well, although I’m leery that will happen.

Think you’re locked into a mobile OS now? Wait until it runs your car

Apple’s going to reveal more about the Apple Watch on March 9, but CEO Tim Cook has already started dropping hints during a trip to Europe. The latest tidbit comes from The Telegraph: The Apple Watch will be able to start a car.

Which cars? That’s a good question that the Telegraph article and Cook didn’t address. It’s possible that Apple doesn’t know yet, and it hinges on deals with automakers who may be generally resistant to Apple or its rivals taking over in-car computing.

But for people who are considering purchasing new cars today, Apple getting into the key fob game could end up having a significant effect on your resale value. After all, if your car’s ignition only works with iOS — or has no smartphone integration at all — it’s going to be significantly less attractive to Android users who are considering buying your car secondhand. And if your mobile hardware not only powers features on your dashboard interface like mapping or music but basic automotive functions like starting the car then it only becomes more important for the vehicle’s valuation going forward.

A recent report from Glass’s — the British Kelley Blue Book — concurred. “If you are a car manufacturer that has chosen to go with Android, can you still sell your car to a committed Apple smartphone user?” head of valuations Rupert Pontin wrote. “Backing the wrong horse could see their models become not just less attractive to a growing group of buyers but also see their residual values hit.”

The two big players at the moment for in-car software from Silicon Valley are Google, with Android Auto, and [company]Apple[/company], with CarPlay, both of which will roll out on new cars this year. Neither company appears to be going anywhere, but it was possible to say something like that about BlackBerry in 2007 when my family purchased its most recent car.

Your car choice could end up having an even more powerful lock-in effect on your mobile platform choice than, say, an app store. After all, even if you’re a huge app user, you don’t usually spend thousands of dollars on apps that you expect to keep for years. And you can’t sell your old apps when you want to upgrade to new ones.

To be clear: It’s entirely possible — almost certain — than some of the entertainment systems rolling out this year will support both Android Auto and CarPlay. Car makers and chip companies like Nvidia have no incentive to lock drivers in to a brand they don’t make. But anyone who follows mobile app development knows that often new features and bug fixes don’t come to both platforms at the same time — and sometimes never make it to the third and fourth place platforms. For now, CarPlay and Android Auto manage maps and music in your car, but when features are as eventually as critical as keyless fob-free ignition — or one day, autopilot — you probably will want to have the phone or smartwatch that updates come to first.

It’s already possible to start a car with an iPhone. Hyundai, which is supporting both CarPlay and Android Auto, mused about NFC ignition two years ago. A firmware update pushed to the pricey electric Tesla Model S back in September enabled the feature, but the changelog, highlighting the issue, said that the feature was coming to Android “in a few weeks.” Unofficial developers have already started working on Tesla apps for Apple Watch. (There are also unofficial Android Wear apps.)

What’s clear is that as car development cycles inch closer to the more rapid and iterative software and hardware development processes favored by Silicon Valley firms, it’s going to wreak havoc on secondhand values. The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that some electric cars — except for Teslas — have seen their resale values tumble.

Of course, if you believe the rumors, Apple might solve this problem for iPhone and future Apple Watch users when it releases the car it’s supposedly working on. But for anyone purchasing a new vehicle before 2020, that doesn’t help very much.

Three big questions before the Apple Watch event

Apple is holding a press event on March 9, presumably to show off and start orders for the Apple Watch it introduced back in September. I’m all but certain here on the event topic based on the previously stated April shipment date for Apple’s first smartwatch; launching it in March for pre-orders with an April delivery simply makes sense to me.

Apple Watch Event

I’ll be attending and live-blogging the event. Until then, I’m still trying to sort out answers to a several key questions about the device itself. My colleague Kif Leswing posed six open questions after Tim Cook first showed us the Apple Watch. Several of those still apply, and I have a few others after seeing the Watch for myself last year and because I’ve been using smartwatches for the past few years.

How much will the different variants cost?

Obviously, all will be revealed when the product officially launches. We know that the point of entry is $349 for the Apple Watch in stainless steel and sapphire crystal. But what about the Apple Watch Sport and Apple Watch Edition models?

As someone who tends to buy smartwatches for an active lifestyle — I own a Motorola MotoACTV and a Sony Smartwatch 3; both are focused on exercise and sport with their own GPS radio — I’m going to go against the grain here and suggest that the Apple Watch Sport model will cost less than $349.

Apple Watch launch event

Why? It forgoes stainless steel for aluminum, uses strengthened Ion-X glass instead of expensive sapphire and comes with a simple fluoroelastomer band instead of one made with pricey metal or leather.

If I recall correctly in September, Cook said the starting price of the Apple Watch edition (not Apple Watch Sport) would be $349. Many assume this is the lowest price for the entire line. But if the watch is made with less expensive materials — the band and case, for example — I’m thinking the Sport model may have a lower price, part of an under-promise and over-delivery strategy that could surprise and surpass expectations.

