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Why Epicurious’s Apple Watch App Doesn’t Include Recipes

One of the world’s most popular recipe platforms takes its first stab at wearables, and there’s not a recipe in sight.

You’re cooking a 2-inch prime ribeye in a cast iron pan. The slab of raw meat cost enough that you hid the receipt from your spouse. And you really don’t want to screw this up. Should you flip it yet? Should you wait? You can’t decide. That’s when you get a tap on your wrist, and you know it’s time.

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This is the Epicurious Smart Timer working on the Apple Watch. It’s an extension to the recipe platform’s iPhone app. You select a food you want to cook on your iPhone–maybe roast beets or a pan-seared steak–the screen tells you to set your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit or get that cast iron pan on the stove, and then your phone beams a step-by-step timer to your wrist. It’ll count down the time, vibrate at any important moment (like when you should flip that steak), and then right before the steak is done, provide a few words and a thumbnail image that shows how you can tell the dish is done–something along the lines of, “The steak is browned but soft when poked in the middle.”

The idea? Maybe Epicurious can’t squeeze full recipes onto your wrist, but the recipe site might be able to use wearables like the Apple Watch to offer you quick shorthand, or even help you learn to cook. It’s a familiar narrative. Companies from recipe sites to video game publishers to social networks are having to adapt (and severely compromise) their products for wearables–so much so that one major company told me it wasn’t even going to touch it yet.

Why No Recipes?
“We started where everyone starts–wouldn’t it be great to have our recipes on the watch?” explains Eric Gillin, executive director of Epicurious. But before they began translating their recipes to a 1.5-inch screen, they more or less already knew the plan couldn’t work. “We tried [earlier] on Google Glass–we couldn’t get the recipes small enough on the viewport to see recipes.”

Size is one problem. Another is just the recipes themselves, filled as they are with multiple steps and ingredients. Attempting to translate those into push notifications is no small feat. “It’s when a piece of paper still wins,” Gillin says–noting that 15% of Epicurious.com’s users are still printing recipes.


Tackling A Simpler Problem
Instead, Epicurious settled on a kitchen timer that could help someone prepare steaks, vegetables, seafood, and chicken–not full recipes, but a simpler answer to the question, “Wait, how long do I cook this thing for again?” Whether that’s a real question home chefs have at large, and want answered by their watch, is an open question. The app was completed in about seven weeks, over which time the team also took 160 new photos to use in the app, and wrote specific content for each timer.

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How Much Do You Invest In A New Platform?
As the Apple Watch slowly ships to customers, Epicurious will have to decide just how much more to invest in the platform.

“This is an interesting thing to grapple with. How much resource do you invest into a nascent platform?” Gillin says, shortly before listing off all sorts of other things the team might be able to do with the Apple Watch. The timer app could be expanded to choreograph the preparation of multiple dishes to come out as one hot meal. Or maybe the watch could teach someone how to cook a simple dish like an omelette, instructing you to, as Gillin puts it, “whisk the eggs super super fast, turn the pan on super low, wait until the top looks gummy, then put on the veggies or cheese.” You can almost picture the watch’s accelerometer tracking whisking speed in real time, telling the poor home cook to whisk “faster! Faster!!”

But for now, Gillin says that there’s a lot unknown about the smartwatch market. As he puts it, bluntly, “Right now, we’re trying to figure out if people will use this timer.”

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About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started Philanthroper.com, a simple way to give back every day

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