Insight Author
Kevin Moyles
Software Developer

Coming of Age: Why You Need to Build for Smartwatches

Is it time for you to invest in a smartwatch app?

November 23, 2017
Marino Insights Cover Image

Smartwatches are an increasingly capable trend in the world of personal computing. These devices are intriguingly positioned somewhere between a fashion item and the cutting edge of ubiquitous computing. They are personal while providing seamlessly integrated functionality for the user. 

Receiving a message to your phone could previously be a real intrusion or distraction but with a smartwatch understanding that message is possible with a flick of and a glance to your wrist. A watch can be utilised seamlessly: never taking you out of important moments and providing you with a more human-integrated way to interact with an increasingly connected world.

Who are they for?

It’s safe to assume people whose lives are hectic would derive a lot of benefit from a smartwatch while fitness fanatics would find use for them too. However, smartwatches, like traditional watches and jewellery, are for everyone. The same mass-appeal is built upon to offer a useful and powerful computing platform for a general audience. This platform inherits the attributes of those traditional accessories. 

These attributes make smartwatches more personal, sentimental, fashion-conscious, and human facing than any other popularly used portable device while offering far more advanced technology than a traditional watch.

Where are they best?

At work

Your smartwatch becomes very useful to you when life becomes busy and your attention needs to be elsewhere, or when it is either awkward or inappropriate for you to look at your phone. For a very busy user the device offers a far better human-integrated solution for receiving and understanding your calls, messages, emails and other notifications. Denying an unimportant call without disruption to a more pressing conversation or receiving an important message while on-the-go are more seamless through a smartwatch.

At rest

And for people with less busy lives the benefit of the device’s better human integration is still very convenient and is felt. What is more, with the ability to vibrate to grab the user’s attention any warning or notification will never be missed, and always timely and unobtrusive. Displaying timely information in a way that grabs the attention of only the user in almost every situation is invaluable to a countless number of apps and is especially felt by the user when relaxing.

At play

For fitness fanatics smartwatches have a solid use case as activity trackers. Clearly being able to see live information relating to your activity like pace calculations and distance travelled without reaching into your pocket for your phone is a huge benefit, and with some devices you can even leave your phone at home. 

Health and fitness tracking is better served in smartwatches because of their improved human integration but also because of their sensors. Many smartwatches have built-in infrared-light based heart rate monitors to track and help to collect heart-rate data and hydration levels while some of the other sensors include: 

  • a 3-axis accelerometer and a gyroscope - which enable devices to be used a pedometers and general activity trackers; 
  • altimeters - which are used to calculate altitude and; 
  • GPS capabilities - to measure distance and location. 

This large array of sensors show that smartwatches are very versatile in the range of activities they can track.

Where are they going?

Smartwatches are functionally very useful and they’re beloved the same as traditional watches with degrees of sentimentality few--if any--devices share. The app ecosystems are strong but still quite young which means they are open and competitive for launching new apps. 

Android Pay and Apple Pay are already supported widely and with the expansion of Android Pay to the Android Wear ecosystem, the ability to pay for items without having to reach into your pockets will be a great convenience available on all of the platforms going forward. But even as it stands the smartwatch offers a huge number of possibilities across a range of different industries for apps to be developed and used effectively. 

What to keep in mind when building your smartwatch app

1. Have something they need to hear

The user has given you prime position to share information with them. You should have something meaningful to show them, something they’d like to know.

2. Consider the right way and time to deliver your message

Reducing information to the timely essentials is one of the greatest benefits you can provide on the platform. You should focus on sharing information through watch face complications or through actionable notifications. For instance:

  • a banking app might share with the user their current daily, weekly, or monthly spend or notify the user of unusual activity relating to an account;
  • a social media app might have some condensed information relating to recent feed activity or their interactions.

Actionable notifications should provide the user with contextual functionality tailored to them. This can be learned from the history of their responses or analytics data.

3. Looks or personality? Both

Your app should be good looking, have character and be engaging. Smartwatches are more fashion-orientated than other devices, they’re personal, and a fun novelty for many too. A successful app will have a visual aesthetic and personality that leaves an impression.

4. Design for the device

Finally, don’t think about a smartwatch as just being a phone with smaller screen real estate and different conventions around text input. There are constraints to designing for a smartwatch, but it does not necessarily mean you’re limited in the scope of the app you create. 

There are new and inventive solutions to many problems and some of the most visually appealing and useful apps are smartwatch apps. It is a different platform that needs to be understood to achieve the excellent results customers expect.

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If you’re thinking of expanding your app onto watchOS, Tizen, or Android Wear or want to create an entirely new app for the platform: our designers and engineers are keen to show what has been done and what’s possible. Talk to us.

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