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NYT hit-piece on the Apple Watch lacks some much needed context

July 21st, 2015 at 10:30 PM
Apple Watch Developers

If you missed it earlier, The New York Times on Monday ran a rather slanted Apple Watch piece arguing that developer disinterest in the Apple Watch speaks to the overall cloud of doubt which continues to hover over Apple’s new wearable.

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In an effort to bolster this argument, the Times points out that only five of the 20 most popular iPhone applications have Apple Watch versions. What’s more, some big names like Facebook and Snapchat still haven’t released Apple Watch applications.

The lack of support from Facebook — and from other popular app makers like Snapchat and Google, which also do not have apps for Apple Watch — underscores the skepticism that remains in the technology community about the wearable device. That puts the watch, Apple’s first new product since the iPad in 2010, in something of a Catch-22: The companies whose apps would most likely prompt more people to buy the device are waiting to see who is buying it and how they use it.

At first glance, sure, it’s easy to take this information and reflexively call the Apple Watch a bust. Indeed, this appears to be the entire premise of the Times’ article. Conveniently, though, the article neglects to take a nuanced perspective on the Apple Watch. Specifically, the article makes a mistake that we’ve seen time and time again; critics tend to examine and judge the Apple Watch through the prism of the iPhone. Even more egregious is that the Times wholly ignores a) important contextual information surrounding Apple Watch development and b) the very purpose of the Apple Watch itself, namely short and quick bursts of notifications.

Addressing the first point, John Gruber of Daring Fireball lays the smack down.

“Apple Watch has only been out for three months, and the full SDK — which allows for truly native apps — was only released last month, and apps written using the native SDK won’t ship until WatchOS 2 ships this fall.”

An obvious, yet astute, point that the Times completely, and perhaps purposefully, ignores. What’s more, because the Apple Watch represents a completely new medium of communication and interaction, it’s not as if every popular iOS app has much of a purpose on the Apple Watch. Facebook itself, for instance, has acknowledged that delivering an optimal Facebook experience – one rich with photos and video – may simply not be ideal on a device with such a small screen.

Speaking to this point, Abdel Ibrahim writes the following for WatchAware:

I don’t know why developers holding back has to always be painted as skepticism. Is Instagram still skeptical of the iPad five years later because they don’t have an iPad app? Of course not. Developing apps for a new product category takes time. You have to think things through carefully if you want to create a good experience. Remember, Facebook for iPad came out 18 months after the first iPad which was available for purchase in April of 2010.

The truth is some apps are just not going to be ideal on the Apple Watch. This is not a smaller iPhone on your wrist. I’m not sure why people — especially those that cover technology for a living — can’t seem to understand that.


Gruber adds:

“Calling it a problem that many popular phone apps aren’t on the watch makes as much sense as calling it a problem that the iPhone, circa 2008, didn’t have the most popular apps from the desktop, like Microsoft Office or Photoshop.”

So while some in the mass media have been quick to position the Apple Watch as a failure, such arguments often rest on incomplete data. What we do know is that customer satisfaction for the Apple Watch is impressively higher (97% overall) than it was for the iPhone when it first launched in 2007. What’s more, it’s just as important to keep in mind that early guesstimates regarding Apple Watch sales are already far ahead of early iPod sales. Remember, the iPod, originally released in October of 2001, didn’t really become a mainstream success until 2004.

A life long Mac user and Apple enthusiast, Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large for over 6 years. His writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and most recently, TUAW. When not writing about and analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions, the most recent examples being The Walking Dead and Broad City.

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