The rush is on as thousands of popular apps on the iPhone and iPad join the fray on the new Apple Watch. But as early adopters have learned, what works beautifully on one system can’t always be ported directly to another. Let’s take a closer look at some user interface challenges faced by early adopter apps and how they’ve shifted their focus for this new consumer innovation.
Apple: Making the Watch Cool Again
Currently, Apple Watch apps are extensions of their iPad and iPhone versions. Standalone Apple Watch apps will be released at some point in the future. For these retailers, organizations and companies, the point is to fit as much pertinent information into a much smaller area.
Many of app developers are tackling this challenge with unprecedented ingenuity. For example in mobile health, the Mayo Clinic, a pioneer in healthcare innovations since the late 1900s, has released an Apple Watch app for doctors and their staff, known as Synthesis
. Synthesis plugs into internal documentation and electronic medical record (EMR) systems and lets doctors and staff know the current status of a patient – including health and location. Are they still in the waiting room? In an exam room? Getting discharge papers? Synthesis will tell you. What’s their current height or age? Synthesis lets doctors know at a glance.
The Pitfalls of Glances
Speaking of “glances”, as the name implies, the ability to see lots of relevant information at a glance as one of the most popular and often-admired features of the Apple Watch. But for many reviewers, including Jason Ciprani of Fortune, “Glances
” often loaded slowly or required much more waiting at seemingly random intervals. Whereas some third party apps would load lightning fast one moment, others would take upwards of a minute or more to finally shovel out that data.
Because notifications can come from whatever device you’re using at that particular moment (for example, iPhone or Watch), you can already guess that bits and pieces of data are being tossed around while trying to stay in sync with everything else, causing a series of unfortunate delays.
Fat Finger Fumbles
According to a recent Apple Watch UX appraisal
from the Nielsen Normal Group, there’s more than just slow-loading notifications to worry about. By forcing developers to cram as much as possible into one small space, users run into the inevitable fat finger errors, where icons (not to mention the tiny X that uninstalls them) are simply too small for reliable accuracy. They suggest voice-activated commands and even gestures, although the former might get you a few odd looks in public, and the latter’s lack of standardization (“wave your hand” means many different things to different people).
So far, the overwhelmingly positive response to content organization and access on the Apple Watch is the “deck of cards” layout, where content is placed and formatted so that it can easily be swiped for continued reading. Saving items for later requires a force touch, while being able to pick up reading those items on your iPhone or iPad in the future (called a “handoff”) lacks the synchronicity of providing a smooth, seamless transition from watch to phone, and vice versa.
Take Away Lessons
Although the Apple Watch hasn’t achieved anywhere near critical mass yet, app UX designers are being advised of many of the same principles that apply to a variety of user interface designs:
- Distill critical information
- Avoid tiny buttons or complex navigation. If you’re going to use buttons, make them big and easy to tap.
- Encourage users to hand off their watch article to another device for points that require more complex or advanced interaction.
The bottom line is this – apps and app designers have some challenges to overcome in creating attractive, practical apps for the Watch. But by following many of the best practices and standards for overall app development, you’ll be in a place where you can combine the best of both worlds and craft an app that’s both tap-worthy and worth “watch”ing.