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How brands are getting Apple Watch apps right ? and wrong

Starbucks, Target and a plethora of other brands are marshaling mobile applications for the Apple Watch as the long-awaited wearable begins to ship today, offering the potential for new engagement and commerce opportunities.

Amid an ocean of apps pertaining to retail, health, travel, content and myriad other categories, the watch elevates the profile of wearables. The risk of having an unsatisfying app deleted points to the tricky challenge marketers face in creating small-screen experiences that fulfill the consumer?s needs. 

?It will be very easy to create apps that are overly intrusive, as [a marketer?s] branding will be strapped to the consumer?s body,? said Chris Willis, chief marketing officer for Perfecto Mobile. ?Your efforts will literally take users by the wrist and lead them through an experience. 

?However, if they don?t like it or don?t see the value in it, the app will be uninstalled even faster than those on smartphones,? he said.
Disruptive impact
The watch, unveiled last fall and available for pre-order since April 10, integrates fitness tracking and other features with Apple?s iOS system, relying on a connected iPhone to perform calling, texting and other functions.

Starbucks Apple Watch app.

The most disruptive change for marketers is the flick-of-a-wrist speed at which consumers can now get the gist of communications from a screen even smaller than a smartphone?s.

Retailers with watch apps include Target and Starbucks while the content category counts Buzzfeed, Flipboard and The New York Times among its members.

?Buzzfeed is focused on delivering daily polls which may work well as they are short form,? said Tom Edwards of The Marketing Arm, Dallas. ?Flipboard is focusing on providing summaries of news stories and using the handoff feature to allow for consumption of long form content. 

?Starbucks is porting many of the iPhone app features into the Apple Watch such as store locators and paying with Passbook.? 

Target?s Apple Watch app, which lets the user build a shopping list on the watch and include a Glance to see when the store is open, has the potential to engage shoppers.

?It not only will provide list building within the app but also will provide value while in-store by mapping the location of the items on your list,? Mr. Edwards said. 

?The Glance option will provide simple utility by seeing if the store is open, how many items are on your list, and how many may have deals associated with them.? 

The New York Times has released a major update to its core iPhone app that provides a more urgent and visual news experience paired with the Apple Watch, which provides breaking news and short stories at a glance.

Watch apps also come from eBay, E*Trade, Chipotle, CNN, ESPN, Expedia, Fandango, Instagram, At Bat, Quantam, Redfin and Uber, among many others.

An Apple Watch app is not necessarily something every marketer needs.

?I would not say that every marketer needs an Apple Watch, but any marketer that focuses on content creation or distribution should take note of user behavior after launch and fully understand how to create an ideal experience on the platform,? Mr. Edwards said. 

The most effective Apple Watch apps make good use of the watch?s notifications feature.

Building a shopping list on Target Apple Watch app.

?The Apple Watch will support short term and long term notifications,? Mr. Edwards said. ?Long term notifications support app-defined actions, so it is feasible to leverage functionality from the app directly from the notification, bypassing another step for the consumer.? 

Generally, customers? needs should dictate creation of an Apple Watch app.

?If the app truly adds value to their experience, such as by streamlining it (payment apps), informing them of necessary data (apps set off by location or time, such as airline applications), or otherwise, then by all means go ahead,? Mr. Willis said. ?Personally, I?m not going to push for one until I know that the opportunity will make for a great experience.? 
?My favorite apps right now are the ones that replace gadgets, such as the Marriott app that opens your door, replacing a keycard, or the Target app that helps you locate an item, replacing those directories they have on the wall, or the need to find an associate,? he said.

There is some question about the size of the opportunity the watch holds for marketers.

?There will likely be some custom native ad units for the watch that develop over time,? said Adam Foroughi of Applovin. ?But the (physical) screen size is limited.  

?Additionally, it's still so early that consumer usage is unclear. 

?Overall, we are one of the largest mobile marketing companies and we haven't started supporting anything for the watch yet,? he said.  ?We don't think it will be immediately impactful for most marketers.? 

That said, app-less brands likely will be unable to stay out of the space indefinitely.

?All brands that have an app will eventually extend that presence to the watch, because push notifications will be received there in the form of Glances,? said Jeff Malmad, managing director and head of mobile and life-plus with Mindshare North America.

?If the smartphone is Batman, then the smartwatch is Robin.?
One size fits all
For healthcare brands, the watch will diminish the one size fits all mentality that exists when prescribing how many steps an individual needs to benefit their health. 

Target Apple Watch app's item-location feature.

?This opens all new possibilities for healthcare providers, insurance companies, and pharmaceuticals to improve their services and promote brand loyalty, said Bill Aurnhammer, CEO of Aurnhammer.
?We see wonderful opportunities for marketers to connect with their customers in new and much more personal ways,? he said. ?The marketers who get there first will make the biggest impression.? 

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