A second article in the Times (following up on yesterday’s reporting on Apple’s smart Watch) says Apple has been oh-so-smart to produce a developer’s kit so that the market can decide the killer app for the device. Killer app here is code for justifying the product’s purchase in the first place.
All hardware goes through a period where we wonder what its utility really is and it took word processing and spread sheets to justify PCs, graphics packages to do the same for laptops and email kind of knitted everything together. When the smart phone came along (i.e. iPhone), it was already a Swiss Army Knife of a sort being able to make calls, check email, play music, and take pictures. The application ecosystems that followed were largely frosting on the cake.
And when Steve Jobs introduced iPad, he vaguely referred to it as a content consumption device, which it is despite the fact that users tried heroically to link wireless keypads to it. As it turns out tablets spawned a market for light and detachable laptops though many vendors like Microsoft and HP are still trying to convince us that their keypadded devices are really tablets.
Wearables are different because they present us with a 2D matrix to figure out. The platform is amorphous, first off, meaning there are wearables for your face and eyes (Glass and its kin), your wrist (various watches), and your pocket/neck (pendant-like things). Each will have, I think, a different killer app though I can easily see spillover. For example a watch could also identify you entering a building and emit your location to your nanny but so could a pocket device. And every device maker worth its patents wants to be the next Fitbit. However, I think the face appliances that capture and show video will be in a class by themselves.
So the point isn’t that there needs to be a killer app, it is that each device type could do with one or risk being eliminated by other more versatile solutions. We’ve seen this before for instance when the smart phone replaced the candy bar model and the flip phone — it wasn’t because call quality could only improve with a handheld, it was because for the same money you got so much more.
Apple is not the only vendor in the wearables space with a developer’s kit and you could argue that its kit might not even be the best if all it does is generate apps for a single device or device type. For more robust developer functionality you need to look at something like the Salesforce Wear developer’s kit, or whatever it’s being called. Just last week the company announced significant momentum in its wearables initiative nearly doubling its core developer partner group to eleven. And yes, this includes multiple device types.
Salesforce Wear can generate apps for all of the major device types including watches, glasses, and pendant or pocket thingies. In this early market that appears to be a superior approach because it gives the market a voice in determining not only the killer app but also the killer device or more precisely the killer device for a particular circumstance. You can’t separate those two converging needs.
So good luck to Apple on launching the Watch, the company picked a safe platform compared to Google and its Glass unit, though in retrospect Glass seems an inspired idea. Apple should have the wind at its back due to its reputation, its huge developer ecosystem, and its choice. As the market heats and consolidates, it would not be surprising to see Apple and Salesforce battling for app supremacy but right now I don’t think Apple is in the catbird seat. Apple is still a hardware maker while Salesforce has been down this road of providing developer resources for many platforms several times already.