You Do Not Have to Make a Watch App

The Apple Watch has been out for just under a month, but already it’s had a major impact on my life. Specifically, it’s significantly increased the amount of time I spend waiting for apps to install on my iPhone. Yes, since early April, my phone has been inundated with updates. It seems every goddamned app has a new version which includes a watch extension.1 If you use an iPhone, you’ve likely seen a similar parade of updates in recent weeks, whether you bought a watch or not.

Having purchased an Apple Watch, these updates have the potential to be useful to me.2 However, I’ve found my usage of the watch largely constrained to the included Apple apps. Third-party applications are often slow to load, which can be frustrating. Worse, they’re also extremely limited in their abilities at present. My friend Cabel Sasser has done fantastic work in showing exactly what the Fandango watch app can do. If you install only the Fandango app itself, launching it will provide you with a random quote from a movie, along with a still frame. If you turn on the app’s “glance” as well, you’ll literally double the number of things this app can do. The Fandango glance acts as a sort of trivia host, showing you an extremely limited set of “Guess the movie character from a quote” cards. If I’m not mistaken, there are a grand total of 28 quotes currently.

Useless USAA App
Peter Gibbons, the protagonist of “Office Space”, summarizes the feelings of the person tasked with making the Fandango watch app

This issue is particularly pronounced on the smaller 38mm watch, but even on the larger watch the problem persists. However, thanks to the ridiculousness, the Fandango app is at least mildly entertaining. The honor of “Single Most Useless Apple Watch App I’ve Yet Found” goes to USAA. Check out all its majesty:

Useless USAA App
I…I don’t have much money in my checking account.

USAA is a great company, and if you have the ability to use them for banking, insurance, or just about anything else, you should. The USAA Apple Watch app, however, is utterly pathetic. You’re looking at the entirety of the app’s functionality. After logging in with a PIN, the app displays my checking account balance, and provides me with two options. If I’m done staring at my balance, I can tap “Log Off”, which will helpfully take me back to the screen asking for my PIN. Ah, but what if I think that the balance in my account may have changed, or even if I’m just hoping for a second opinion? Then I can tap “Refresh”. Excellent!

Developers, please, please take note of the title of this post. You don’t have to make an app for the Apple Watch. No one is forcing you to make an app for the watch. For many of you, no one even wants you to make an app for the watch. If you’re considering it, use this handy flowchart to help you decide if you should:

Don’t lie to a flowchart.

Allow me to close with a quote from an Apple Watch appraisal by the user experience experts at the Nielsen Norman Group:

If you’re thinking of designing a watch app, think twice, because your intended app may be no good on this platform.

It may indeed be.


  1. My phone has 197 third-party apps, and 56 of them offer an app for the watch.↩︎

  2. I have all of nine third-party apps installed on my watch right now, and I regularly use just one, the MLB At Bat app.↩︎