Business Platforms

The 3 key Apple Watch features that nobody talks about. Yet.

[If Apple wants to create a new, large product category out of smart watches, they need to create mass-market demand for their new product. What are the 3 most important features that will define the future of the Apple Watch? The ones that enable developers to innovate on top of these devices and create demand for smart watches.]


“We believe this product will redefine what people expect from its category. … It is the next chapter in Apple’s story.” With these words, Tim Cook made it very clear that the Apple Watch is more than just an excellent product. As with the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad before it, the Apple Watch aims to shape the future of wearables and create a whole new market reality.

As it stands, the Apple Watch v1 is a nicely designed timepiece, an engineering wonder, but competition will be fierce. Since fashion is about self-expression, by definition, there will be no single winner.

If Apple wants to create something bigger than fashion accessories, the Watch needs to be a functional tool. If it’s a tool, [tweetable]Apple must answer a fundamental question: what is a smart watch for?[/tweetable]

Will notifications become the killer app for smart watches? Unlikely. Not only is it unclear that we really want more interruptions, but it’s a bit of a dead-end for innovation. There can only be so many improvements in notifications, and only so many companies making those improvements.

If Apple wants to create a new, large product category out of smart watches, they need to become something much more that a timepiece with notifications and sensors. Something that allows people to do things that were not possible before. How Apple can do this? By following the same path that worked so well for iPhone and iPad: Tap into the limitless innovation power of co-creators to discover new use cases and possibilities we cannot imagine today.

The most important features of the Apple Watch going forward are the ones that enable developers to innovate on top of these devices and create demand for Apple’s smart watches. What are these features?



The straightforward way to expand the functionality of the watch is the WatchKit SDK, which allows developers to create “watch apps”. Other smart watch players like Android Wear, Pebble and Razer have made similar capabilities for developers. Developers are already showing strong interest in smartwatches. For example, the developer program of Pebble boasts 20,000+ developers and thousands of apps,.


The Apple Watch has a strong emphasis on embedded sensors for fitness and wellness. On the launch event, the company dedicated an entire section on it. Tim Cook: “This is a very important area for me and a very important area for Apple.”

But a few sensors and apps do not make a platform. The real potential lies in the HealthKit SDK that Apple launched at its WWDC event earlier this year. While its not technically a feature of the watch itself, it is this SDK that can take the device’s functionality and expand it in a whole new way to monitor activity and other wellness data . Could it be that the category that Apple wants to redefine is not the watch, but wellness and healthcare (in the broadest sense of the word)?

Certainly several other companies seem to go after that opportunity. Among them Google (Google Fit), Validic, Samsung (SAMI), Human API and most recently Jawbone (Jawbone UP API).


Like the Nymi wristband, the Apple Watch has all the technology in it to identify you personally. Apple has already demonstrated how digital identity combined with the Apple Watch can be used to make payments or even open hotel doors. (The clever integration with the new Apple Pay can drive adoption for both.) However, the possibilities are much broader. Biometric identification can be the end of not only passwords, but other kinds of ID as well. Another product category for Apple to redefine and absorb into its iOS universe?

Digital identity is a key control point for many digital leaders, including the likes of Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Salesforce. They are all actively working to hold your identity information and build your online persona on their platform. For Apple, the importance of identity is also evident in their deepening integration between devices and in their introduction of fingerprint sensors in all new phones.

Users first

What is a smart watch useful for? Beyond fashion and self-expression, a new kind of health monitoring and identity are prime candidates for the title of killer use case. Apple is going at it with their proven recipe for launching digital ecosystems: users-first. Apple starts by releasing a well-designed device for hardcore fans with a lot of value built in by default. Once there is a critical mass of users, Apple connects them with developers, who create real mass-market demand for the product.

It will take the ingenuity of a community of developers to explore all the possibilities and create a category killer, and Apple knows it very well.


7 things you need to know before developing a car app

Are you bored with the same old smartphone apps? Why not try developing for cars?


Which tools do you use to develop apps? Have your say in our Developer Economics survey and you could win awesome new gear.

Car makers have started a major offensive to get more apps in their vehicles and open up to outside developers. Their efforts have sparked an interest in the developer community. “A year ago there was very little interest from mobile developers because the automotive market was perceived as being too insignificant,” says Linda Daichendt, Executive Director of the Mobile Technology Association of Michigan, a trade organisation for the mobile/wireless industry located in the heart of automotive country: Detroit. “In late 2013 there was a tremendous surge in vehicle manufacturer outreach to mobile developers with extensive marketing programs. Now there is a much higher level of interest from developers in trying to understand the needs of the automotive companies and how they can profit from working with this market segment. As a result, 2014 is seeing a large number of Connected Vehicle conferences and training programs that are very well attended by the mobile developer community.”

