Apple Watch: Marketers must raise game in battle for wrist

Apple?s Spring Event included announcements about both a thinner MacBook and a lower-priced Apple TV, but the most anticipated news concerned the Apple Watch, a device with the potential to dramatically reshape marketing due to Apple?s huge following and the watch?s limited user interface. Expected demand for the watch, which lets users receive calls, communicate by tapping on the interface, and features mobile applications promoting and measuring the user?s health, is expected to drive Apple to the top of the smartwatch market with 55 percent of global market share, according to Strategy Analytics.

?Apple focused on making a beautiful, fashionable watch, which happens to have high tech baked in, rather than position it as a computer that has been baked into a wrist-wearable,? said Linda Bustos, ecommerce analyst for ElasticPath Software in Vancouver, British Columbia. 

?This is likely to have more appeal to consumers, and may propel smartwatches into mainstream.?

New dimension
With the watch, which can be pre-ordered starting April 10, the Cupertino, CA maker of the iPhone, iPad and iPod brings a new dimension to timekeeping, as CEO Tim Cook emphasized during a presentation at the Yerba Buena center in San Francisco.

Going after fashion-minded consumers.

The watch, which Apple unveiled in September when it also launched its new iPhones and Apple Pay, will have an 18-hour battery life and incorporate Apple Pay and Siri, Apple?s virtual assistant. It communicates with the iPhone over Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and can be connected to another Apple Watch. The user can draw a sketch and have it pop onto a friend?s watch, tap to get a friend?s attention, or even send a heart beat.

Apple clearly is out to win over fashion-minded consumers. It unveiled an array of finishes and bands priced from $349 for the Sport version, to $17,000 for the Edition, which comes with a solid-gold case. Mid-range watches will be priced at $549. 

A projected boom in fashion-first wearables would impede short-term mobile marketing, research shows, turning up attention on the Apple Watch?s expected impact on tried-and-true marketing approaches.

As the wearables market grows to have annual value of about $80 billion by 2020, fashion-first wearables are expected to have far greater appeal than tech-centric devices, as they blend in with consumers' lives more effectively.

Forty percent of online consumers in the United States say they are tired of pulling phones from their pockets and purses, suggesting that more mobile time will be spent in quick glances to the wrist as smartwatches catch on. 

?With Apple Watch, mobile marketing and commerce will require very concise and personalized messages,? said Andrew Lau, product manager for ElasticPath. ?The limited user interface and personal nature of these devices will challenge marketers who are used to inundating consumers with emails, ads and impressions. 

?The watch itself is best used to provide contextual data to the underlying mobile app to further personalize interactions.?

Challenging marketers to raise their game.

Marketers will have to up their game to effectively use these touchpoints, otherwise users will be quick to turn off permissions to allow watch glance interactions, much more so than with the phone, since the watch is an even more intimate device. 

?The need to enable experimentation across your mobile and marketing teams will be a struggle, as a lot of organizations aren?t set up to succeed in an Internet of Things world due to data and organizational silos,? Mr. Lau said. 

The point is not to shrink the mobile app down for the watch. 

?The watch is not for browsing or shopping an online catalog, though there is a case for geolocated push alerts and in-store experiences such as content and offers that pair with beacon technology, though a smartphone may be a better device for this content,? Ms. Bustos said.

Global smartwatch shipments are expected to grow 511 percent from 4.6 million units in 2014 to 28.1 million units in 2015, according to Strategy Analytics. Most of the smartwatch growth will come from the new Apple Watch.

Building momentum
To build momentum, Apple will have to show greater perseverance on the software side to finishing and bringing to market the aspects of the watch that will endear it to users. 

CEO Tim Cook unveils Apple watch's features.

?For every great 12-inch Macbook and iPhone 6 hardware device, Apple recently has had trouble unlocking the potential of their related software initiatives such as Passbook, Siri and Healthkit,? Mr. Lau said. ?Now throwing in ResearchKit in the mix, it starts to look like a lack of focus. 

?The watch, just like the iPhone, will live or die on the network effects that Apple leverages from their App Developer network,? he said. ?That?s why I believe the Apple Watch will be much more effective than the independents and the fractured Android-based offerings. 

?No one can touch the network effects and breadth of Apple,? he said.

Final Take
Michael Barris is staff reporter on Mobile Marketer, New York