It’s difficult to ignore the media hype around the upcoming release of the Apple Watch.Like most Apple products, the watch has engendered high expectations as to both its potential pricing and to what the Apple Watch will do that other smart watches already on the market do not. At the end of the day, the Apple Watch will not be much of a plus for publishers, and we’d better hope that it won’t be a negative.
Unlike the smart phone and tablet, which have proven to be a boon to publishers like Buzzfeed who know how to reach readers and viewers on the go, the Watch won’t be appropriate for reading text or watching video. In fact, at least in this iteration it will be more like an extension of your smartphone but with much less functionality.
And that’s where both the problems and the possibilities come in for publishers. The possibilities lie in the ability to notify consumers more easily about things they may be interested in. No longer will someone have to take his phone out of his pocket (or her purse) to learn about breaking news, nearby sales, or fast moves in the financial markets. The watch, in addition to being a step tracker, will also enable notification streams from any phone app that permits them. So far, it could be a net gain for publishers who know how to write clever headlines or headlines with urgency.
But here’s the problem: a constant stream of notifications, unless they are important, can drive users to turn off notifications entirely rather than be buzzed by non-stop interruptions. It’s not much more polite to keep looking at your watch during a meeting or a lunch than it is to get out your Phone to read notifications. The flood of notifications to the wrist could drive away potential visitors to a publisher site or a story, especially if your notifications get lumped into a category with trivial information and the watch owner throws out your baby with the bath water. The notification space could potentially become very competitive as every app developer vies for the watch owner’s attention. The news business will have to make on-the-fly decisions about how often to disturb people with information that may be important, and will have to swallow its pride and write even more “click-bait”ish headlines.
If we were Apple, we’d force developers making applications for the Apple Watch to cap the number of notifications any single app can send, so if a user chooses to receive notifications from a dozen different apps she’s not getting five an hour from each. This is a challenge, and we’re guessing it will take a while to solve. Writing notifications for the watch will be much like writing headlines for news stories and should be done with consideration for what the wearer of the watch really needs to see. It may come down to whose notifications are the most necessary.
Most tech industry analysts have agreed that Apple probably won’t be able do much more with its watch than most previous marketers of smart watches have been able to do, largely because of limited screen real estate, battery life constraints, and privacy issues. Some of the functionality of any smart device is dependent on sensors, and the watch is also dependent on the state of sensor technology. Moreover, there has already been an announcement that at least in its early versions some of the health apps Apple planned for the Watch probably can’t be on it due to regulatory issues.
So whether the watch is successful will depend largely on the quality of the notification streams. And publishers, that’s your responsibility.