My guess on cost is $279 or $299. If I misheard Cook, then of course, all bets are off but even Apple’s official press release from September omits the word “Sport” from the pricing: “Apple Watch will be available in early 2015 starting at $349 (US).”  It could be confusion over semantics but as I read it — and recall from the September event — the price applied to the standard smartwatch edition.

Apple Watch

As far as the Apple Watch Edition for the luxury crowd, I can only wonder. I’ve read several well-written thoughts in the past week suggesting that the rose gold model could cost as much as $10,000. That might well be right considering the cost of luxury watches. I’ve spent nearly $1,000 on a mechanical, stainless steel analog watch in the past but similar models made with precious metals could easily inflate the price by a factor of ten.

What’s the killer app or compelling reason to purchase an Apple Watch?

Let me preface this by saying that, even if the Apple Watch only does what Cook showed off in September, I’m sure Apple will sell millions this year. But let’s take a deeper dive, because I didn’t leave September’s Apple Watch introduction event feeling as if this was a must-have product.

We saw glanceable notifications from an iPhone. That’s nice, but as I said last week, those are simply “table stakes” for this market. So is the time, of course. Favoriting a picture on your iPhone pushes the image to your Apple Watch. I’m not too jazzed about that; most people would rather see or show that picture on the larger screen of the iPhone they’re going to have with them. Tapping out little doodles or showing my heartbeat on someone else’s Apple Watch isn’t a market mover, either. I can’t help but think there’s more functionality we haven’t heard about yet.

Apple Watch

What feature(s) is going to get people to shell out money for a watch that’s a companion to their phone?

Siri is built into the Apple Watch; an upgrade to Siri with more contextual, proactive information would go a long way here. You can control an Apple TV with Apple Watch, just as you can with an iOS device. Most everything we’ve seen so far on the watch replicates what you can do with the iPhone; my take is that Apple has saved a few big features that will make people say, “I have to have that.”

How long is this thing supposed to last?

I don’t mean how long will it last on a charge; Cook already said we’ll likely be charging the Apple Watch nightly. More importantly, how long will the technology last and work with future software updates? Apple is pretty good at supporting a few cycles’ worth of legacy devices. So if you buy an Apple Watch in 2015, I suspect you won’t start “missing out” on advanced features until 2018.

Apple Watch

That’s a reasonable expectation if you’re spending $350 or so; if you want to upgrade in three years, it’s not going to break the bank. For those with more expensive Apple Watch editions, though, it’s a different story. Apple’s S1 system board and chip appear modular in design, but I’d want to know if the innards could be swapped from a watch costing thousands of dollars before I committed to the purchase.

Perhaps if you have that kind of money to spend on a watch, you don’t care as much about the upgrade path. I can’t speak to that because I don’t have that kind of cash. Even the less expensive models raise the question, though, because as chip cycles continue, components get smaller and we can fit more sensors in devices.

Not long to wait for answers

Those are my three biggest questions now and we have only 10 days or so before we find out the answers. In the meantime, since September, we’ve learned that fully native apps will come later to the Apple Watch, just as they did with the original iPhone. Tim Cook recently mentioned showering with an Apple Watch, so some level of water resistance is plausible. And as noted previously, the Apple Watch will ship in April to the first customers who find the timepiece a compelling purchase.

Have we figured out what we want in a smartwatch yet?

Next month will be the one-year anniversary of Google’s smartwatch platform introduction. And the month after that will see the Apple Watch ship to its first buyers. While smartwatches have been around for far longer, it’s only been the last year or two where they’ve become viable enough for mainstream consumers to even consider purchasing.

I’m not sure we’re any closer to knowing what we want from these wearable devices though, or rather if we’re at a point where smartwatches are compelling enough to generate hundreds of millions of sales. That’s partly why I wasn’t surprised to see reports of only 720,000 Android Wear devices shipped in 2014. There are other reasons of course: the first devices only started shipping in the middle of the year and the platform is brand new. But I think the central stumbling block to sales is convincing people that a smartwatch is worth buying.

Table stakes and notifications aren’t enough

At the moment, all of these devices offer what I’d call “table stakes” or the minimum you’d expect. That means they all have clock, alarm and stopwatch functions, for example. Of course, I’d hope a watch could actually tell the time, so this is pretty basic and obvious. Not all of them show the time constantly though, in order to save battery life.

Google I/O Motorola 360 smart watch

The second functional level is pretty much there as well: Notifications. This is where the smartwatch receives texts, emails, incoming call info and other app data from the connected phone. Android Wear is pretty good at that, the [company]Apple[/company] Watch will support these nuggets of information as well. And third-party smartwatches can do this too: Earlier this week, Pebble added full Android Wear notification support for its watches.

Health tracking helps a little

Telling time and having actionable notifications that you already have on the phone in your pocket isn’t enough though. Enter health tracking functions, which are handled through the sensors in these devices for the wrist. Nearly all have an accelerometer and/or gyroscope to track steps, movement and exercise. That’s a start.

