Under the Radar

Under the Radar 9: State of the Apple Watch


  welcome to under the radar a show about

  independent iOS development I'm Marco

  Arment and I'm David Smith under the

  radar is never longer than 30 minutes so

  let's get started so today I think what

  we wanted to dive into and talk a bit

  about is the sort of the state of the

  Apple watch as an app platform and we're

  going to talk a little bit about my own

  experience recently doing a lot of watch

  OS work essentially the last quarter of

  2015 all I did was work on watch apps a

  little bit my experience there and then

  also kind of looking forward to what we

  think could make the Apple watch a

  better platform than it is today for

  apps and app developers my big app that

  I launched last year was sleepless plus

  which is a watch app we're not gonna

  talk too much about it but it was all

  about the watch it's a sleep tracker and

  motion tracker and then after I got that

  out the door I spent a lot of time

  working on pedometer plus plus for Apple

  watch which was pedometer plus plus is a

  step counter sort of fitness tracker

  that had mostly been on the on the

  phones for a long time and I had

  originally done a watch OS 1 app for it

  but it was very limited because at that

  time watch OS 1 apps run on your Renick

  all entirely ran on the phone and so

  there was no way to get the watch's data

  actually to just be displayed on the

  watch which is a little bit weird so

  like you if you only wore the watch all

  day long and you then you like start the

  watch app it would be only be showing

  you data from your phone's activity

  which was weird

  watch rest whoo I could finally fix that

  and so I spent what I thought would be a

  few weeks turned out to be a few months

  getting the data sync portion of that

  together so that the watch app now

  displays like this merged set of data

  between the watch and the phone and that

  took a lot longer than I think mostly

  because like sync is as I was always

  like sync is hard there's a lot of

  really complicated things here and it's

  not even like regular user data sync

  where there's some basic rules about it

  it's is like it's it's trying I have to

  analyze your activity through the day

  and work out what number to show for

  your step count as you go through it but

  I got through all that and you know ship

  the app

  of December in 2015 and one thing that I

  did that I was very glad I did is I

  included a bunch of little analytics

  about the watch apps use because I

  wanted to see how it's actually being

  used in practice and initially when I

  launched looked like something right

  around eleven percent of people who were

  using pedometer plus plus had Apple

  watches that's pretty good yeah which is

  pretty good it's better than I thought

  it was I was expecting the number

  probably to be liked like four or five

  maybe so 11 is pretty good and after

  Christmas it's now up to about 13 and a

  half percent of phenomenal plus plus

  users you know have an Apple watch

  paired it's kind of interesting like

  it's building something for a relatively

  narrow group of my users but I think was

  still valuable to do and hopefully that

  percentage will grow over time and of

  course it's funny like of that you know

  over the 13 and 1/2 percent people who

  have watches something like 80% of them

  have the watch app installed and then

  20% of them are using the complication

  which was probably the most employed the

  for my perspective is like the coolest

  part of the app was the complication so

  you can see your step counts grow but

  only 20% of people who have watches use

  it which is something like 2% overall so

  that's a bit mixed but that's sort of

  the way these things go I think yeah

  that that part is interesting I mean you

  know you talk about like like how how do

  you decide how whether to whether to do

  a feature like this that's gonna require

  tons and tons of work you know because

  you're really you know building this

  whole thing from scratch really on this

  different platform and everything and

  then it ends up that you know 2% of your

  user base will ever use it is is that is

  that worth doing or when is it worth

  doing yeah and so it's I've definitely

  gone through like several phases with

  this we're like when I first saw that

  number I was like like crying inside is

  so much it took so much and like I loved

  it like it's I use it all the time it's

  a I think it's a great feature and so I

  like in some ways like I'm I'm I can

  remind myself that

  if it's a feature that I personally use

  and it takes some time to build like at

  least I'll use it I'll enjoy it and so

