The smartwatch category is set to explode now that Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) has let the Apple Watch out into the wild. The new device has several major news outlets creating apps to engage readers and draw them to their website or smartphone and tablet apps.
The New York Times Company's (NYSE:NYT) New York Times has taken the approach of delivering single-sentence news stories to people's wrists. The Washington Post will pick one story per day and present it in slideshow format on the wrist device, combining text, photos, and other graphics. CNN will let users opt into alerts about their favorite topics.
These media companies are taking approaches that adapt their products for the strengths of the wrist device. Comparatively, Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) released an app for the Apple Watch that simply operates like a scaled-down version of its smartphone app. Twitter is missing out on the opportunity to engage its users as The New York Times has opted to do with its smartwatch app.
The best apps for smartphones are designed with the format in mind. They take into account the strengths and weaknesses of the device to create a pleasant and useful user experience. The same will be true of apps for smartwatches.
Apple's guideline for developers to create apps that are usable in 10 seconds or less isn't just so it can save battery life. It's good design. If something takes significantly longer than 10 seconds, it's a function that's probably better served on the iPhone or iPad.
The New York Times is embracing the guideline. You can read through its single-sentence stories in a matter of seconds, and if you want to learn more you can pick up the stories on the iPhone or iPad. It's taking those single sentences very seriously, considering they can drive meaningful traffic to its apps.
The New York Times also understands that it's not going to make any money from users browsing through stories on their wrists. The format doesn't lend itself well to advertisements. The company collected $179 million in digital advertising revenue across its apps and website in 2014.
Comparatively, Twitter's smartwatch app offers users the opportunity to view their timeline and receive notifications when someone mentions them or direct-messages them. However, it does very little to engage users and move them to its smartphone app. In that regard, it could take a tip from The New York Times.
Algorithms to keep users engaged
The thing is, Twitter is spending heavily to develop algorithms that keep its users engaged. CFO Anthony Noto told investors at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media, and Telecom conference in March that Twitter is in a position to curate more content, and it's developing algorithms to do that. At the company's analyst day in November, management talked about how sending alerts to users based on their location kept those users engaged and active.
These are the kind of things that Twitter could implement into its Apple Watch app -- personally curated content that delivers one-sentence stories like those from The New York Times. Twitter's 140-character limitation is perfect for the screen size. Save the timeline viewing for the iPhone and iPad, and simply notify users when something interesting is happening near them or when people are talking about something they're probably interested in on Twitter. Then send them to their smartphone, tablet, or computer to learn more -- where Twitter can monetize its users.
Ensuring it doesn't annoy its users will require investments in algorithms and machine learning to cater alerts to each individual. Twitter's R&D spending accounted for 49% of revenue last year, totaling nearly $700 million for the year. While some of that went toward acquisitions and features unrelated to curation algorithms, Twitter has shown a lot more interest in moving away from its strict reverse chronological timeline.
It created "While You Were Away," which uses algorithms refined with machine learning to surface tweets it thinks you'll find interesting. It's developed "@MagicRecs" to suggest new accounts to follow. And developing algorithms that surface interesting tweets and send them to users' watches is how Twitter will take advantage of a device that could otherwise cause it to lose the attention of its users -- and the corresponding ad impressions that come with it.