Content for the Apple Watch comes of age?

Apple Watch on wrist of lady ()

The watch launched in April alongside a flurry of interesting and innovative content offerings from the likes of The Guardian and The New York Times.

Since then though, the pace of new content apps for the device launching has slowed a little. It seems as if publishers are stepping back to watch how that content is being consumed and what behaviour patterns watch owners are developing.

It is not just the Apple Watch that is concentrating the minds of publishers either. There is a now a slew of smartwatch formats from the Google Android Wear championed by Motorola, Samsung and others to the Pebble Time.

Ultimately though it is the small, some publishers would say limited screen size, that’s available on these devices which is driving innovation in presentation. 

Interesting experiments

Apple made some interesting changes to its watch with the updates of the WatchOS at the end of May. In particular, giving apps access to the watch’s integrated speakers. Some pundits have predicted that this could lead to rush of short form video from news publishers.

Others publishers have experimented with audio. The Economist app, for example, harnesses Siri to read the news aloud to the watch owner. It is a feature that has also been adopted by the Tribune group of papers in the US.

One company which believes that the Apple Watch holds huge potential for publishers is WoodWing. The Dutch company recently created a template to create apps for the watch and its first client, German publisher Gruner + Jahr (G+J), unveiled its first app in June.

Location and content – a perfect marriage?

G+J took its iPhone app, GEO Saison, and using the template re-purposed it for the watch. The app offers similar information to the iPhone app, but is customised to suit the device’s 1.32inch screen. It uses push notifications to let the owner know that they’re near a place of interest and then can give them guidance on how to get there. 

‘We consider the Watch as an attractive addition to our portfolio of media channels, said Oliver von Wersch, managing director, G+J Digital Products. “It enables us to reach our readers in the context of their current situation to offer them content and services which facilitate their lives.”

Oliver von Wersch ()

Above: G+J’s von Wersch

It was a fairly obvious progression for G+J to offer the app for the watch as Roel-Jan Mouw, CEO of WoodWing Software explains:

“G+J has been using our multi-channel publishing system Enterprise for many years, and we have worked together in the development of some of the first apps for tablets and smartphones. It was only logical that we have discussed and created also one of the first apps for the Apple Watch.”

von Wersch adds that “smartwatch users in general are a pioneer target group and since we believe in wearables playing a growing role, being on the Apple watch with our brands Stern and GEO Saison is an interesting test case for us. Finding and trying out new ways of content distribution is one of the key factors in digital transformation for publishers. And so we analyse and learn as we go on.”

Although Woodwing aims to be at the forefront of publishing for the Apple Watch, Mouw admits that it is still early days for content producers and the format.

“Of course, smartwatches need to reach a critical market penetration first. We expect that this will take longer than with smart phones that offer an essential basic utility – telephony – and have also led to the situation that many smart phone owners are not wearing a watch any longer. On the other hand, the  Apple Watch corresponds to a change in user behaviour – as an example, 40 per cent of US smartphone owners are tired of pulling their phones out of their pockets. So we are firmly convinced that smart watches will prevail in the end as part of the trend towards wearables.”

In the mean time, Woodwing is offering publishers a “development on request” model, though the company believes it won’t be long before the Apple watch joins other devices in its automatically supported category.

“With our new authoring tool Inception we are perfectly ready for such projects – it enables easy creation of HTML5 content, which can be pushed to any channel, including Apple Watch apps.”

What type of apps offer key opportunities for publishers?

In some ways, the marriage of content and location (like the G+J app) is an ideal one for the Apple Watch with owners being about to read briefly about nearby attractions and then find out how to visit them seamlessly just by looking at their wrist or getting voice directions. Mouw however thinks that publishers shouldn’t be obsessing about location and should look more broadly about the type of content the watch can display.

“I would not focus on location-based content. We think, it will be all the content that readers perceive as urgent or want to consume in a comfortable manner according to a given situation – think about news or information about events or specific shops close to their current location.

“According to the character of smart watches in particular news with links to related more comprehensive content as well as location-based offerings will be appropriate content for smart watches.”

von Wersch agrees that while location-based content is going to be pivotal to the development of the publisher’s repertoire on the Apple Watch, short, timely bursts of information are just as important. “Location-based content surely is one of the two major USPs on every mobile device, especially smart watches. That’s why we want the GEO Saison Berlin App to be right there on the spot with the user inspiring them as they move through the city. The second USP of smart watches is timeliness. That’s why we chose Stern to be the other test case app. Any mobile device usage asks for short and fast information and the Stern app provides concise headlines in a clean and modern no nonsense-format. So both our apps aim at slightly different user situations and we’re looking forward to gaining as much insight into results as we can.”

Ultimately then how publishers use the Apple Watch is still up in the air. It essentially needs creative minds to work within the parameters of the devices, even Mouw admits the screen is a limiting factor, and then come up with content based apps that fit seamlessly into the behaviour patterns that we are already seeing be developed by smartwatch owners.

And then there’s the question of how do you monetise that content? Ads clearly don’t work on the screen, and it seem unlikely that even Apple Watch owners will be prepared to pay for the content.

Push notifications for offers, coupons and loyalty rewards may be a way forward, but it is clear that publishers have a long way to go before they discover the magic bullet for making money from wearables.

von Wersch remains optimistic, but is also waiting to see how successful the apps are. “Let’s see to the Stern and GEO apps first. But we’ll keep on testing other innovative digital formats for any kind of mobile device, especially wearables. And for sure our lab units will come up soon with some exciting new stuff.”

WoodWing and G+J spoke to Ashley Norris for this article.

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