  and like these things will get better

  over time

  but it's definitely what if I'd known

  that number up front I'm not sure it

  would have been as easy to justify

  development on this because overall I

  wouldn't say adding watch support to the

  app has had a significant impact in its

  sales there's a very small bump in sales

  when I released the update just as you

  sort of normally get from like little

  press outlets picking it up or it's like

  slightly new and slightly noteworthy but

  beyond that like the app wasn't featured

  which kind of surprised me which is

  weird thing to say like I don't be like

  stuck up oh they should have featured me

  but like because as far as I'm concern

  in terms of new apps on the watch I was

  kind of more hopeful than I would

  normally get my hopes up for for getting

  featured and that didn't happen so it's

  like from a sales perspective it didn't

  really add too much and so when I look

  at it it's like I'm glad I did it but

  mostly not for like right now I think

  it's more better if it's more important

  as a get it like keeping the app

  relevant keeping the app current and not

  creating a big gap between like where

  the state of the art would be and where

  the app is and like that's a good and

  important thing because pedometer plus

  plus is like it's my biggest earning app

  and so it's important to me that it's

  like well taken care of but the actual

  details and when you see things like

  yeah like a pretty small percentage of

  people are actually using it it's a hard

  thing to say that's interesting I mean

  and and I wonder how much of it is like

  being even being featured and and having

  this kind of like you know any kind of

  like app store prominence I wonder what

  the value of being featured really is

  for watch apps because not only of

  course do fewer people have Apple

  watches which you know would be a

  separate issue but even as somebody who

  uses using Apple watch for like you know

  seven or eight months or were however

  long it's been

  I never browsed the App Store for new

  watch apps and I wonder like it just

  took the pattern of using the watch and

  being a watch owner

  how often do you go browsing the app

  store for new watch apps compared to how

  often you go for the phone link in the

  phone you launch the app store Apple you

  know if you're kind of bored looking for

  new stuff you launch the app store a

  browser and you see what's featured to

  see the top lists on the watch I mean

  you like as an Apple watch user do you

  how often do you open the the watch app

  store if ever is there I mean I guess

  you look you launch the companion app

  and you can go in there and browse the

  apps there but does anybody actually do

  that I don't know like it's like people

  are definitely finding the apps

  somewhere because like sleep us+ is only

  a watch app like without a lot I've had

  on Apple watch it's completely useless

  and it's had a pretty strong uptick in

  terms of people finding it so I don't

  know exactly where they're finding it

  from I don't it's word of mouth if it's

  just like people finding it online or

  whatever but they're deafening it's

  somewhere like mostly when I go into the

  companion app and it has like the two

  tabs or you think you can search and

  there's a featured area there like I go

  in there mostly just to kind of see if

  there's anything new and interesting but

  not as much for myself and there is

  certainly something aspect to it that

  the nature of the watch and the way that

  it's kind of more of a like a glancing

  interaction model where you're not gonna

  be just like sitting down and if you're

  bored like browsing around on thing or

  like you know with your phone like if

  you're you're bored you have some time

  you're on a train or something like

  you're gonna spend a lot of time you

  could quite easily be like oh let me go

  see if there's a new game or something

  new - interesting - go or you know look

  on the internet and you know read reddit

  or RSS or Twitter or slack or whatever

  it is like whereas on the watch once you

  kind of have your use case that you are

  comfortable with like whatever it's

  doing like and so for this case it's

  like it's unless you're really look like

  looking - how could I make my watch a

  better fitness tracker for me beyond

  like the built-in activity app for

  example like I don't know if you're

  really gonna go looking for that in the

  same way because like there's no app

  store on the watch itself like there's

  no little watch icon that you know you

  go to the honeycomb screen and then hit

  App Store and it shows you a bunch of