According to Linda, education will be the key to unlock developer engagement and creativity. We thought we’d put in our own 2 cents with our latest report: “Apps for connected cars? Your mileage may vary””. In the free report we describe the state of automotive developer programs in 2014. Here are already 7 things you ought to know before getting into car apps. Many more details inside!

  1. [tweetable]There are 4 ways to develop a car app[/tweetable]. If you want to build an in-vehicle infotainment app, you can run it either on the car’s head unit (the dashboard) or run your app on a mobile device (smartphone or tablet) that is linked with the car. In the latter case, your app’s UI can be mirrored on the dashboard screen using APIs like Mirrorlink or CarPlay. If you want to make an app (in the car, in the cloud or on any device) that uses data from the car, you can use a car maker’s vehicle data API or access the On-Board Diagnostics port (OBD-II) using a bluetooth dongle.VisionMobile-Connected_Car_Apps-02-4_ways_to_develop
  2. [tweetable]There are 3 routes to market for car apps. Two of them are painful. The third is very early stage.[/tweetable]
    • Partner with car makers to get the app pre-installed in the vehicle or featured on a car maker app store. This process takes 2-6 months in the best case. You’ll have to audition with car makers to be allowed to distribute your app, and you’ll be at their mercy for much of the UI design.
    • Distribute apps on major mobile app stores (iOS, Google Play). Still, the approval of car makers is needed to distribute apps using their APIs. You’ll need to sign a distribution contract with the car maker in most cases.
    • Distribute apps on major mobile app stores (iOS, Google Play) while using an OBD-II dongle to get vehicle data. In this case, you need to convince your user to buy and install a hardware dongle. Platforms like Dash and Carvoyant that allow you to access data from an installed base of dongles have only recently launched, and don’t have a large user base yet (in the tens of thousands at most).
  3. [tweetable]The addressable market for car apps is in the lower millions of app installs[/tweetable]. If you were to produce a car app today and push it in the market with all your might, you can expect at most a few million installs across all platforms. It will probably take you several years to get there. Consider the example of Pandora, one of the most popular car apps around. It took them 3 years and over 30 partnership agreements to reach 4 million unique users. Nokia HERE, the navigation platform, claims to be behind 4 out 5 in-car navigation systems. They have sold 10 million licenses in 2013. Compare this to a potential of hundred of millions of installs on iOS or Android for the top apps. (Apps like Gmail or Facebook will probably count billions of installs when adding up all the platforms.)
  4. [tweetable]…but you’ll face much less competition in car apps than on the mobile app stores[/tweetable]. In our Developer Economics report series, we talk about millions of individual mobile app developers on each major platform. There are hundreds of thousands of app publishers on an organisational level. Based on data from analytics firm Priori, we estimate that each distinct app sub-category or use case has on average 1,500 apps competing for the user’s attention.
    In contrast, VisionMobile currently estimates the amount of car app developers at around the ten thousand mark, based on reported figures from car makers that have developer programs. It is still possible to “ride the wave”, i.e. to have an early-mover advantage on car apps just like it existed on smartphones in 2008 or tablets in 2010.
  5. [tweetable]Revenue opportunities for car apps are fuzzy and unproven at best.[/tweetable] Most car makers and car app platform players have not thought through the revenue model question. A common answer is: “the developer can use whatever revenue model he chooses or he is already using”. As we know from mobile apps, it’s not that simple. If you’re relying on an App Store based app for revenue generation, then paid downloads are all but dead in terms of revenue (except navigation apps perhaps), display advertising seems like a no-go and an in-app purchase during normal use seems pretty unlikely, or at least high-friction.
  6. [tweetable]You must design an app that can be operated at 65 mph / 100 km/h without crashing (not your app! your user!).[/tweetable] Safety concerns around driver distraction are absolutely paramount for the car makers you’ll be working with. This is the single biggest difference between car apps and the mobile apps you’re already familiar with. The feeling among car makers is that developers tend to underestimate the importance of new UI paradigms quite a lot – and you’ll be thoroughly scrutinized on it. Expect a learning curve.
    This of course doesn’t apply for car apps that are not used while driving or don’t require user interaction – by no means a niche area! Think insurance, fleet management, car sharing, maintenance and reselling: the list is endless.
  7. [tweetable]Things are moving fast. Your life is about to get easier as platform plays similar to iOS and Android are set in motion[/tweetable]. The introduction of Apple’s CarPlay and Google’s Open Automotive Alliance (and to a lesser extent Windows in the Car) seems to herald a tipping point in the industry. Here are two players that have a deep expertise in solving fragmentation, in building developer communities and in enabling developers to add value. There is now a realistic and acute possibility that these new entrants will sweep away the existing car app platforms with a dominant, over-the-top solution, just as they did in the smartphone world. You can find an overview of all the important platform contenders in our report.

Do you consider car apps part of our future? Have your say in our Developer Economics survey and you could win awesome new gear.