App User Lifecycle

The Future of Apple Watch and Smart App Engagement

A Business Intelligence report has estimated that the wearable technology market will reach 150 million units a year by 2019; we’ll need to wait and see whether that turns out to be the case. What we know so far is it’s been a slow start. Prior to the launch of the Apple Watch, a mere 11.4M wearable devices had been shipped in the first quarter of this year.

But while Apple is keeping quiet about its own numbers, and analyst estimates are best described as variable, one thing is certain: the Apple Watch has turned wearable technology into a mainstream product. Where previously you had to be a geek or a fitness fanatic to buy a wearable, today it’s a device everyone knows about and many who fall into neither category are wearing on their wrists.

One of the challenges for developers has been understanding the role of a smartwatch, and how people do and don’t want to interact with a watch. But we can gather some clues from the most popular Apple Watch apps to date.

Wristly carried out a survey in August which revealed the ten most popular Apple Watch apps: Dark Sky took the lead, with almost twice as many votes as the runner-up. It’s not too hard to see why: it’s almost a textbook example of everything a smartwatch app should be. It’s geared to telling you what you need to know, when you need to know it.

Dark Sky is not an app your interact with on you wrist: it’s one that delivers timely information. If it’s going to rain in 15 minutes’ time, for example, the app taps you on the wrist and chimes gently to let you know. You can then decide whether to head out to the car a little earlier than you’d originally planned.

Second-placed Overcast is a good example of the next level up: information plus extremely light interaction. You choose your podcasts on your phone, and can then use the watch app to see what’s playing, what’s coming up next and to engage with the app very briefly. You can, for example, pause and restart playback, skip back when you missed something or jump past a boring bit.

Third-placed Fantastical is what I’d say is the top end of the degree of interaction people want to have with their watch. You can scroll through your calendar, check details on events and use Siri to add an event. Anything more than that, and it’s going to be quicker and easier to slip your iPhone out of your pocket and use that.

The next six most popular apps –  Uber, Instagram, Twitter, Shazam, New York Times and MLB – all adopt a similar formula. Primarily geared to timely notifications, they allow light interaction, but anything more involved is done on the iPhone. The Starbucks app, rounding out the top ten, allows more in the way of interaction, but I’d lay good odds on most people using it to pay for coffee and check their rewards.

The future of Apple Watch apps is, I’d argue, going to be very much the same as the successful ones today. Recognize that a watch is fiddly to interact with, and the screen is suitable only for bite-sized chunks of information. The KISS principle is king. Figure out what users want to know, when they want to know it and then deliver that information as simply as possible.

Apple’s own terminology tells you right in the name how information should be delivered: Glances. You should be able to get an alert, twist your wrist and get the information you need in a glance lasting no more than a second or two.

Once someone has that information, what action are they likely to want to take? Again, don’t think comprehensive, think quick. What are the top one, two or three things a user might want to do right now? Give them a really quick and easy way to do those things. Then stop. Don’t over-complicate things. KISS.

But perhaps one of the biggest developments in Apple Watch apps will be … not having to use an app at all. Like the wearables market, home automation and the Internet of Things is small today, but it’s going to be big – very big. With HomeKit integration, the only interaction the user needs to have with their watch is telling Siri what they want it to do.

The ultimate future way to interact with smart home products will be to simply hold in the Digital Crown and tell Siri “It’s movie time.” A single command that tells the television to switch its source to Apple TV, turns down the lights and puts your iPhone into Do Not Disturb mode. No interaction with apps required.

For now, think brief, think simple, think context, think engagement. For the future, think … automatic.

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