  apps and I mean I think it's probably

  for the best like I'm not sure if that

  would actually be a good interaction but

  but with the lack of that like I don't

  know how you would find good watch apps

  other than just going to the companion

  app which is a really odd place to go

  anyway cuz it's not part of the App

  Store like in some ways it seems like it

  should be in the App Store like you

  could replace that middle was it the

  what's it now the Explorer tab the one

  that's changed like 10 times it's like

  if if you have a watch it should be like

  maybe that should be like you know a

  watch or TV OS or like all the different

  like all these other secondary platforms

  that are harder to find apps for then

  like maybe it should be fine there but

  yeah I don't know it's it's a weird

  thing to to think how people actually

  find watch apps these days I really

  don't know I mean to some degree the

  value of having a watch app is political

  with Apple in the sense that Apple is

  more likely to promote apps that take

  better advantage of all their platforms

  and all their features so Apple is

  probably happier to promote an iOS app

  that has a nice companion watch app than

  they would be to promote a similar iOS

  app that has no watch app and so it you

  know in some ways the the reason to have

  a watch app and to take advantage of new

  watch features is to increase the

  likelihood of Apple featuring your your

  iPhone you know but that doesn't really

  help you if you're trying to figure out

  like how much time to put into your

  Apple watch app and and how to make it

  more useful and I wonder I mean I was

  kind of expecting that you mentioned

  that the the percentage of pedometer

  plus plus users with the Apple watch

  before and after Christmas did increase

  but it's increases because I would have

  expected you said it went from like 11

  to about 13% is that right yeah went up

  two and a half percent from 11 to 13 and

  a half yeah so that I would have

  expected a bigger jump from that

  honestly and and I've heard from a few

  people here and there I've picked up a

  few other little tidbits of like app

  sales for watch people and almost all of

  them reportedly noticeable jump like on

  Christmas Day and the day after compared

  to what it was previously so I think

  it's clear that there are a lot of

  watches out there and and that there are

  a lot that were given as gifts for

  Christmas this year but I I would have

  expected the jump to be bigger

  so in terms of like absolute numbers

  here I mean obviously nothing's gonna be

  as big as the iPhone install base on day

  one or even in year one or even in year

  five for that matter but I wonder are

  there enough watch owners out there to

  to make this worth doing yet maybe the

  best thing to answer to that is I don't

  I can't think of anyone who I'm aware of

  who has had like a runaway success on

  the watch with most promotions like new

  platforms I mean we have a little bit of

  this problem the TV as well but like

  there is with the iPhone and certainly

  with the iPad there were you know

  stories of people who put a lot of time

  and effort like really made a good app

  and there was enough uptick from the

  customer side and a strong and a fine

  financial part of that that it was like

  wow you know like they have like the

  overnight success and I'm not aware of

  static of that on the watch at this

  point like so it's I think it's a good

  thing to do from in terms if you want to

  build a fully featured robust or a fully

  rounded app like it's part part of like

  part of that bar now probably includes a

  watch app but I D I don't want sure if

  there's a strong direct incentive for it

  that like if you build a watch what

  watch app your app will be more

  successful it's a bit more soft than

  that and like if anything honestly for

  me like part of why I got into watch

  apps is it was an area that I think is

  growing I don't think it has grown yet

  and so part of me was like I just want

  to be an expert at this platform that I

  think in two or three years which is a

  bit of a long game to be playing but

  like in several years will be more

  increasingly relevant I'd rather be an

  expert on it like the only way you can

  have you know five years experience in

  five years is to have started now and I

  didn't want to describe so like you know

  the old joke when you've people who want

  like eight years Swift experience now or

  something like it's like well you can't

  really do that but if you start on day

  one at the very least you can have as

  mote them the most that you can and so

  like since watch OS or watch kit back


