Jun 15

Apple Watch & the killer app crisis

I’ve been quiet about my Apple Watch since it arrived in mid-May.

I was trying to honor one of blogdom’s most important rules: never be the last of a thousand reviews.

Fortunately, I’ve found a loophole. This isn’t a review — it’s an observation.

Of all the opinions I’ve read, positive or negative, one comment pops up more than any other: Apple Watch doesn’t yet have a “killer app.”

The latest came just three days ago, when CNBC posed the question Is interest in the Apple Watch dissipating?. The article offers not a shred of evidence that indicates a lack of interest, but it does offer one quote from an analyst, “It’s not clear what the killer app is. It’s nice to get notifications, but it’s a nonessential product.”

Well, here’s the stark reality: The Apple Watch has no killer app. And it will never have a killer app.

But anyone who hinges the success of the device on the idea of a killer app is living far, far in the past.

If you need any proof, just look at the iPhone. We can all agree it started one of the biggest technology revolutions of our time. So … what’s the killer app?

Music? Banking? Fitness? Games? Email? Messaging? Camera?

That depends on who you are. Any one of those things, or a combination thereof, might be worth the price of admission. But what’s killer to one person is boringly insignificant to another.

Further, what you consider to be killer probably existed previously on your laptop or camera. Which means that the killer part of iPhone really isn’t an app — it’s the concept of the phone itself. One device that does all that stuff, and fits neatly into your pocket.

The same can be said of iPad. The things you do on iPad can be done elsewhere, but the tablet’s form factor and interface make it far more portable and usable than the desktops and laptops that came before.

Honestly, when I hear the phrase “killer app,” I think of ancient times. I mean like Apple II times.

VisiCalc was the earliest recorded killer app. However, it appeared at a time when people hadn’t a clue why they’d ever want a computer. VisiCalc sold a ton of Apple II computers, but even more important, it sold the idea of having a computer.

We’re a littler smarter than that now. We don’t need to be convinced that we need a computing device, and we’d never settle for a device that doesn’t do thousands of things.

So, as my personal expression of protest, I refuse to use the term killer app. I prefer the word amazing. I apply that descriptor to any app, functionality, hardware or software design element that delivers some serious delight.

I find a lot about the Apple Watch to be interesting and useful, but I already find three things that live up to the amazing word.

First, it’s incredibly convenient. I now look at my iPhone less than half as often as I did previously. My phone can buzz away in my pocket, but if the Watch isn’t tapping, I know I can look later. It has literally changed my everyday behavior when it comes to information.

Second is Apple Pay. Have you ever used the Magic Band at Disney World? It blew me away the last time I visited. Just a wave of my hand allowed me to get into the parks, buy virtually anything, reserve ride times, and get into parking lots and hotel rooms. Apple Pay turns the Watch into a Magic Band for everyday life. You can so easily see where this is going.

Third is Maps. I travel incessantly, so I’m forever walking around cities I don’t know. When I want to visit a particular site or restaurant, I do the “Hey Siri” thing with my Watch. Then I walk to my destination — past people laboring over their phones to figure out where they are — without ever looking at my Watch again. That’s because it taps a different pattern for left and right turns. Big, big smile on that one.

Gotcha! Now you’re just talking about killer apps anyway. You’re contradicting yourself!

Not really. In 2015, I just wouldn’t be moved to buy a computing device because of a single app. It needs to do many things — to make me feel more mobile, more connected and more powerful.

In a sense, every one of Apple’s revolutions has been an evolution. Our links to the world have moved from desktop to briefcase to pocket, and now to the wrist.

There’s a lot of killer in that. Even without a killer app.


  • crichton007

    You make a good point about the iPhone not having a killer app but being popular regardless. What if the argument isn’t a killer all overall but for a group? What if it’s killer apps? I can think of a number of apps that I know friends and family couldn’t live without. I’ve not heard of one single app an Apple Watch owner thinks of as killer.

    I’ve seen enough new products from the modern Apple to know that Apple will throw in the town at this point. I think that there will be a much better picture of the future of the Apple watch when watchOS 2 is launched. At that point apps will be able to run natively on the phone rather than being streamed from the phone.

    I think an argument can be made that the second generation of the Apple Watch will also be telling of its popularity as well.

    Maybe the Apple Watch isn’t as popular as the iPhone is now but that doesn’t mean that it won’t. Personally I’d like one but at $400 to start (I’m not even going to entertain the idea of the smaller size watch) there are a lot of things that are a higher priority on my budget right now than a watch that I don’t feel is compelling enough to justify the cost.

  • Patrick Selge

    Actually the original iPhone started with not one but two killer apps, back in the days. Safari and Email. Those ofcourse were available on windows phones before that (talking ’bout the old ones with styli) but never were they that well implemented. The original iPhone brought the mobile internet to the masses. It changed quite alot down the road, but it helped apple to succeed with it’s vision. I don’t think the apple watch needs to be so drastic when it comes to killer apps or features, but expectations are higher these days.

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  • Samanjj

    Coincidently most of what you like about the watch is why i would also like to buy one. I would like it to be water resistant for swimming within warranty and be able to be used during sleep somehow for sleep analysis but that’s about it.

