The real Apple Watch party starts this fall

The hardware is nice, but Jason Snell argues that the platform is just getting warmed up.

watchos 2 time travel

“The Apple Watch is available on April 24,” Apple CEO Tim Cook declared on stage during Apple’s March media event, officially setting the launch date for Apple’s highly anticipated new product. And yet when you consider all the facts, it’s hard not to conclude that the Apple Watch truly arrives this fall, and its first six months have been merely a prologue.

I wear my Apple Watch every day, and I enjoy it. The fitness features have made me more active, and I enjoy being able seeing notifications from my iPhone and responding quickly when I feel the need. But as with so many new Apple products, the early users are on the shakedown cruise, before all the regular passengers come aboard. This was true with the iPod and the iPhone, and it feels true about the Apple Watch, too.

“Now, our objective for the quarter wasn’t primarily sales,” Cook said during his conference call with financial analysts last week. If not sales, then what?

First, consider that most entirely new Apple product suffer from shortages, and not just because of pent-up demand. Building a new piece of high technology in large numbers, especially with Apple’s specifications, can be fraught with difficulties. So part of the objective of the first few months of Apple Watch production was to increase manufacturing volume. First came fulfilling demand in the Apple Watch launch countries; then as the initial demand has been met, Apple has added in new countries with their own initial demand and rolled the watch out to Apple’s retail stores. The goal is to reach the holiday season with an ability to accept every Apple Watch order that’s made, and to have enough watches to sell at Apple Stores (and other retail establishments).

apple watch watchos2 complications primary Apple

Third-party complications in watchOS 2 will let users get info and launch apps without hunting for the right bubbles on the crowded home screen.

Then there’s watchOS itself. The version on the Apple Watch today is so new, it doesn’t really even have a name. It’s an impressive piece of work, but software–unlike hardware–is a constant work in progress. Apple needed the Apple Watch hardware to be rock solid on the launch date, because once that watch hardware is out in the world, it’s never going to get any better. But the software, that’s a continuing story.

Getting to version 2

With the announcement at WWDC 2015 of watchOS 2–finally, a name!–we can see how the Apple Watch will function beginning this fall, and how holiday watch buyers will experience it. The big story is support for standalone watch apps, but there will be plenty of other feature tweaks as well, exactly what you’d expect after six months of continued development of a brand-new product. (Not to mention, watchOS 2 will benefit from what Apple has learned from the first users of the Apple Watch outside Apple. The company tested the product extensively in house, but there’s nothing better than hearing from real customers about what they desire and what disappoints them.)

This fall’s Apple Watch will also benefit from six months more consideration and experimentation from third-party app developers. The first wave of Apple Watch apps were created largely on spec, without much idea of how the Apple Watch would really be used by regular people day to day. The second wave came when developers used their apps on real Apple Watches and realized that their initial approaches weren’t appropriate for the actual product. This fall we’ll see a third wave of apps: Some will take great advantage of the new features of native apps on watchOS 2, some will be improved versions of existing watch apps, and still others will be first releases from app developers who have been watching the mistakes and successes of other developers and waiting for the right moment.

“We’re more excited about how the [Apple Watch] is positioned for the long term,” Cook said in that analyst call. “We’re convinced that the watch is going to be one of the top gifts of the holiday season.”

I’m enjoying my time with the Apple Watch, but it seems clear to me that the real starting gun for this product will be fired this fall with the release of watchOS 2. Its success as a product won’t be measured this summer, but after all the tinsel and ornaments have been taken down and Apple’s reviewing its numbers from the holiday quarter, which is traditionally its best quarter by far.

The Apple Watch: Coming this September.

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