Finding Apple Strategy Clues in Apple Watch's Human Interface Guidelines

With over 40 tech blogs reporting on Apple's WatchKit release yesterday, there has been no shortage of designer and developer tidbits to digest including screen resolutions and fully native Apple Watch apps arriving in late 2015. I read the Apple Watch Human Interface Guidelines (HIG) with a different goal; to find clues as to how Apple will market Apple Watch.

During Apple's September Apple Watch keynote some observers thought Apple failed to demonstrate why someone should buy an Apple Watch. Instead of picking a few key selling points, Apple had VP of Technology Kevin Lynch go on stage and play with various apps and a confusing beehive-like layout of tiny icons. I disagreed as I thought Apple touched upon a few selling points that normal users might be interested in (maps, photos, communication) and the overall messaging was that the Apple Watch's full potential will be realized with third-party iOS apps. 

From my piece "Apple Keynote Notes":

"Apple didn't go into much detail about why someone should use an Apple Watch, instead demoing a few features that seemed cool or at least interesting. I think most of this is taken from the iPad playbook  - show users various things you can do with the device and then step back and see what sticks. At one point Apple even mentioned there is much more to say about the device, but there wasn't enough time."

Apple laid out three overarching design themes for Apple Watch in the HIG released yesterday: personal, holistic, and lightweight. Each not only helps describe Apple Watch, from its size to functionality, but also sheds some light on how Apple will market the device in relation to the iPhone. 

Personal - Apple goes out of its way to remind developers that the Apple Watch is something that is worn and therefore requires a level of personalization that has yet to be seen in the tech space.  The device's personal communication aspect (Digital Touch and the Taptic Engine) stands out as something that an iPhone just isn't able to accomplish. 

Holistic - A few days after purchasing my iPad, I knew the device was going to be a hit as the hardware seemingly melted away whenever I touched the screen. 

From my piece "iOS App Innovation and iPad 2 Design Lead to Magic":

"Remove the intermediary and let users interact directly with innovation." 

Apple is following a similar path with Apple Watch by stressing that the software must make the hardware disappear during usage. Such a requirement is made even more important due to the device being worn all day. 

Lightweight - The Apple Watch is meant to display small snippets of information and data. Instead of thinking of the device as a mini-iPhone, Apple wants developers to rethink how an Apple Watch user can consume data in a completely new way. Apple stressed key words that contained descriptive imagery, such as "briefly", "frequently", and "small display". 

I think these three Apple Watch design tenets go a long way in describing how Apple could market an Apple Watch. Apple will walk a thin line because if too much focus is put on the need to connect Apple Watch to an iPhone, consumers may look at the Apple Watch as an overpriced iPhone accessory, but overhype Apple Watch's capabilities and users may think they don't need the latest and greatest iPhone. 

How can Apple sell Apple Watch? Position the device as a way of improving one's iPhone. A device that can take iPhone's drawbacks and repackage the problem into new solutions. A few real-world examples of this strategy:

  1. Communication. One of iPhone's communication problems is that the device needs to be both within the user's line-of-sight and reach to initiate or continue communication with someone. With Apple Watch, the user will be able to communicate only by touch (Taptic Engine) while the iPhone is tucked away in a pocket or purse, or lying on the passenger car seat. Granted, that type of communication is rudimentary when compared to iPhone's capabilities, but in certain contexts it is both efficient and effective. Users now have two distinct forms of communication: iPhone and Apple Watch.
  2. Maps. The iPhone can be used to get turn-by-turn navigation to reach a parking lot or destination, but once the user is near that location on foot, the iPhone's utility diminishes as the need to actively look for real-world visual clues, as well as weaving in-and-out of pedestrian foot traffic, makes it difficult to have an iPhone in hand. An Apple Watch can be used via quick glances to determine if the destination is one block ahead or on the other side of the street while the iPhone is kept in a back pocket or backpack. Users now have two devices to use directions to reach a destination: iPhone for the sheer grunt work, Apple Watch for the nuance details at the end of the trip. 
  3. Apple Pay. While Apple Pay and iPhone seem to work flawlessly, having to take your iPhone out of pocket and then hold it up to a POS terminal is not the most efficient process. Instead if users can rely on iPhone to manage payment information as well as retailer loyalty programs, but use Apple Watch to complete the retail transaction at POS. The iPhone remains safely in pocket or purse throughout the transaction, simplifying the process. 

In each case, both the Apple Watch and iPhone are required to accomplish a task, but the process of working through the "problem" is broken down into more granular tasks, with the more complicated and power-hungry steps kept on iPhone, while Apple Watch tackles the small finishing touches. Over time, it's not hard to see Apple Watch gaining more capabilities, but in the near-term the Apple Watch and iPhone can work together to improve one's efficiency. Apple's job in marketing Apple Watch will be to demonstrate how the iPhone's sheer power and capabilities produces some annoyances and then explain how Apple Watch can help solve those inconveniences.