Sony SmartWatch 3

Add in heart-rate monitors and you get more depth into the captured health data. Some, such as the Android Wear smartwatch I bought, include a dedicated GPS. Now we’re getting somewhere, because the Sony Smartwatch 3 breaks away from the connected phone for some functions and works as a standalone device.

Standalone devices vs. accessories

And that brings me to the crux of the problem when it comes to cracking the code for massive smartwatch sales: Most of the devices currently or soon available aren’t standalone devices. You need a [company]Google[/company] Android phone for nearly all of the functions an Android Wear watch provides. The same holds true for the Apple Watch; you’ll need an iPhone to use the watch.

Apple Unveils iPhone 6

So the question becomes: How do you convince consumers to spend $200, $300 or more for device that is an accessory to the phone? I think that’s the biggest obstacle here before the smartwatch market can ever tout sales of 100 million or more devices.

Context is a plus, but is it enough?

Google has a bit of an edge here with Android Wear because it takes advantage of its own Google Now service. This provides contextual notifications that are optimized for consumption at a glance; precisely the type of useful information that works well on a watch and something I hoped for months before Google announced Android Wear.

Got a meeting coming? Your watch reminds you in advance. Is there traffic now that could impact travel time to your job? The watch will let you know. Essentially, Google Now on the wrist tells you things you need to know that you didn’t need you know. Although Apple’s Siri can’t do this yet, I wouldn’t be surprised if she gets an upgrade for the Apple Watch and this becomes a “killer feature” of the device.

Joanna Stern Google Now

Even so, this contextual conversation with timely, personal reminders still relies on the smartphone you already have, in which case you can get the same information and reminders from that phone. I’m hoping the Wi-Fi radio in my Sony Smartwatch 3 cuts that cord a little in the future. For now, we have to remember that smartwatches of today are still secondary to the phones we already have.

Are apps the answer?

Mobile apps helped propel smartphone adoption but I’m not yet sold that it will do the same for smartwatches. Sure, it’s handy to use an app optimized for the wrist when the phone is in your pocket. Does it add a tremendous amount of value? I’m not convinced; at least not yet.

There’s a convenience factor but it’s pretty limited. For the moment, these apps are simply a way to interact differently — and usually less so — with their full-featured smartphone cousins. App makers are also constrained on smartwatches with limited hardware and screen space; at a time when phones are getting bigger and there’s more room to work with, developers have to pick, choose and cram functions into a smartwatch app, often just mirroring similar information from the phone.

Pushing data from one screen to another isn’t worth $200 or more for most consumers. So it’s early days for this market and until we can find some other features or functions we want in a smartwatch — and device makers have the technology to implement them — this market is still one for high-priced accessories where the value proposition isn’t yet compelling for most people.

Why the first Apple Watch may not be the one Apple envisioned

When the Apple Watch starts shipping in April, it won’t likely have all of the features that Apple originally wanted. After working on the watch for four years, according to the Wall Street Journal, Apple didn’t get all of the sensors and related functions it had hoped for into a device that fits on a wrist.

Apple Watch launch event

Originally, sources tell the WSJ, [company]Apple[/company] planned for a full complement of biosensors to offer an all-encompassing view of your health. That meshes nicely with Apple’s Health app for iOS: Take a look at it and you’ll see dozens of data points the app is ready to receive and track from connected devices ranging from body temperature to blood pressure.

iOS 8 Health app

That’s an ambitious goal considering you have a limited amount of space to work with in a device for the wrist and when battery life is still a challenge for any mobile, connected product. And devices that provide that type of data can be subject to FDA approval. As a result, the Journal says that expectations and features for the first Apple Watch were tempered:

“But none of those technologies made it into the much-anticipated Apple Watch, due in April. Some didn’t work reliably. Others proved too complex. And still others could have prompted unwanted regulatory oversight, these people said.”

Still, that isn’t stopping Apple from entering the market with a bang. Reported production of 5 to 6 million Apple Watches for the first month of sales are expected with roughly half of those to be the $349 entry-level models.

While the remaining health features will appeal to some — the Apple Watch will track your steps, heart rate and such — it’s likely that connected phone apps customized for wrist use will be in the spotlight during the product launch as well.

I’m still not sold on that aspect alone as a compelling purchase reason. When I bought my Android Wear watch, it wasn’t solely for the the apps.

Instead, the contextual notifications provided by Google Now were a big factor as was the standalone GPS functionality that lets me leave my phone behind when running got me to bust out my wallet. I can track my run using the watch’s GPS and stream locally stored music to Bluetooth headphones without having to carry a phone, for example.

RunKeeper tracking Android Wear

Regardless of what’s “missing” from the first Apple Watch, it will surely find a large audience.

Even better, chips and sensors will continue to evolve, becoming smaller and more power efficient. When that happens, the Apple Watch will become what Apple initially wanted it to be: A powerful tool to get the perfect picture of your health in the palm of your hand.