  watchkit one was out like it's just

  something that I think is important for

  my fur life I think that I enjoy and

  it's an important for my business down

  the road to continue to be good at but

  in like in then here and now it's a much

  squishy or like it's like a baby it's


  maybe it'll increase slightly the chance

  that someone will download it or that

  Apple will feature it or something like

  that but it's a much it's not a direct

  like cause and effect like this will

  help make your app more successful I

  think at this point anyway III think

  though it is you know making it more

  more likely that Apple will feature it

  and I think it also it also plays into

  like for the chances of your iOS app

  succeeding it also plays into like first

  of all like the people who have watches

  even though it's a small percentage of

  iPhone users it's not a random percent

  it isn't a random subset it is like it

  is it is kind of like the the early

  adopters the people who are willing to

  spend spend more money probably and able

  to spend more money so like it is it is

  a market that I think is it has outsized

  relevance compared to its actual numbers

  and also it it can be used as as a

  feature comparison so like if I'm

  looking to two different pedometer apps

  in the App Store and I have an Apple

  watch and one of them has a watch app

  and one doesn't then even if I don't

  intend to use that watch app or even if

  I think I'll use it and in reality never

  would and therefore wouldn't show up in

  those numbers I think I'm more likely to

  pick the one with the watch app because

  you know it's like people who buy like a

  giant SUV because they might someday go

  off-road with it yeah even if they never

  do which most never do that's still it

  that that is a selling point to them up

  front where like they might choose like

  so people might choose your app even if

  they have never planned even if they

  have no plans to ever use the watch if

  they might choose your app simply

  because it has a watch app over someone

  else's that doesn't so it there is more

  value to it I think up front for an i/o

  site but that that argument becomes less

  relevant when you're talking about apps

  that run only or primarily on the watch

  like sleep plus plus you know like you

  know apps where like the iPhone app is

  basically non-existent or unimportant

  and so I think it's it's hard to argue

  today for spending a ton of time with a

  watch I bet it's it's easy to

  argue for having a watch app for a

  four-year Iowa for your existing iOS app

  if it's relevant to have one but it's

  harder to argue for spending a whole lot

  of time on it does that make sense yeah

  I think so and it's also probably

  keeping in mind that a really good watch

  app is by its nature very simple and so

  on the like one thing that if it's like

  it's probably it's important to make

  sure that you don't think of a watch app

  as a fully-fledged like really

  complicated sophisticated thing like

  it's for to do well it should really

  only probably have like one or two

  actions that you can take or like what

  like sleep loss plus for example like

  has one button that in the entire app

  and that's it and I think that works

  well for it because all it does is you

  say like I'm going to sleep I'm waking

  up from sleep and it's just you know so

  like a toggle button on and off and like

  pedometer plus plus is the only from an

  action perspective is the same thing

  like you can say like I'm going for a

  walk and it'll start you know I would

  work out where it tracks your heart rate

  and all kinds of other stuff and then

  you get to the end of your workout and

  you hit stop and so like it's it's nice

  in that sense of like having a basic

  watch app is a good thing

  beyond rather than being like a

  detriment it's actually probably a plus

  and so trying to hit that basic level is

  easier than it would be like if you

  compared to say the same way to like I'm

  having an iPad app like making your app

  Universal having a iPad app that is

  useful and fits on the platform is

  probably a lot more work than a watch

  app and so if you're looking for

  something to like extend out your app a

  little bit like you've got that basic

  feature set lock down and you're like oh

  what we know how could I make like add

  that little like 5 percent boost like

  you might be easier to add it on the

  watch then it would be to like go to the

  iPad or a platform like that that it

  just would require a lot more of you

  yeah all right this episode of under the

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  relay fm so I wanted to spend the second

