Avoiding Platform Arrogance: How Apple Watch is Intruding on Your iPhone

Matt Volpi
March 10, 2015
On March 9th Apple released version 8.2 of iOS, the platform powering all of its mobile devices. Along with its bundles of bug fixes and improvements came a new app to our home screens – “Apple Watch.” We have been hearing about Apple Watch for years now and this version of iOS not coincidentally coincided with the big Apple Watch reveal by Tim Cook and the Cupertino Crew. Now you can’t actually buy the watch yet – you can preorder it, and far more importantly, a fraction of iOS users will buy an Apple Watch at all, so this new app really has quite limited appeal and utility for the vast majority of iOS users. As technology consumers, we are accustomed to many unwanted things coming along with the new shiny thing we buy.  For example, there has been preinstalled “trial” software on PCs since the heyday of America Online. But usually, you can uninstall the things you don’t want and move on with your life. As for Apple – as well as their Android-shilling brethren, Google – you actually can’t. Whether you want it or not, your iOS device is currently laden down with Weather, Stocks, iBooks, Newstand, Maps, Health and now Apple Watch… and you CAN NOT delete them. Google is just as guilty by forcing the likes of Google+, Hangouts, Play Newsstand, Play Books, Play Music, Play Movies & TV and more on Android users (although your mileage may vary given the open source nature of that OS) and once again not letting users remove them. Not only is it arrogant to force users to keep these apps on their devices – even though they may have no interest in using them and superior alternatives are often available – but they are doing this on devices with limited and often unexpandable memory constraints. As a user, this is irritating and insulting (I have a folder on my iOS devices called Apple Crap where the Apple Watch app will be joining many of its fellow “forceware” in unused purgatory) and as an app developer it is discouraging because you must displace an omnipresent baked-in incumbent that plays far nicer with Siri and “OK, Google” than you ever will. Imagine if Ford struck a deal with I Heart Radio that permanently fixed three of your car stereo preset buttons to their stations (or worse, some new “Ford Radio” stations)? Or if Frigidaire set aside one-third of your freezer for permanently installed Ben & Jerry’s container-sized ice cream holders? Of course that would never happen because consumers have expectations of free-range utility and they can select a different vendor for their sedan or refrigerator. But in the world of consumer and enterprise technology, we don’t always have as many choices and sometimes get stuck with whatever vendors decide is “best for us”… or just best for them, customer preferences be damned. This is a dangerous way of thinking and it plagues far more businesses than just smartphone OS makers. But instead of force-feeding customers, platform vendors should be creating as much flexibility and customization as possible. So before you bake in a feature that can’t be turned off or opted out of, ask yourself these three questions:

Are we forcing this people to keep this because they will never use it otherwise?

If you’re not creating enough value to make people want it, then don’t bother.

Are we afraid our widget will be replaced by a competitor’s?

Welcome to capitalism. Merit is supposed to trump incumbency and a platform is far more valuable when users can actually choose how to use it.

Are we making this permanent because our platform won’t function without it?

Go have a long talk with your engineers and architects about dependencies… modularity and flexibility is the key to a platform’s utility and anything else should be hidden from the user experience.

About the Author

Matt Volpi

Matt Volpi is a senior consultant for Tovana Consulting, Inc. His specialties are product strategy, content marketing, sales enablement, market research and SWOT analysis. Matt has executive experience at two technology startups and held product management and marketing roles at large multinational firms in the mobile space. When he's not helping clients or wrangling his daughters, he's usually whipping something up in the kitchen or coaching softball.

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