Australian publishers were quick to jump on the Apple Watch bandwagon with realestate.com.au, Domain, The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald all launching apps to coincide with the device’s debut on April 24 last year.
International news brands on the platform include New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, The Guardian, CNN and South China Morning Post.
On February 10 this year, The Australian officially launched Newsflash, becoming the first News Corp Australia news brand to have an Apple Watch app.
The app delivers three editions a day – one at 7:30am, 11:30am and 4:30pm – each consisting of five key stories.
The Australian’s head of digital Stuart Fagg has owned an Apple Watch since its release and said that while he found aspects of the device quite useful, he believed it was yet to find its proper niche.
“I think its very early days for it at the moment because it’s not yet an essential device for people in the way that the smartphone is,” he said.
“One of the things that smartphones did so well is change people’s behaviour. Before smartphones, your mobile phone was something that you got out when it rang or when you got a text but nowadays your phone performs thousands of different functions. It gives you thousands of different reasons for you to get your phone out.
“I think it’s definitely got a growth trajectory for it, but I think at this stage the watch platform is not necessarily going to make that big change that phones did. But I think it will definitely mature.”
Initial uptake of smartwatches generally has been slow in Australia.
However, consumer interest in wearables is expected to ramp up with some 757,000 readers saying they plan to buy a smartwatch this year, according to The Works Quarterly Newspaper Audience Report.
The Apple Watch works in tandem only with an iPhone and thus the majority of apps can essentially function as standalone mobile apps, with added watch capability.
This capability usually involves alerting users to breaking news, or providing bite-sized versions of news articles. A user can glance at their watch to view the alert, and then opt to switch over to the iPhone to read the article in full.
Alerting users to breaking news is the great advantage of wearables, according to Mark Furler, group digital editor of APN’s Australian Regional Media.
“It’s just another tool in terms of getting people’s attention,” Mr Furler says.
“The more you’re first with stories, particularly in your patch the more people will come back to you when big stories break.”
The alerting functionality is a key feature of the realestate.com.au app where potential buyers can receive alerts on properties in which they may be interested, or in their vicinity.
The feature exemplifies one area where Henry Ruiz, chief digital officer at REA Group, believes the Apple Watch has really come into its own: social etiquette.
“It provides the ability to give information to a consumer in a way that is more socially acceptable than always scanning a mobile phone,” he explains.
“You’ve probably got more of the technology savvy people that are the ones that really embrace the technology early on, but I think we’re still in the very early days of wearables. So where it begins is not where it will win.”
Alerting is nothing new; push notifications have become commonplace among mobile apps.
Although in this reporter’s experience with the Apple Watch, the convenience and experience of glancing at your wrist to check an alert or message compared to pulling out your phone is far greater than you would expect.
Newsflash sends out a notification each time a new edition is published or during big breaking news events.
“It’s really about customer convenience,” Mr Fagg said. “And about outreach to that customer where they are, at their convenience, rather than expecting or hoping that they’re going to come and visit us because in today’s media you can’t really have that expectation any more.”
Newsflash has already been downloaded more than 10,000 times, although it might seem an unusual product for The Australian, a broadsheet renowned for its long-form and in-depth coverage,
“That’s the perception that we’re trying to change with products like this,” Mr Fagg said.
“When you’re selling a premium digital subscription experience you’ve really got to cater to as many of those user states within your target audience as you can. So it sort of becomes less about having readers and more about having customers and serving those customers with the type of product you know that they’re looking for.”