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  • Eggyhead85

    If anything, the apple watch’s killer app would be to tell the time, because that’s what it does first above anything else. However that doesn’t make for a very good selling point, does it? For me, as a teacher abroad, I would use it as a timer for my lessons, remote for slides, quick reference and translation tool, travel guide and hands-free navigation around new areas. Not one of those things alone could justify the watch, but all together would make for a grand experience.

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  • N

    Great article! Apple all but admitted that telling accurate time is among the killer apps. Analog watches are not accurate. I know a watch guy who gave up on his watch collection for this reason, reverting instead to his iPhone. Now he has an Apple Watch. I myself have always worn a watch and love my Apple Watch. Some days I just use it for the time and complications, which is fine.

    No one wears two watches on their wrist. For the time being, I suspect Apple is content to take share from traditional watches. When the watch matures and gains GPS, etc. Apple will then try to persuade people who have never worn a watch.

  • jameskatt

    It isn’t whether or not it has a killer app. The Apple Watch is a killer product. It is a category killing product.

    No one needs it just as no one needs the iPhone or a Mac. But it engenders LUST. People WANT IT. So they buy it in millions.

    The Swiss Watch makers are feeling the heat of the Apple Watch. And the Apple Watch in weeks has decimated the sales of its competitors and relegated them to the low end of the market where they belong.

  • JDawg

    I returned my Apple Watch. Killer products need to have something that differentiates them. The Apple Watch brings nothing to the table. Plus they look terrible.

  • Safari was the killer app. Remember, that there wasn’t an SDK for developing iPhone apps at the time, Apple expected everyone to write HTML5 apps. Having a complete browser in your hand was revolutionary and an incredible feat at the time.

    Notifications on your wrist is the most important duty the Apple Watch performs (well, besides actually telling time :-), but that is not a killer app.

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  • darlaj

    The killer feature of iPhone was ease of use. Apple Watch is an accessory to the iPhone that adds ease and convenience. I check time, temperature and for impending rain many times during the day. It’s easier to accept or dismiss incoming calls, especially when I have my hands full. This is why I’m so disappointed that Publix, my main grocery, has replaced its payments terminals with brand new non-NFC equipment that requires swiping a plastic card. None of these is a big deal in itself, but they add up to many moments as I go about my day. The watch is not necessary, maybe not desirable for everyone. It’s a bit comparable to automatic transmission vs. manual shifting.

  • ksegall

    We all have opinions, and nothing is absolute. Apple Pay, directions, far less need to use my phone, quick glances at temperature and stock prices… and the time — that’s what the Watch brings to my table.

  • ksegall

    Agreed. The killer app is that it does a ton of things with a simple glance.

  • ksegall

    I think you guys are correct, in that the killer aspect of the original iPhone was that it delivered the mobile version of the things used most often on our computers.

    But today, we demand that our devices do all of these things. We’ve actually become a bit jaded because we’re used to being wowed. We saw that play out when iPad was launched, with the somewhat muted reception it was unveiled. There was nothing “new” in it — it was just a bigger iPhone. As we quickly learned, there was something tremendously new about it. It delivered technology in such a convenient and more mobile form, it could actually replace the PC for many.

    That’s what I’m saying about the Watch. High expectations get people to judge it by some impossible standard. It must do something we’ve never even imagined before. But, like the iPad, it can be a true revolution simply by giving us an even simpler, quicker way to access our information.

  • Rahul

    While the watch might seem to be ‘Not a Necessity’ kind of a product, The way I look at it is that it is an Idea. An idea to bring computing in closer contact with people. so close that they just have to raise their hands to access it. Just like personal computing was an idea in late 1970s and early 1980s. And this idea of computing bound to people’s hands is filled with numerous possibilities for the future.

    If you see how personal computing has evolved right from say the apple 1 or even before that say the Altair, It has always been about bringing the power closer to the people so as to empower them in new ways. So that people can get more and more done in a faster, easier and friendlier way.

    Steve wanted to create a bicycle for the mind but he went so far as to create a mustang and I can see that where we are heading is probably like creating Bugatti Veyron.

    What’s your opinion, Ken?

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  • chris

    I liked your article and I agree that people are still discussing killer apps when the concept is dated. I wrote about this on my blog http://onthelife.com.

    Interestingly enough, when Steve Jobs announced the iPhone in 2007. He said..
    “it’s a iPod, a phone, an Internet communicator…”.
    I even went back to watch parts of the 2007 keynote. Steve Job’s actually said in the launch, “the killer app is making calls..”. He went on to say the most people still dial numbers directly, have few numbers in their current phone’s address book, and use the recents as their address book. He added that using the Contacts app combined with syncing your address book with your PC or Mac using iTunes so you could have all your contacts with you at all times.

    I think I’m going to go back and watch the whole iPhone launch and compare it to the Apple watch launch.

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  • Atle Hidajat

    When people write about killer apps for iPhone, why aren’t they mentioning Facebook. I think for most people it was Facebook. What will be the killer app for Apple Watch?

  • Hingle McCringleberry

    You bought a watch that you think looks terrible? That makes no sense at all, you sound like a hater to me.