Things to think about when planning an Apple Watch app

Brian GilhamEssays

The first question to ask yourself is, “Just what the heck is this thing going to do?”

For the average user, the Apple Watch will be joining an entire constellation of devices they already use in the course of a day. If they use their laptop for general computing, perhaps they use their iPad for reading books or blog posts on the couch. Or watching Netflix. They pull out their phone on the go to play games or catch up on Twitter. We’ve all seen someone browsing Instagram on the bus.

Despite how connected to our smartphones we’ve all become, the Watch will be even more intimate. It’s literally strapped to your body. You need to respect that.

Should your app exist?

Assuming you have some say in the matter, take a moment to ask yourself if creating a WatchKit app for your product is really beneficial for your users. I love Dropbox, but struggle to think of any reason I’d want it on my wrist. Perhaps they’ll surprise me.

What would your app bring to the table? In my mind, useful Watch apps do one of three things:

  1. Make it easier to do my job or live my life.
  2. Improve the connections I have with people I care about.
  3. Bring a small moment of joy into my life.

If the app concept in your mind doesn’t fit into one of those three categories — or more than one — I would think long and hard about whether it should exist at all.

When in doubt, why not ask your users? By speaking to my app’s potential users, I’ve avoided making false assumptions about how they’ll use it.

If I try your Watch app and you piss me off, I won’t be back.

Precious Seconds

If we measure iPhone app usage in minutes, Watch apps will be measured in seconds. In my testing, users want their smartwatch to integrate into their life/workflow, not become the focus of it.

Watch apps should get the user in and out as fast as possible. Convenience is your guiding principle.

I had the opportunity to test a Pebble smartwatch for two months and I loved how little I had to pull out my phone to deal with my digital life. New message from a contact? I glanced at my wrist, decided whether or not it needed to be dealt with in the moment, and got on with my day.

That’s powerful.

When you’re planning your app’s functionality, design, and UI don’t disrespect my time by asking me to do any more than that.

Duplication of effort

A Watch app complements your existing iOS app, it doesn’t replace it. Don’t try to re-create all of the existing functionality. What are the top three features your app needs and your users would appreciate? Better yet, what’s the one killer feature?

  • I want to start/stop recording my bike ride in Strava, I don’t want to read through a long list of every ride I’ve ever taken.
  • I want to see the latest deals at the store and find the closest location. I don’t want to browse every product you carry.
  • I want to see the top 5 reviews of the restaurant I’m standing in front of, not read every damn review ever written.
  • I want to read the top news stories of the day that are most relevant to me, not flip through every story in the paper.

Your Watch app is bundled with a fully-featured iOS app. Don’t duplicate your effort. If you simply “minify” your existing app, you blew it.

Working on an awesome app for the Apple Watch? I’ve released a set of 113 HIG-compliant icons called Chronicons. Designed specifically for the Apple Watch, they’re $5 off until Wednesday.