AUSTIN, Texas — Apple Watch, the technology giant's first new product in five years, and first without Steve Jobs, debuts later this month. As time quickly ticks away to the launch date, a handful of credit unions and their vendors are testing companion banking apps.
"The app in the Apple Watch will be almost identical to the app we currently offer for iPhone and tablets," said Greater Texas Federal Credit Union VP of Marketing Brandy Conway. "Because of that, we felt like it would be a good fit for us to be on the leading edge."
Earlier this year the $557 million CU was contacted by its mobile banking partner, Malauzai. The Austin firm was seeking Apple Watch app beta testers.
Danny Piangerelli, Malauzai's co-founder and CTO, explained that while CU beta testers did not physically interface with the Apple Watch, the firm was invited to Apple headquarters for demonstrations.
"Apple was extremely helpful and it was exciting to see what engineers in other fields were up to," said Piangerelli. "Without having this testing available to us we may not have even considered developing a watch app before a physical device was available."
As Conway noted, the banking app for Apple Watch will be an extension of Malauzai's SmartApp for the iPhone that is available to the CU's 69,000 members, 20,226 of whom use online banking.
To date there have been 15,433 app downloads for iPhone and 2,007 app downloads for iPad, explained Conway.
"We have 5,657 total users for iPhone and 3,445 for iPad," she said.
The initial version of the Apple Watch app will be display-only and include four primary functions: balance for all accounts, transaction history for all available accounts, branch locator, and advertising space/what's new.
"Our goal in offering the Apple Watch app is to provide our members with another way for them to do their mobile banking," said Conway.
Apple Watch Adoption Rates
While Apple sold approximately 200 million iPhones last year, adoption rates for Apple Watch, with a price range of $549 (standard) to $17,000 (high end), remain uncertain.
The New York-based financial services company, Piper Jaffray, told Reuters it predicts eight million units will be sold in 2015 whereas Global Securities Research had a higher estimation at 40 million units.
A leading concern for app developers and end users, banking included, is the speed of the device.
Nilay Patel tested and reviewed the device for theverge.com and wrote, "There's virtually nothing I can't do faster or better with access to a laptop or a phone except perhaps check the time."
After his review, the Wall Street Journal's Geoffrey Fowler noted: "The maps app, surely the answer to wandering pedestrians' dreams, is so slow it makes me want to pull out my paper Rand McNally."
Apple Watch will include an Apple Pay option, a feature Greater Texas FCU plans to add in 2016. And while there trepidations about functionality and adoptions rates remain, Conway predicts that the transition process will run smoothly.
"From the credit union technology perspective, there will be no new software or hardware to install. There will be a communication piece that goes to our membership informing them that we now offer our app in the Apple Watch," she said. "Since the functionality is identical to our current mobile app there will be little staff training involved."
Piangerelli agrees with Conway's take on the roll out. "We don't expect anything other than a typical implementation and our customers are very excited to share this with their members."