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Why Airbnb did not just duplicate its iPhone app for Apple Watch

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September 4, 2015

Airbnb's Apple Watch app

Airbnb’s Apple Watch app

When Airbnb set out earlier this summer to create an Apple Watch application, it initially tried to simply port over its iOS app but quickly discovered this did not provide the best-possible user experience.

Because the Apple Watch screen is so much smaller than an iPhone and has different interactions, Airbnb discovered that several key features such as browsing listings and saving to a wish list were difficult, the company revealed in a blog post announcing the Apple Watch app. After going back to the drawing board, the company realized that a messaging-focused app best delivered the king of on-the-go, lightweight experience that fits the Apple Watch use case.

“The Apple Watch is very much a secondary device; a second screen, if you will, of the iPhone. Naturally, it follows that our Watch app should be just that: a lightweight extension of the Airbnb iOS app,” said Isaac Lim, iOS software engineer at Airbnb, in the blog post.

“We needed to capitalize on a targeted and important part of the Airbnb experience that embodied the on-the-go nature of the Apple Watch, and messaging fit that description perfectly,” he said.

Starting from scratch
Airbnb wanted to create an Apple Watch app because it recognized how an inherently on-the-go wearable could potentially bring some key benefits to users, given that traveling is an on-the-go activity.

Apple Watch interfaces are built in such a way that it is relatively easy to drag-and-drop iPhone features on different screens, which is what Airbnb initially did. However, the company soon realized that browsing listings was difficult on the small screen while interactions such as saving a wish list were complicated to carry out.

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Additionally, all the details could not be displayed needed for a host and guest to make an informed decision.

Therefore, Airbnb stopped trying to port the iOS app and started from scratch.

Messaging hub
The new goal for the app became to deliver the best-possible messaging experience.

The Airbnb Apple Watch app focuses on making it easy for hosts and guests to communicate with each other instantaneously. The app features Airbnb messaging, which is frequently used between hosts and guests before, during or after a stay.

Hosts with an Apple Watch can receive a new booking request right on their wrists, complete with the traveler’s name and photo, requested dates and a personal message.

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Hosts can decide on the spot whether to accept or decline on the spot. They can also initiate and respond to messages, as well as create and save quick, pre-recorded responses.

“The Airbnb Apple Watch app was not designed to replace or mirror the main iOS app,” Mr. Lim said. “It is a messaging hub – a means to help hosts respond to their guests more quickly, and for guests to get notified of important events.

“With rich, interactive notifications, hosts can accept a booking request right from their wrist,” he said.

“A guest can then respond to a host’s welcome message the second they receive that notification on their Apple Watch, using the built-in Dictation feature.”

Final Take
Chantal Tode is senior editor on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York

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