The much-anticipated Apple Watch has arrived at last, and though early reviews have been mixed, many publishers have been eagerly trumpeting plans to produce content specifically for the wearable. The New York Times announced plans for one-sentence stories and The Guardian announced its own watch-sized offering called “Moments.” These are but two of the publishers rushing to adapt content for the latest Apple form factor, a move that looks like 2010 all over again. Yet in merely re-sizing content for the watch face, content providers risk missing a huge opportunity.
Five years ago, when Apple introduced the first iPad, content providers were stumbling over each other to introduce not just tablet, but iPad versions of their publications. Some saw the new tablet as a panacea for content, promptaing effusive comments such as “the most important feature it may contain will be the ability to save the press from its demise” from Kirk McElhearn of Macworld.
Well, it hasn’t exactly panned out that way. Though many publishers went all in on the iPad, the hoped-for bonanza hasn’t materialized—December reports indicated a decline in digital subscriptions for a majority of major magazine titles. The lessons learned from investing in iPad content, combined with the unproven case for wearables—see Google Glass—have prompted publishers to take a more tempered approach this time around. The Apple Watch may yet unleash a device-specific content customization stampede akin to the iPad, but if wearable content turns out to be simply another case of “same story, smaller screen,” it’s doomed to the margins. However, if publishers—as Steve Jobs might say—”think different” about wearable content it could be game changing.
With the iPad, the screen size was smaller than a desktop browser environment, but it was the user experience of the touch interface and app ecosystem that were the big innovations. Content that was simply re-formatted from a browser to the tablet missed a huge opportunity—repeating the pattern of publishers who persisted in replicating a print experience online. It’s not unexpected, but is disappointing to see publishers following the same pattern of simply shrinking content for the Apple Watch. For example, Flipboard, the social magazine app that has been a resounding success on tablets, has announced plans to provide content in a “smart summary” format to draw readers from the Apple Watch back to the iPad.
The size of the Apple Watch screen—which will accommodate approximately 80 characters—is only part of the equation. Just as with the iPad, the app ecosystem will be critical, but it’s what Apple CEO Tim Cook touted as the “intimate” personal and contextual features that may differentiate it from the iPad and the iPhone and hold promise for innovative content.
Content that addresses you personally isn’t new, but could be made more compelling and yes, intimate, when combined with the contextual features of wearables. A wearable that knows your location, the temperature, your heart rate, current traffic conditions, your schedule, if you’ve been sitting or standing, and is always on you has potential to deliver more content that’s more personalized and contextual.
Despite its imperfections, Google Glass hints at what’s possible. A Trulia app alerted users when they were in proximity to homes that met their search criteria. An augmented reality app developed by journalism students allowed visitors to the Los Angeles Public Library to access information and virtual models related to exhibits they were viewing. These examples rely on a single context—location—combined with personalization, which only scratches the surface of what might be possible with the multiple contextual inputs from a smart watch.
The first great content innovation for wearables has yet to arrive, but the audience appears to be lining up already. According to Juniper Research, global revenue from wearables will top $53 billion by 2019—compared with $4.5 billion in 2014—and by 2017, smart watches are expected to surpass fitness wearables as the top device type in the category. The novelty of content on a wearable may be enough to capture the public’s attention, but delivering a smaller version of the content they already get on another device won’t be enough to keep them engaged for very long.