  half of this now you know we talked in

  the first half about the Apple watch

  kind of the reality of being an Apple

  watch developer today from your

  perspective and you really are like one

  of the world's most prominent Apple

  watch developers honestly the Apple

  watch today I think I think we've

  figured out is not a great app

  development platform yet what do you

  think could make it a great app

  development platform there's two aspects

  to that like there's the hardware side

  and the software side and like on the

  hardware side like obviously the watch

  will get better and

  better and better and the more it gets

  better the more easy like their the more

  capable it will be like there'll be more

  things that it will be able to do

  because as it is right now like the

  watch is kind of it's pretty slow it

  doesn't have a lot of memory it's as a

  result some of the way like the apps are

  structured has to be kind of funny and

  different than what you might like and

  like those types of things will just

  come and I would when I look at those

  like I'm less worried about the choices

  Apple will make there because I imagine

  like just by Moore's law and the their

  history like it'll keep getting faster

  better have longer battery life like

  battery life is a big one I think for me

  because like one of the hardest things I

  have come you know like for like C++ is

  like keep telling people like oh you

  wear it overnight so you don't charge it

  overnight and like things like that or

  much we much easier cells if the watch

  had I don't even know like like a week

  battery just like to be able to run all

  the time or things like that and

  hopefully over time also like as the

  hardware gets better and it's more

  compelling and there's just it's been

  out for longer it'll be a bigger more

  people with it and like that's a helpful

  thing from a marketing perspective but I

  think the biggest and more interesting

  things are assuming that basic level of

  like the hardware each year will get

  better and like you know the Apple watch

  that we have now is fairly old insofar

  as like they announced it was it's

  September of 2014 yeah it's it's like a

  year and change old already yeah because

  like that's what else it didn't ship

  until you know April 2015

  but like the hardware from at least what

  they were showing and what its feature

  set was and how capable it was was

  locked down way back then and so I'm

  hopeful the next one which who knows

  maybe it'll come out in the spring I

  think seems to be like where the most

  sort of the best that like that they

  even the best money right now would be

  like sometime in spring there'll be a

  new one like it could have a disparate

  unlike a one year performance gain so

  like assuming those like that be great I

  really hope that we see a lot of changes

  around just making it more capable which

  is a weird thing to say but like they

  like complications for example which I

  think are like the watch face in general

  like most in my own personal use almost

  all of my use happens on that watch face

  and that I would love to see that just

  get better and better and better and

  like the way it's structured now is very

  much designed around battery life that

  you know the watch face is only visible

  when you flip your wrist up for example

  which is frustrating sometimes like an

  obviously oh no you can't have it on all

  the time but even having something there

  more persistently or being able to be

  more aggressive about lighting up the

  screen things like that could be really

  helpful and as a result like

  complications don't update very

  frequently which I think you can from my

  own test it's like you can update a

  complication at most maybe about 40

  times a day that's interesting like for

  pedometer is a bit you know it's like a

  case where I know that the most because

  you can it's not like the data is

  real-time so you know every time you

  take a step your step count goes up by

  one but I can only update the

  complication you know whatever like

  forty four th times a day maybe about

  every half hour say and like I'd love to

  see that get better to be more frequent

  to be more semi real-time that obviously

  there's timing things like part of why

  Apple has the complication structured

  such that you like send data and it's

  like baked in for a particular period of

  time is so that it's instantaneous when

  you raise your wrist the data's are

  ready there rather than like raising

  your wrist and then loading the data I

  think that's fair enough but making that

  much more frequent and that's that's

  kind of how like the entire the entire

  watch OS is kind of developed that way

  it kind of feels like the old Mac os10

  dashboard where like everything is kind

  of in the state of suspended animation

  until you go and look at it at which

  point you see old data and then a few

  seconds later new data flashes in and or

  or you go in and you see nothing and

  then if you take and you did it so it's

  like either way I don't love that as a

  user or a developer and I recognize why

  I have to do it because it does save a

  whole lot of power

  and this is really a very power and

  especially CPU constrained device where

  in memory so like they can't keep all

  the stuff in memory they can't keep

  refreshing it constantly but over time I

  hope they can with with Hardware

