Apple Watch apps: the debut
It’s been estimated that the AppleWatch captured 75% of the global smartwatch market share in Q2 of 2015, and we can expect to see similar results in Q3. This new addition to the smartwatch world has allowed brands to extend their mobile iOS offering and take advantage of the benefits that the wearable device can offer.
With any new device it takes a period of time to fully understand how users will want to use it, how they should use it, and if there is any real value in them using it.
When looking back to the first release of the iPhone, the App Store was filled with many gimmicky apps that didn't actually do anything of value. Every business thought they needed an app and quickly the App Store was filled with apps that did nothing but repurpose existing web content.
Apple Watch apps are still very fresh. Initially designed as companion apps to their phone counterpart, they are limited in functionality. However with OS 2.0 announced in September we will now see apps specifically designed to live independently on the watch.
UX guidelines for designing an Apple Watch app
1. Understand the device
It’s important to understand the environment that your app will live on as much as possible, both physically and emotionally.
Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines are a great place to start learning about the physical aspects of the device; how users are meant to use and interact with it.
However for learning about the emotional aspects of the device I recommend you get your hands on an Apple Watch! Beg, borrow or buy. By becoming a user you will gain first hand insight into how it “feels” to use one. You will be able to experience the connection that develops with it through daily life.
2. Understand your users; what do they do, where, when and why?
Building up a better view on who your users are and their motivations will allow you to bring real purpose and value to your Apple Watch app.
Talking to your users will help you understand any trends or common themes. From this insight you can create personas that we can use to help understand daily usage of your iPhone app, to help highlight areas where an Apple Watch device could add value.
Understanding the scenarios of usage will help you when prioritising the functionality you want to include in the app. During the day there will be times when users are not focused on your app, this is an opportunity to use the device to engage with those users. Bring them functionality that will enhance their overall experience and create a stronger user-brand relationship.
3. Prioritise your app functionality; what will add value to users lives?
Your Apple Watch app isn’t supposed to be a copy of the iPhone app but rather a supportive companion that takes advantage of the device for key functions to enhance daily life.
I think it’s best to start simple. Begin with looking at the top 3 functions that your iPhone app has that could be comfortably transferred or linked to the Apple Watch app.
The device is perfect for enhancing functionality that centers around location, notification or tracking.
4. Think about navigation; how should users find content?
The Apple Guidelines include a section about navigational structure. Choose a structure that you think best reflects the content and functionality you are providing within the App. The device itself is designed to be simple and easy to use so I recommend you don’t try to reimagine navigation and stick to the recommended approaches.
As the Apple Watch matures and our understanding of how people use it increases, we will be in a better position to push the limits and create more imaginative approaches to UX. The development of the operating system will also open up new functions and features so we will have much more to play with.
5. Get familiar with interface elements; what are the native ones?
I always think that it’s a good idea to have a solid understanding of the native building blocks that you can create your app with, as it helps you to focus on the purpose rather than the razzmatazz around it.
Apple have provided a handy resource of interface elements that goes into detail on a variety of UI elements, from labels to menus.
6. Prototype, test, learn, repeat; what can I do to get the most insight?
Most people think of prototyping as a costly, development heavy process which is usually the first thing to be cut out when budgets or time need to be reduced. However, prototyping can mean many things and can be achieved in a number of ways. You don’t always need to go into code to gain valuable learnings.
If you can’t get yourself a device you could always make a cardboard prototype. Before the AppleWatch arrived in the Blonde office, we built a little cardboard model to experiment with some early sketches and ideas. This gave us a better understanding of the size and scale of the interface and also allowed us to focus on the priority of information we were delivering.
Even with having the watch available now I would still start with pen, paper and cardboard. It’s a very good method to help focus on building a solid UX foundation before going into design.
Experiment on device
There are plenty of tools online that allow you to display your wireframes on to a device. Some of my favourites are Protoshare and Invision as they let you add an extra level of functionality to your prototype which can help give you a better feel for interactions.
An alternative free solution is simply taking a screenshot of your wireframe, emailing it to yourself and opening them up on the Applewatch Mail app. You can then save them into Photos to be able to use when you need.