I was excited by the thought of Apple Pay on my Watch. There’s a (childish) appeal that I can pay for stuff just using the device on my wrist. And it looks as if I’m not the only one. In June, mobile analyst, Benedict Evans (@benedictevans) Tweeted: ‘Apple Pay with a phone is still just taking something out of your pocket. Not transformative. With a watch it’s amazing. End of friction’. A report released in August from Writstly found that 80% of Watch users have paid with the system and 78% do so at least once a week. With such a high uptake, does that make Apple Pay a rip-roaring success? The answer is, probably not.
I am one of the 80% who have used Apple Pay on the Watch and it has been far from life changing. It is good enough, but far from the great experience that Apple has delivered elsewhere. Double clicking to ‘prime’ the card is fairly easy, although it’s effectively a two-handed operation. Tapping in to pay can be tricky at times. The biggest challenge is getting the angle right on the reader. They are generally set up on the right hand side and this is especially a problem on London’s transport network. If you wear your watch on your left then tapping in can be somewhat hit and miss. That’s not great on TfL where a nanosecond’s pause will cause havoc and loud tutting from other commuters. Another challenge is the availability in retailers. My UK experience is that very few outlets advertise Apple Pay. So for many shops it’s a case of tapping to see if it works. So even on the Watch there is still some friction.
In spite of the Wristly study, its difficult to know the true uptake of the payment system – we don’t know how many Apple Watches have been sold and there have only been a couple of broader studies in the US. One survey from InfoScout covering all Apple devices pointed towards a drop in payment adoption rates – from 15% in March 2015 to 13% in June. The second study was a Gallup Poll, which found that 65% of iPhone 6 users were aware of the payment system, but only 21% had used it. None of these show a comparison in take up with contactless cards, so there’s no baseline to gauge the success.
The Wristly study was a self-selecting sample of Watch users. It’s reasonable to assume that these are early adopters of the device who are likely to try out Apple Pay regardless of the experience. When it comes to a broader audience an experience that’s ‘good enough’ is probably not good enough to drive mass adoption. At the end of the day, Apple Pay is good attempt at mobile payment but it’s hard to see how it will achieve real scale. That said, I’m going to keep using Apple Pay on my Watch. Not because it’s any easier, but just because I can.
I’ve previously blogged about the challenges for the Apple Watch. Right now though, nobody can agree on the success of the device. Data from Slice Intelligence, reported by MacRumours suggested that sales fell by 90% in the second week of July. However, Recode countered that the data only accounted for US online sales and didn’t factor in the launch in physical stores during the same period. Regardless of the ‘sales’ stats, Business Insider has predicted a 35% annual compound growth of the smartwatch market. The Apple Watch is therefore an interesting device in which to understand the direction and benefits of wearable computing.
Having used my device for nearly two months (yes, I have an Apple Watch), it’s been a good way to understand what works and what doesn’t. For example, I find the notifications are more useful than I expected. Whilst getting my phone out my bag or pocket is not a major hassle, there are benefits with notifications on the Watch. For a start, it’s discreet. I have been in a few meetings where my Watch quietly buzzed and I could quickly glance down to see what it wanted. That’s less of a disruption than pulling my phone out my bag. One commentator claimed that all the notifications do is to tell you to pick up your phone. I haven’t found that. Some of the notifications are reminders of another next meeting. I also use it to check the weather, transport and currency rates. None of these require me to look at my smartphone.
One of the unexpected benefits has been for travel. I can set an arrival time for a journey in Citymapper and it will alert me when I need to leave, based on the current speed of the transport network. The turn by turn navigation is also useful. I was in a less savoury part of the city the other week and it was more discreet to use my Watch than get out my phone to check the route (if only Apple Maps were a bit more reliable). The navigation is also useful when it’s raining or I have my hands full.
What’s interesting about all these benefits is that they are all very specific, or contextual. There is a parallel with the contextual nature of smartphones. I have been banging on for years about the need of brands to understand context in mobile to deliver the right engagement. For example, context is not simply knowing the user’s location. Understanding that I’m in-store is useful, but it doesn’t tell me if I’m browsing, ready to buy or just can’t find the product I’m looking for. Context also includes the time of day, my intent and even functions such as the battery life (when people’s batteries are low, the save their usage for basic tasks like messaging their loved ones).
I’ve asked a number of people how they are finding their Watch. Although each person uses it differently, everyone said it was useful, but not essential. Maybe that will change if Apple Pay gains traction. However, the non-essential nature is the key point here. Whilst smartphones are now an essential core device, smartwatches are not. They are useful for very specific tasks. If brands want to develop their engagement on these devices then they will need to understand the very specific contexts in which they are useful. It’s hyper-contextual. Of course the challenge for brands is how to understand or identify that hyper-context.
There is a theory that most sandwich toasters lie in the cupboard unused (I suspect that you could also include ice cream makers). A sandwich toaster is exciting (ish) for the first few months as you discover all of the random things you can shove between two bits of cooked bread. After that, it largely takes up space in the cupboard.
It looks like smartwatches could go the way of the sandwich toaster. Someone recently told me that he had a Motorola smartwatch but didn’t bother wearing it. The watch was decent enough, but after a few months of use, he realised that there was little need for it. He wasn’t alone. A study in 2014 found that 50% of fitness trackers were left in the drawer.
If smartwatches want to remain on people’s wrists they have a number of challenges to overcome:
- The devices can be very buggy – in some watches, the software has simply not been up to the job. Apple’s Watch will work superbly, but the predicted 18 hour battery life is going to make constant usage tricky
- Fashions change – unlike a phone, the look of a smartwatch is absolutely key to its adoption. They are firmly in the accessories market and the technology companies are competing against the likes of Fossil, Swatch and Tag Hauer. And all of them are competing with the fickleness of fashion
- Smartwatches are not essential, core devices – whilst I can’t imagine leaving home without my phone, I don’t see any real inconvenience if I forget to wear my smartwatch. Sure, some people get addicted to them but a combination of the small screen size and limited functionality puts them in danger of being novelty items.
Many commentators have pointed out that it’s the apps that will make or break adoption. Simply reducing phone apps to a mini screen is not going to hack it. Developers need to think differently for a more personal, wearable channel. Without some killer apps, there’s a possibility that smartwatches will become a short-lived fad. With the impending delivery of Apple’s Watch, it’s certainly exciting times in the world of wearables. The company has been a game-changer with their phones and tablet devices. However, it remains to be seen whether they can make the smartwatch enough of a necessity that it doesn’t end up languishing in the cupboard next to the sandwich maker.