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Hands on: The first Apple Watch apps for road warriors

Galen Gruman | April 28, 2015
30 first-gen apps show promise, but still make you wonder about smartwatch utility

There are a bunch of Apple Watch apps that are glorified status notifications, based on the simple presentation you would find in the Today screen of the iPhone's Notifications Center.

Two such apps are Barclaycard (which shows you your credit card balance and payment status) and DataMan (which tracks your data usage, so you know if you're running out). They do what they claim, but that doesn't seem like a lot. Nor does it feel like the imminent type of information that seems to suit a smartwatch. Again, I get the "why bother" feeling.

Several apps also are useful only periodically. Travel apps, such as the TripIt and Orbitz, are good examples of such apps on the Apple Watch, as are most airline and hotel apps. Most of the time they'll tell you they have nothing to tell you, which seems silly. And they can't do other things -- they're really abut status.

In the case of TripIt, I have a trip coming up in a few weeks, so it could at least remind me of that when I open it on my Apple Watch. But in other travel-oriented apps installed on my Apple Watch, like Orbitz, I have no upcoming reservations to display -- all they can do is tell me they have nothing to tell me.

I wonder if these apps should be on the Apple Watch at all if they have nothing to show me and can't cover basics like booking reservations. Perhaps Apple should handle such status-oriented apps a bit differently, exposing them on the Apple Watch only when they have something to show in a notifications-based approach.

The ugly: Apple Watch apps that don't deliver at all
The middle apps raise both utility questions for the app themselves and existential questions about the smartwatch notion. But there are apps that are simply bad apps.

Some bad apps are bad because they make no sense for the Apple Watch. Case in point: news apps. Yet every news organization seems to want to be on the Apple Watch.

The New York Times has a special Apple Watch app that shows headlines and very short summaries only, which I guess is a form of notifications to let you know when you might want to pull out your iPhone or iPad to read the actual story; the rest you've basically decided are unimportant or self-explanatory ("Comcast cancels Time Warner Cable deal," for example). The Times app's appearance is quite severe, with just white text on black backgrounds. The French-language Le Monde app takes the same basic-summary approach, but it includes images and so is more appealing to use.

Most other news organizations are trying to get you to read some or all of their stories on the Apple Watch, not simply quick summaries. But the Apple Watch is a terrible medium for reading text, especially long text. And it's not great for navigating lots of content, which is what a good news app would have.


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