Right now Jarrod and I are leaving San Fransisco where we spent time at Apple's Watch Lab. We got the chance to test our app, Aeropress Timer, on the watch. We had a great time learning the nuances of developing on this new device. My overall impression was the device was great, but app makers should proceed intentionally. The experience is really unlike anything else. It is not a small iPhone on your wrist. In fact the experience was so different we spent the majority of our time rebuilding our "working" prototype to function alongside a device that sleeps or wakes with the flick of the wrist. So what have I learned about creating apps for the watch? Here are my thoughts.
Notifications are the quickest wins for the watch, and may possibly provide the most value if done right. Notifications that can be viewed with a glance and provide valuable information and even simple interactions are perfect for the watch. Add to that context which drives interaction with the watch and you will have a winner. Imagine this scenario: You are with your family in a busy counter service restaurant or food truck. How great would it be to get a simple tap on the wrist when your food is ready? It would mean no more standing in an awkward huddle waiting for your name or number to be shouted out over the impossibly loud crowd of students who've made this particular In-N-Out their turf while your wife wrestles your kids into a booth that you couldn't find in this crowd even if your family was made of glow-sticks. Take a watch and a simple notification and you can get your drinks, ketchup, and kids safely to the table without your wife losing her mind. Foods ready, tap on the wrist, picked up and done. Contextual notifications make the watch a Swiss Army knife to fix life's daily pains.
Simple Data and Singular Actions
Simple data is anything you can tell your user in a way that they "get it" instantly. Take the Watch's fitness app, in a three line graph you can see progress on your daily fitness goal. Maybe there is a better name than singular actions, but what I mean is a single simple workflow. We make decisions and perform actions on simple data everyday. For instance, my wife wants to go out for dinner but the kids are a mess. You start by saying "Where do you want to eat?" and then unspoken "Can we afford it?" If yes then you ask "Did the kids nap and are they going to destroy your dreams of a pleasant family outing?" Assuming things are looking good you take your family out. How many messages did that take to communicate? With a glance at your watch you can see the time, your budget, your wife's latest tweet ("Kids not napping! #mommyProblems"), and even ask Siri to find the closest kid-capable restaurant. After deciding you reply with a "Yes" to your wife in one tap. Daily life is simplified. The only limitation is the data you have. Want to build a watch app that drives real value? Build something that provides users valuable data at a glance, or provide the ability to execute a singular action quickly and easily.
I think communication will likely be the biggest pleasant surprise of the watch. It wasn't until I was wearing one that I really got digital touch or even the simple one-line canned text messages. Imagine this small device on your wrist that lets you tap your wife, or tell your dad "No" when he asks if you want his 20 year-old tv that was top of line when he bought it. The haptic feedback is so intimate I'm having a hard time thinking about using it with anyone other than family and close friends. And no dad I don't want your old tv so much I'm not even going to type a genuine response, I will use the pre-typed "No." If there is going to be a Watch app that gets bought out for billions, it's going to leverage the instant communication the platform provides.
After considering those features you should then focus on simplicity. Your watch app should enable a quick interaction. Do not design something to keep users on their watch, design something that enhances their life and gets out of the way. Our experience with Aeropress Timer is that you will start your recipe and refer back to it as it gently and silently guides you through steps. Who knows what our next watch app will be but I promise it will fall into one of these categories. I can also promise you that my watch can't get here fast enough! In my opinion Apple has done it again.
* Watchkit does not currently support haptic feedback or sounds for third-party apps, but I have to believe this will arrive soon.