With the recent Spring Forward Apple event on 9th March and the subsequent media exposure of the upcoming Apple Watch, we now have a much better idea of what developers are doing with watch apps. It’s apparent that several apps make the most of the ease to which a user can access information through the watch and many have customised that information based on the time or location of the user. Some apps use the Watch as a brief window into the full functionality of their iPhone counterpart while others complement the iPhone app to provide a different way of doing things.
Several have taken on the concept that a user is more likely to use the watch for quick reference while carrying out tasks. Cookbooks for instance, have become interactive with step by step instructions and custom timers that give progress updates of what you should expect at certain points in the cooking time rather than simply telling you when it’s done. Mayo Clinic has developed a watch app that keeps doctors up to date with the status and whereabouts of their patients throughout the day along with some basic patient information.
Location awareness really comes into its own with the watch as apps start delivering location relevant information. The American Airlines app tells you when you need to leave to ensure you arrive at the airport in time for your flight. Airport information is provided relevant to your origin or your destination, showing gate and boarding time at origin and baggage claim information at destination. You’re even able get a map and time to destination during your flight. CityMapper gives you step-by-step instructions to help you find your way to your destination as they become relevant based on your location.
It also provides a physical notification in the form of a tap to the wrist when you’ve reached your stop – handy when you’re in an unfamiliar city. Babbel uses location to provide contextual based learning – showing translations for drinks when in a cafe, or recipes at the supermarket. Invoice2Go prompts you when you arrive at a client location to start tracking time for billing purposes.
The Target watch app promises to sort a users shopping list according to the layout of the store, then as the app is aware of where the shopper is, notifications are shown when they come to an item in their list. PayByPhone Parking allows a user to pay for their parking from the Watch, keep an eye on how long you’ve got and be alerted when you’re time is nearly expired, at which time you can choose to top up the meter.
Starwood hotels has created an app for their SPG customers that allows the user to unlock their hotel room by waving their watch in front of the door. It appears to use bluetooth to assist with the authentication. Other apps have chosen to use QR Code style images to verify the user. American Airlines uses this concept to allow a user to board a flight, while Fandango uses a QR-Code to allow a patron entry to their cinema.
Sport apps provide the usual real-time status updates, such as distance, speed, pace and elevation but now you get heart rate without an external reader since the watch includes a heart rate monitor. Depending on your activity, using the watch extension to an app like Strava or Nike+ will allow you to access your information much more readily – checking a watch on your wrist while you run is much more practical than accessing an iPhone. The Slopes app offers the same sort of convenience factor to Snowboarders and Skiers that often have to deal with multiple layers of clothing. Of course many sport-related apps offer integration with HealthKit, helping to build up your activity profile that the watch then takes advantage of. Life Clock compiles all this information to give you a figure for your life expectancy with bonuses for exercise or good eating and penalties for things like insufficient rest.
Goal achievement both in personal and in the workplace is being targeted by BetterWorks and CommitTo3, with CommitTo3 encouraging a bit of competition among “teams” to help get things done. BetterWorks is targeting the enterprise with their product, integrating to their cloud service focussed on workplace task management.
Procreate has taken a novel approach to developing for the Apple Watch by creating a companion app for their existing iPhone drawing app. The watch app provides a drawing toolbox and colour palette, allowing the full surface of the iPhone screen to be used as a canvas without obstruction. AMPLIFi Remote does a similar thing, allowing a musician to plug their iPhone into their amp, and tune their guitar from their watch.
The integration of real-world items with our devices is continuing with the Apple Watch. During the event, Apple VP of Technology, Kevin Lynch used his Apple Watch and the Alarm.com app to remotely open his garage door. He was even able to view a live camera feed from his garage as he did this. Honeywell Lyric helps you control home heating, using preset modes while at home, and prompting you to switch to “Out of Town” mode when it detects you’re away, setting the correct temperature again in time for your return. BMW is introducing an Apple Watch app, BMW iRemote, that provides battery stats, sending a notification when the battery is fully charged. Drivers can also set the cabin temperature remotely.
The challenge of text entry on such a small screen looks to be overcome with dictation. The Apple Messages app allows a user to dictate their message. A user is then given the option to send either the text-based results of the speech recognition or to send the actual voice recording. Evernote and Twitter are also utilising dictation as a method to enter text. Other apps such as Instagram seem to have chosen to limit responses to likes/unlikes and emoticon-based comments.
Structure of an Apple Watch App
There are three basic paradigms for interacting with a user in an Apple Watch; Actionable notifications, Glances and Apps.
Actionable notifications appear first as a Short Look notification – showing only the App icon, title and a very short snippet of the message. If a user continues to view the notification or taps the screen, then the scrollable Long Look notification with all the content and a series of actions is presented. Up to 4 custom action buttons can be defined, each of which can launch the corresponding Watch app or perform a background task on the associated iPhone app.
A Glance is a single watch page showing brief information. Where a notification is event driven and alerts the user, a glance is the opportunity for a developer to provide summary information upon request. Glances are available to the user by swiping up from the clock screen on the watch, then scrolling horizontally through the installed glances. They are not intended to be touch interactive, except to launch the corresponding app which can respond to the information that was being shown at the time. Glances can use knowledge of the time or location to show information relevant to the user at the time – as discussed earlier, the American Airline app shows the user the gate and seat number when they depart, and baggage collection details when they arrive.
An app itself provides the most user interaction capability and is intended for longer duration activities. In a similar way to an iPhone app, the user swipes through pages or navigates through hierarchical lists to access all the areas of the app.
Many of the examples above use all 3 of these Apple Watch interface components – Glances to show relevant status information upon request, Notifications to alert the user to an immediately relevant piece of information and an App to allow the user access to more information and functionality that the other 2 styles don’t provide.
The Apple Watch is set to hit the market with a robust suite of innovative and varied apps from day 1 giving consumers a valuable experience from the moment they purchase their device. As more and more people start to use the watch, the creativity of users and developers promises to help us use our Apple Watch in ways we haven’t even imagined, just as the iPhone continues to do today.