Although the Apple Watch boasts the ability to instantly notify users with important updates — breaking news stories, changes to their bank account or the achievement of a fitness goal — its 42mm screen can be a major constraint for developers and designers.
This is especially true for messaging applications, which must figure out how to create an essentials-only design that enables two-way communication without the luxury of a keyboard. When designing a messaging application for the Apple Watch there are several key considerations that must be kept in mind to ensure developers are creating something people will actually use.
Is the Apple Watch Worthy?
Jonathan Ive’s team developed the Apple Watch to help solve the problem they themselves created: smartphone addiction. Between the constant influx of notifications and the 24/7 connectivity to work, we are prisoners of our own devices.
Reluctantly, I’ll admit that I’m guilty of this in my personal life. As I play with my kids on a Saturday afternoon in the park, I can’t help but discreetly sneak a look at my phone every few minutes. We just cannot free ourselves from the thought of missing something important.
While critics claim otherwise, the Apple Watch actually frees us from our constant surreptitious phone-checking habit. By filtering the most important alerts and providing immediate notifications that can be absorbed with a glance, the Apple Watch causes users to pick up their phone less frequently and only for matters that involve a response.
Between the constant influx of notifications and the 24/7 connectivity to work, we are prisoners of our own devices.
Given the nature and purpose of the Apple Watch, the first question companies should ask is whether or not their business app interaction is worthy of immediate interruption. For enterprise messaging, the answer is a resounding Yes. The instant nature of messaging lends itself naturally for a new communication medium like the Apple Watch.
Starting From Scratch
Just like every app does not belong on the Apple Watch, every iPhone interface will not transfer to the face of a wristwatch. Over-simplification is important. You may think your iPhone app is sleek and simple, but everything changes when you drastically reduce the screen size.
Simplifying isn’t just about design; it’s about reducing the number of available features on the app. Many of the browsing or text-heavy portions of a smartphone platform are no longer applicable on the watch form factor, requiring developers to determine which features are used the most and eliminate the rest.
Color palettes on the Apple Watch also matter. Despite the assumption that a color palette would be the easiest part of the Apple Watch transition, it usually cannot be replicated from the smartphone. The Apple Watch’s black background and small screen size completely change the game, meaning that the de-saturated colors often used in traditional branding appear muted and are difficult to read, which forces designers to switch over to bright, high-contrast colors.
The Need For Context-Intelligent Responses
First and foremost, the Apple Watch is a notification platform. Punching out a lengthy message isn’t feasible without a keyboard, so messaging apps face a unique challenge not met by notification-based platforms. As we worked to solve this problem, we kept coming back to one central theme: speed.
Apple Watch users should be able to glance down at their wrist, instantly absorb the information they need and move on with their day. This is why Apple’s User Interface Guidelines suggest that app developers keep all interactions with the watch to less than 30 seconds.
With a 30-second time constraint, how do you empower users to read a notification and reply, while avoiding the often-awkward voice response? We focused on context-intelligent emojis and canned text responses to reply quickly. While the basic forms of both of these technologies have been available for years, they lacked context and the ability to accurately predict a user’s reply. That’s beginning to change.
Right now, enterprise messaging applications offer a series of canned responses, such as “Yes, I’m available now” or “We closed the deal.” Eventually, messaging applications will be able to gather relevant data to enable the creation of personalized and relevant response options.
For example, if a colleague asks to do lunch at 1pm, the app could gather information from a user’s calendar, current location, past preferences and outside data (such as access to OpenTable) to suggest personalized responses, such as “I’m not available until 1:30. Let’s meet at Salt House on Mission Street. They have tables available at that time.”
With the recent watchOS 2 announcement, which will support native apps as well as third-party complications, it is clear Apple views enriched third-party apps as critical to delivering a fully integrated wearable experience. Still, the full potential of messaging apps will not be realized until the Apple Watch can function without the iPhone.
Independent of this crutch, and with the capabilities of everything from instant communication to project management, the Apple Watch stands to become the ultimate convener, allowing users to seamlessly manage both their personal and professional lives.