Front Runners in the Hunt for the Apple Watch Killer App - Wall Street Journal

What the Apple AAPL -0.19 % Watch needs now is a few killer apps.

Putting a computer on your wrist may be a good idea, but explaining why is harder—even for Apple. When I first reviewed the Apple Watch three weeks ago, I appreciated its potential as a gatekeeper. What was missing were apps that could create new experiences tailored for a tiny screen.

They're rolling in now. In time for its first shipment of watches on Friday, Apple released more than 3,000 new third-party apps—far more than the few dozen that were available to the earliest reviewers.

Among these first apps, there are legions of lame wrist calculators, tic-tac-toe games and digital dice—even a couple (yes, two at last count) "Knight Rider" K.I.T.T. emulators. But there are also some helpful ideas about using the watch as a remote control, a note taker, and a virtual referee in a very real game of tag.

It's literally Day One. Most developers of the initial apps haven't even been able to test their software on a real Apple Watch—not to mention get feedback from real-world users.

Here are my first thoughts on the virtues and vices of Apple Watch apps:

1) Not every app that makes sense on a phone makes sense on a wrist. Instagram, the smartphone's premier time-sucker, only shows you the 10 most recent photos in your stream on your watch, and they feel too small to "like" with any confidence. And while it's nice that the Starbucks SBUX 3.92 % watch app shows you where to get a latte nearby, it doesn't actually let you buy one. (You have to launch another watch app called Passbook to pay with your Starbucks card.)

2) Many apps run too slowly or too imprecisely on the watch to be useful. The Uber app seems good in theory, but it has had a hard time pinpointing my actual location, so I end up with drivers confused about where to find me. (The sluggish app also failed to notify Uber when I canceled a ride.) Zillow, Redfin and OneDrive are other clunkers on the watch.

3) Dictating to the Apple Watch is very convenient —when it works. Without a keyboard or camera, the watch's main input is a microphone. But in a noisy place, voice commands really struggle. This leads to frustration with apps like Amazon, Twitter TWTR 0.49 % and Evernote that depend on dictation.

4) Watch apps must be quick. Any watch action that takes longer than a few s econds leaves you itching for your phone. There are lots of games already, but I have no interest in spending time playing them on the tiny screen. StubHub and other retail apps are also better accessed by phone than watch. News apps try to solve the attention-span issue with a handoff feature that lets you keep reading longer stories on a phone. Nevertheless, I find myself rarely using that because even browsing the headlines on a watch takes too long. (One-sentence news alerts, on the other hand, are much more useful.)

Here are the apps that have earned a spot on my Apple Watch home screen so far.

Transit: When's the next train? Just swipe up to get times on the subway, buses and ferries. Transit has won the first "glance" spot on my watch.

Remote controls Hue and Microsoft MSFT 7.80 % PowerPoint: Hue lets you control smart home lights, which can be annoying on a phone. And with PowerPoint, you can advance your deck slides with a tap (and also let everyone in the room know you have an Apple Watch). There's already a watch remote for Apple TV, and I can't wait for TiVo, Roku and Sonos.

Quick note takers Evernote and Amazon: It's unquestionably handy to jot down a note or remind yourself to buy something by just talking to your wrist. I just wish the transcription was faster and more reliable.

Shazam: What's that song? Tap the Shazam app to ID it. If you're in a karaoke kind of mood, it will even give you lyrics.

Yelp: Tired of the old lunch routine? The Yelp app can quickly recommend hot or new places nearby.

Mint: With one glance, see if you're on target—or off the rails—with your spending this month in this smartly condensed version of the personal finance app.

MLB At Bat: This app sets the bar for other sports apps as much for what it shows you as what it doesn't. You get quickly glanceable live scores and pitch updates so you can easily check in on a game.

Misfit: If you can't make it to the gym, tell the Misfit app how much time you do have and it will fill your available minutes with a sweet caloric burn.

Watch Tag: A game where everyone has targets on their wrist, and each tap on somebody's screen takes a point away. I'll need a few more friends with Apple Watches before I can test this, but it sounds like fun.

This list isn't a final judgment, by any means. I'm just happy to see the watch get more useful.

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Write to Geoffrey Fowler via email at or on Twitter at @GeoffreyFowler.


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