How Product Managers Can Learn To Think Small

The Apple Watch has arrived! Now what?
The Apple Watch has arrived! Now what?
Image Credit: Ryan Ozawa

Just in case you’ve been hiding in a closet or something, Apple introduced a new product back in early 2015: a watch. This was one of the worst kept secrets of all time – everyone knew that it was coming. Now that it’s here, there is a very good chance that just like Apple’s other successful products, the iPhone and the iPad, it may spawn whole new markets. Clearly a new set of challenges have shown up for product managers…

The Challenge Of Thinking Small

So what’s the big deal you say? There are lots of companies out there that are doing very well making apps for both the iPhone and the iPad. Won’t they just shift some of their focus to the iWatch and be just as successful. The answer is that the iWatch is a different beast from what everyone has been used to. This is going to call for some product manager creativity and a whole new product development definition.

The first difference is obvious: the iWatch display screen is much smaller than anyone has been used to. The screen measures just a scant 38 millimeters side to side. One of the biggest things that product managers are starting to realize about creating applications for the new iWatch is that the amount of time that their customers will spend with this device on a daily basis is very small. Customers tend to use their computers for hours at a time, their mobile phones for minutes at a time, and it is expected that they will use their watches for only seconds at a time. Understand what these customers want and you’ll have something to add to your product manager resume.

The natural inclination of a lot of software companies is to simply transfer what their current iPhone / iPad applications do to a new iWatch version of the app. However, what they are quickly finding out is that this won’t work. A good example of this is Instagram who planned on including features in their iWatch app to allow users to discover and to search for new images (what Instagram does best). However, they quickly discovered that this was not going to work. Features like this turned out to be way too complicated to complete on the iWatch’s much smaller screen.

What’s It Good For?

If we can all agree that the new iWatch probably offers a lot of new product possibilities; however, whatever those are going to be will be much different from today’s apps, then we just might be getting somewhere. Product managers who are starting to investigate what their iWatch products need to do are starting to understand that they will need to offer quick nuggets of information that will be made available at the single tap of the screen.

Where a user currently is will be important. Apps that will run on an iWatch will place a real value on immediacy – users will want to be able to have a “get in and get out” mentality. These apps will truly have to learn how to anticipate what a user is going to want before they ask for it. In order to help product managers create products that iWatch users will want, Apple has provided them with a new tool. Notifications can be sent to the iWatch from an iPhone / iPad and they can contain photos or charts.

One good observation that product managers have made is that iWatch users are not going to want to be keeping their watches up to their faces for multiple minutes. It is believed that the iWatch app will have to work with the iPhone / iPad. Apps will run on the iPhone and will be displayed on the iWatch. If the user wants to interact with the app, they’ll do so using the iPhone. Ultimately, the product managers are going to have to create apps that will anticipate what the wearer of the iWatch is going to want to do and they will then have to find ways to use events as triggers in order to know what kind of content to present to the user.

What All Of This Means For You

Any time Apple releases a new product, the whole world gets excited. With their release in the first half of 2015 of the iWatch product, Apple opened up an entirely new market. Product managers who wanted to create apps for this new market needed to understand that what had worked for the iPhone and the iPad markets would not necessarily work here. This ability to have this kind of understanding should be a part of every product manager job description.

One of the biggest differences between the iWatch and the other Apple products is that its display is very small – only 38mm across. This means that users can’t really interact with it – they can only get information from it. Apple has implemented a new notifications feature that allows an iPhone or an iPad to run an app and then have it display on the iWatch. Product managers have discovered that they need to anticipate a user’s needs and deliver the information that they want with a single tap of the iWatch’s screen.

There is no doubt that the iWatch will eventually be a very successful product – all Apple products eventually are. However, product managers who want to develop products for this new market need to proceed very carefully – even users may not know exactly how they are going to end up using the iWatch or what they really want their iWatch apps to do.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: How much time do you think an iWatch user will tolerate for interacting with an iWatch app?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

When you take a look at your product, what do you think about it? Are you sad that your product is not a shiny new product? Do you wish that you were in charge of managing a cutting edge product that was just bursting on the market? I’m pretty sure that at one time or another, we’ve all felt this way. However, this is most definitely a case where we should all be very careful about what we are wishing for. A good example of the challenges that come along with managing a new product were recently demonstrated by the folks over at Apple.