  improvements because the the idea of

  like of having to go to a glance and

  then wait a second or two for it to

  update and then seeing new stuff pop in

  its clunky and it's better than nothing

  so like you know if that's what they had

  to do to get this product at the door

  this year with today's technology that's

  great I'd rather have it than not have

  it but it is really clunky and so once

  it becomes possible to have basically

  real-time updates and and to have things

  always be running and being updated you

  know on a much more frequent basis I

  hope they choose to take advantage of

  that and to allow that rather than to

  just kind of Bank the power savings and

  keep making this thing thinner you know

  or something like that you know because

  that would it would totally transform

  the usefulness of apps and using apps on

  this platform if we could have things be

  refreshed more frequently and have

  things be more real-time yeah and

  there's certainly a limit to it in like

  in the positive way that I think Apple

  could probably get there is there's

  obviously it doesn't have to be like

  update every 30 seconds like there's a

  probably some functional limit that

  below which like once they're if they

  can get rather than being updated every

  30 minutes if I could update every I

  don't know five minutes three minutes

  like at a certain point it's it's good

  enough and that kind of an improvement

  it makes me more hopeful that we'll get

  there because that kind of like the

  battery life improvement that you would

  imagine you'd have to have to get from

  that like to compress it just that much

  is more likely than if it was something

  where you know you have a constantly

  running socket connection from your

  watch is probably not realistic but

  hopefully we can get something like that

  and then also I just hope that we can do

  so much okay wait we can do custom watch

  faces is something that I'd love to see

  as well see that I would love custom

  watch faces

  but I'm not sure they'll ever actually

  offer it that it's really the ADA that

  is not a given but they will that Apple

  will ever allow that but I would love

  that I would that would get me very

  interested in watch development if I

  could make my own face for it and right

  now all the faces and all the

  complications they all have pretty

  annoying limitations and pretty big

  limitations or shortcomings in my

  opinion or just just difference of

  differences of opinion of how I would do

  things and it's it's kind of a baseline

  level of frustration I have at the watch

  third party faces I think are a really

  big challenge for Apple to enable in a

  way that is compatible with power goals

  and everything else and security goals

  and and just branding and consistency

  goals it is challenging for them to

  offer that but I think the the benefits

  of offering that would transform the

  watch as a platform so much that I think

  that's a challenge they should undertake

  and I think that's that's a line they

  should cross whether they will is a very

  different story and honestly I'm not

  that hopeful sure I mean even if it was

  like like in some part of me it's like

  if we don't get custom watch faces at

  least I won't like more like if they

  have Apple wants to make all of them

  then they need to make more than they

  have now in terms of like the only one

  that like you have the modular face

  which is that's like it's like the

  kitchens like the Swiss Army knife well

  face but what if I want something like

  sort of in-between that like I think for

  me what I would love is a watch face

  that was big time on there like firm for

  like two-thirds of the display and then

  like the three modular complications on

  the bottom like I think for me that's

  what I would love but like such a thing

  doesn't exist like the time is always

  this small quote the small thing in the

  top right corner and like so if they you

  don't give them to us as custom

  developers at least they could give us

  thousands more and or dozens more and

  then I think I'd I'd be a lot happier

  yeah but see there's always it's it's

  like the 80% problem there's always

  gonna be something about whatever they

  offer us in the built-in faces that

  isn't what we would actually want and

  they're gonna be blind to certain things

  where there's gonna be things they would

  never do that there is a strong market

  for that if a third-party developer did


  it could really you know expand the

  platform and make it more useful for

  people and and reach into new ideas and


  I guess that Apple didn't or wouldn't

  consider and I think third party watch

  faces are like that is the software

  unicorn for me on this platform like I

  don't know if Apple will ever do it as I

  said I would bet against it honestly but

  if they ever do I'd be very excited

  about that and I think that's a good

  place to stop but I think we'll see

  hopefully in the next couple weeks or a

  couple months we'll have some more

  information from Apple on this and then

  hopefully we'll be pleasantly surprised

  yeah this is this is a product that I

  really look forward to wherever it is

  two to five years from now and and I

  hope I hope in the meantime we can we

  can get some good use out of it as well

  so thanks a lot to our sponsor a glue

  thanks for everyone to listening for

  listening and we will talk to you next