Apple Watch is all about user tasks

03 December 2014

Apple Watch Sport

I recently gained some first-hand experience of how Apple Watch is going to work at SyncTheCity which took place in Norwich between the 20th and 22nd November. My team's (better known as 'Team Awesome') pitch was to design an app for the sports edition of Apple’s upcoming smartwatch. The app would allow the wearer to keep score in popular racquet sports, such as squash, tennis and badminton, thus eliminating the inevitable fisticuffs which occur when players lose track of the score and more importantly, who’s winning.

Here's what I learned...

Designing for Apple Watch is tricky at the moment

Getting any sort of design hints for this was like pulling teeth:

  • There are a few user-created chromes on the web (images of the actual device with a mocked up screen overlayed), but the dimensions aren’t accurate or consistent.
  • The software development kit (SDK), WatchKit, had only been publically available for less than two days at the time (just over a week at time of writing) and Apple Watch support was only in beta.
  • I managed to find some Apple Watch UI guidelines on Apple's website which triggered some discussion amongst the team about how much we could fit on the screen. Some felt that Apple’s guideline sizes were way too big - however, on the SDK’s simulator everything looked huge as the preview window wasn’t to scale. If we were able to test on an actual device (the Apple Watch has yet to appear in stores), the reason for the large dimensions would have proven obvious. To address this issue, I’ve created some chromes for both Apple Watch sizes in Axure (link below), based on the imagery available from Apple’s UI guidelines.

Download Apple Watch Axure chrome .rp file

Team Awesome developing for Apple Watch at Sync the City

Take the design to task

The upshot is that, with smartwatch design...

  • You have less real estate than you’ve ever had before. You have a screen size of 272x340 pixels on the 38mm Apple Watch and 312x390 pixels on the 42mm version.
  • You need to focus on key user tasks more than ever before. You have limited contextual functionality with gestures such as long tap and hard tap, but not all users will know these.
  • Your app will probably be used in conjunction with an app on a synced phone.
  • Smartwatches have gestures that were previously unavailable such as glance. With Apple Watch, for example, glances can’t do anything other than display data, so make sure you know what your users want to see and more importantly when or where your users want to see it and design glances which complement these needs.

Focus on the future

There's no doubt that the relative convenience smartwatches offer over a phone is a big selling point; who can argue that it isn't easier to glance at your wrist than fumble in a pocket for a phone? However, we need to make sure the UIs we design for them don't put people off. Keeping UIs accessible/intuitive and striking the right balance between what's available on watch and what's available on phone is key here. Task focus is pivotal in whether or not the smartwatch establishes itself as a mainstay of current technology.

Team photo courtesy of Tim Stephenson Photography. Apple Watch image courtesy of Apple.