Designing for the Apple Watch.

What the future might hold for your favorite apps.

Leandro Brasil
January 20, 2015

The hotly anticipated Apple Watch is expected to go on sale this year. Whether it successfully creates a mass market for wearable devices, as the iPhone did for smartphones, remains to be seen. But one thing is certain: Companies will rush to capitalize on the watch.

What might that look like? We spent some time exploring how companies with popular applications might extend their existing applications for the Apple Watch, and speculating what new types of applications might be available in the future. The Apple Watch is not like existing interfaces. Its potential lies in its constraints: It is accessible because it’s tiny and convenient because it is intended for interactions lasting seconds. Features such as native voice control, haptic feedback, and a digital crown that can be used to magnify, scroll or zoom within apps crack open a whole new world of design requirements and opportunities. The smartest companies will do more than offer facsimiles of their existing apps; they'll create custom experiences that exploit the watch's unique interface. 

What follows is some of our thinking about how companies with popular applications might extend their apps to the Apple Watch based only on our evaluation of the publicly available Apple WatchKit.

Uber.

Possibilities: 

  • Voice command for requesting a car.
  • Real-time car tracking.
  • Quick notifications for messages from the driver.

How it would work:

As a time- and position-dependent application, Uber can take full advantage of the Watch’s notifications to keep the user updated on a car’s location and ETA. Users will be even more inclined to call an Uber on the Watch than on the iPhone.

AW Uber Image

Foursquare.

Possibilities: 

  • Suggestions based on the user’s position and time of day.
  • Voice search for places the user might like.
  • Simple check-in with a tap.

How it would work:

The Watch could be ideal for a quick voice search for nearby places, returning options based on habits and location. It will be easy to scroll through recommendations using the digital crown.

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Bank of America.

Possibilities: 

  • Instant transfers to other account members.
  • Relevant alerts when bills are due, a deposit has been made, or account statements are ready to view.
  • Quick balance updates.

How it would work:

The Watch offers limited but real conveniences for online banking. Apple Pay, which authorizes transactions using the thumb sensor on the iPhone, will use an easy double-click on the side of the Apple Watch.

Apple Watch Visa

Fandango.

Possibilities:

  • Electronic ticketing.
  • Notifications of movie times and screenings nearby.
  • Quick theater searches.

How it would work: 

 Scannable tickets are definitely a must for an app like this, but Passbook, which stores boarding passes, movie tickets, and coupons on the iPhone, will probably have an alternative that’s native and ready to use.

AW Fandango Image

Instagram.

Possibilities: 

  • Notifications of new interactions.
  • Photo browsing with the digital crown.

How it would work:

It will be difficult to edit photos on such a small screen, so Instagram will have limited functionality on the Watch. But users will still benefit from instant alerts, messaging, and viewing.

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New York Times.

Possibilities:

  • Instant news updates.
  • Live coverage of elections and other special events.
  • Live video broadcast.

How it would work:

Every news outlet could benefit from the direct reach that Watch alerts will enable. Live event coverage will be the most robust new capability on this platform.

AW Elections Image

New Use Cases.

With the next release of WatchKit, the API that extends iOS applications so they can run on the Apple Watch, developers will start creating native Watch apps. We need to start planning for that today. Here’s what we think they’ll look like.

iBeacons

With iBeacons, Apple uses Bluetooth technology to determine the precise location of your iPhone or Apple Watch.

Possibilities:

  • Location-based reminders.
  • Location-based promotions.
  • Coupling with task-tracking apps.

How it would work:

There are countless uses for stores, retailers, and even smart appliances. For example: your fridge is running out of milk, so the watch reminds you when you pass a grocery store.

AW Coffee Image

Personal budgeting & finance.

Possibilities: 

  • Spending tracking and updates.
  • Easy access to financial information.
  • Syncing with financial institutions to view finances.

How it would work:

Many users, especially the young and digitally savvy, already use some kind of budgeting tool like Mint. The Watch has the potential to make budgeting even more manageable.

AW Budget Image

To-do lists.

Possibilities: 

  • Actionable, time-based reminders.
  • Instant updates when tasks are completed.
  • Geographically contextualized suggestions.

How it would work:

The watch would make reminders easier than ever to use, so it’s possible that people will use task-tracking apps more often.

AW ToDoList Image

Sports scores & fantasy leagues.

Possibilities:

  • Real-time alerts and notifications.
  • Easily accessible game details and stats.

How it would work:

Most sport fanatics already follow their favorite teams and athletes in real time, so the challenge here would be to create simple and engaging ways of visualizing the data at a glance.

AW Live Scores Image

Navigation.

Possibilities:

  • Haptic feedback guides users to the best route.
  • Pairing with other devices enables proximity data.

How it would work:

Google Maps is already an invaluable feature of the iPhone. With truly immediate guidance that doesn’t create visual distraction, the Watch will make life easier for drivers, bikers, hikers, and anyone else who needs to get from point A to point B. For example, the watch might use haptic feedback to buzz only on its left side to signal a left turn, or twice to tell you that your companion has stopped.

AW Navigation Image

Kitchen assistant.

Possibilities: 

  • Easy access to shopping lists.
  • Step-by-step instructions and reminders.
  • Quick recipe consultations.

How it would work: 

The kitchen has always been a place for gadgets of all kinds – and the hands-free interface of the Watch makes it a natural addition to any chef’s repertoire. For example, voice command could help a cook with flour on his hands to set a timer.

AW Cooking Image

Understanding Apple Watch Functionality.

The Taptic Engine. 

Smartphones provide simple vibrating feedback. Apple’s Taptic Engine can deliver a range of haptic feedback directly on the skin. It can simulate human touch, provide customized taps for different notifications, or buzz on specific locations to provide turn-by-turn guidance.

Why it matters: 

The Taptic Engine will provide more contextual, customizable, and discernible notifications that would replace those on the iPhone today.

Voice command.

Voice recognition holds serious potential for the watch. Not only because Siri will be native, but also because it’s faster and easier to raise your wrist and give a voice command than to pick up your phone, unlock it, and then speak.

Why it matters:

Voice will make simple tasks even faster and more convenient.

The Digital Crown.

This little wheel will be central to the watch's interface. It’s the tool used to magnify, scroll, or zoom within apps, because pinching will be tough on a small display. Apple claims that it’s extremely precise. 

Why it matters: 

This feature will make possible navigation and interaction that otherwise could only happen on the phone.

* This piece was originally published in Fast Company.

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