Unlocking the door of a hotel room with the flick of a wrist will become the new reality for Starwood Hotels and Resorts this week. The chain is among more than 40 brands—which also include BMW, Target, Fandango, The New York Times and Expedia—working closely with Apple to design apps in the run-up to the much-hyped Apple Watch launch expected on April 24.
The device has been heralded as the next big marketing platform, leading brands to busily retool their apps to fit wrist-strapped screens. But in contrast to the years marketers have spent developing their iPhone apps, time is not on their side when it comes to the Apple Watch. Technology is moving faster—and so must brands. "Do I think most marketers are ready? No," said Mike McGuire, vp of research at Gartner Research. "It is going to be about really having to nail this early on."
Through its app, Starwood—with 1,200 properties worldwide under brands such as Sheraton, Westin and W Hotels—can remotely check in guests and unlock guest rooms. It can also ping travelers with information like the cost of a taxi to a hotel. Come Friday, the technology will be rolled out at 150 Starwood locations.
Analysts expect the hotelier to invest $7 million to $8 million into the technology this year alone, $20 million to $40 million in the long run.
Stephen Gates, Starwood vp and digital creative director, global brand design, explained that developing the app for Apple Watch required heavier lifting than for the iPhone.
"It can look deceptively simple, but to go through and develop it for our nine different brands [requires] a lot of design work and functionality under the hood," he said.
As for other brands, Target's Apple Watch app uses voice and location technology to enable consumers to make shopping lists, then find products once they are in the store. Fandango's app features a countdown to movie showtimes, BMW's syncs with electric cars, and the American Airlines app reports flight updates in real time.
Other brands, including Viper, a maker of car alarms, are holding back on their own apps for the time being. As Michael Maginnis, president of Viper's agency MJD Interactive, explained: "A lot of the feedback we're getting so far is that it takes [consumers] a couple days to figure out why they even like the watch."
Here's a look at how seven high-profile marketers are making the switch from smartphones to smartwatches.
Unlike other travel brands pushing sales through smartphones, American Airlines focuses its app on things people need help with on the day they travel—like seat assignments or finding their gate.
But with a smaller screen, the information delivered to Apple Watch is more specific. For example, someone traveling from New York to Austin with a layover in Dallas will get a message on their Apple Watch if something changes. "When you land in Dallas, we know where you are and can tell you which gate or change will affect you," explained Kevin MacFarland, American Airlines' director of mobile and web strategy.
Digital boarding passes are also a big part of the airline's Apple Watch app even though the same feature is in American's iPhone app. "We have lots of data about how it's used on the phone, but we’re interested to see if it’s working on the watch," MacFarland said.
Of its 94 million unique views in January, 72.5 million were from mobile. And 60 percent of those users only access ESPN from mobile devices.
With its move onto Apple Watch, fans can customize notifications for specific teams' scores while a feed pulls in the most recent news stories. The smartwatch is the latest step for ESPN—along with a website redesign earlier this month—to personalize sports news.
"It's another consideration for us in terms of where the audience is," explained Ryan Spoon, ESPN's svp of digital product. "The headline that resonates within social on Twitter is different from Facebook, which is different than a headline on ESPN.com or an alert."
Managing your electric car just got one step easier with BMW's new Apple Watch app.
BMW i drivers can link up their car with the app to heat or cool it remotely. Owners can also check to see how charged their vehicle is, lock the doors and view service reminders.
BMW's smartphone app packs in more features—like the ability to calculate the most efficient driving routes—but the Apple Watch version is intentionally simpler and could cut down on distracted driving.
"It doesn't make sense to do everything on the watch—that's why we decided on what do we show in which context," said Daniel Grein, senior designer at BMW.
Expedia's iPhone app is loaded with 22 push notifications of everything someone may need to know about their trip, including hotel check-in, car rental drop-off and flight delays.
That text-heavy approach makes Apple Watch a no-brainer, said Jerald Singh, head of mobile product at Expedia. "Our initial approach to wearables is providing a service [where] we know we can give the user super targeted and relevant content," he said.
Pandora has an app for practically every connected device, so it's no surprise that the music-streaming service is one of the first to build one for Apple Watch.
Last year, the company launched a Pebble smartwatch app to figure out how it works. For Apple Watch, people will be able to switch stations and thumb up or thumb down songs. "Seeing how people interacted with that was really interesting, so I think we've learned a bit in how people use these things," explained Chris Martin, Pandora's chief technology officer.
Everything in Pandora's Apple Watch app is synched with its iPhone version, including ads. Creative for audio promos will pop up on the smartwatch screen as they play between songs. However, ads without audio will only show up on Pandora's smartphone app.
Don't expect to be managing your 401(k) from your smartwatch anytime soon. Instead, Citi's Apple Watch app uses quick bits of text—also called glances—to show clients their financial information quickly.
"We want our clients to have access to their accounts wherever they are, whenever they need it," said Melissa Stevens, head of digital for global consumer banking at Citi. "So when Apple announced Apple Watch, we acted fast and built an app for it in less than 120 days."
The watch app primarily shows credit card, checking and savings balances and also can can ping you when a credit card is used.
Not everyone is convinced that watch owners will want to shop from their wrists, but that's the direction eBay is headed.
"One area we are focused on is evolving push notifications, where we have a big opportunity to help our sellers offer speedy customer service through messaging, and buyers can stay on top of their watched items," noted eBay's director of mobile products David Cheng.
The San Jose, Calif.-based company's app sends push notifications when bidders outbid others to keep buyers and sellers in the loop. To actually participate in the auction, you'll still need to log in to eBay's app.