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Why Apple Watch apps should be one-dimensional

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July 20, 2015

Peter Skoromnyi is cofounder and chief strategy officer of Apalon Apps

Peter Skoromnyi is cofounder and chief strategy officer of Apalon Apps

By Peter Skoromnyi

When Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007, the device essentially redefined the phone as a digital Swiss Army knife. Sure, you could still make phone calls on your iPhone, but chances are you spend the other 75 percent or so of your time texting, checking email, playing games or interacting with a number of other applications.

The Apple Watch – or any smart watch for that matter – is an altogether different device. You cannot do everything on the watch – and Apple is not marketing it this way.

Watch out
However, it seems some developers strive for very ambitious goals to make fully functional apps for Apple Watch that simply do not make sense.

Here are a few obstacles that developers must keep in mind when creating apps for the Apple Watch:

First, of course, is the screen size. Maxing out at 1.5 inches measured diagonally, you are never going to get a satisfying game of Candy Crush Saga going, or dive into a long read from The New York Times.

Even if you had the patience to adapt to that smaller-screen experience though, you would still have to grapple with the technical optimization difficulties. Several reviewers have complained about Apple Watch apps running frustratingly slow.

There is also the ergonomic reality of the Apple Watch.

Assuming the apps start to run better soon, and you are OK with the limited screen size, you still have to hold your arm in an uncomfortable position for an extended period of time, especially if you are standing.

Remain frozen in that position for too long and you will be wondering why you are not using your iPhone instead.

Tech site BGR recently identified apps as the “most infuriating thing about the Apple Watch.”

As such, the litmus test should be: Can I get a better experience on my iPhone? It is a relevant question, because an iPhone will always be nearby.

BGR goes on to argue that Apple Watch apps “shouldn’t be a receptacle for bits and bytes of an iPhone app. Does anyone really need to read headlines from a news app on his or her wrist? Is shopping in Target’s Apple Watch app more or less convenient than pulling out an iPhone and using the full mobile app?”

We have seen Apple Watch apps attempt to do too much on a small screen when a larger smartphone screen is much better.

That said, developers should think of Apple Watch apps as fairly one-dimensional. That is, it should do one thing quickly and leave the bells and whistles to the iPhone. This is because, unlike a phone, a watch is designed for uni-tasking. Keep this single-function ideal in mind when designing an app.

App on tap
At the World Wide Developers Conference earlier in June, Apple announced the watchOS 2 will debut this fall, which expects to expand a number of features for developers including the accelerometer, microphone and speaker access, adding more color options for sketches, obtaining more bite-size information such as flight times, electric car charge information, and home-controlled system information.

But even with the new operating system coming up, the tip still stands: keep it simple and one-dimensional.

According to a recent poll of Apple Watch users, 71 percent check the weather and 63 percent use Siri, which validates our careful choices to develop for the watch: Speak & Translate for instant voice translation with Siri and Weather Live and NOAA Radar for accurate weather forecasts.

These apps deliver real value on the Apple Watch with the most suitable features so as to not overload the user.

I can think of a number of other reasons that consumers would install an app on their Apple Watch: to help get around, to order something such as an Uber car, or to keep on top of messages.

Some apps do not even require any response from the user and just send notifications, such as severe weather alerts.

Developers should keep in mind that any time longer than three seconds will have users reaching for their phones.

THE APPLE WATCH is a much more merciless arena than the iPhone.

According to Nielsen, the average iPhone owner uses around 27 apps per month. I would venture to say that number is going to be half or less on the Apple Watch.

The upshot of this is that the message for most would-be Apple Watch developers should be to think long and hard about why the world needs your app.

Peter Skoromnyi is cofounder and chief strategy officer of Apalon Apps, New York. Reach him at peter@apalon.com.

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