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The Best UX Concept To Consider When Designing Apple Watch Apps

What is the best UX concept to consider when designing Apple Watch apps? Is it to create something that replicates the functionality of a smartphone app? Or should we our aim to be replace smartphones altogether? While both of those are interesting concepts, from the idea of wearable tech they completely miss the target.

From a User Experience standpoint, what we need to focus on is enhancing real-life experiences.

Distractions versus Enhancements

To be perfectly frank, smartphones are an incredible distraction in our society. As wonderful as our advancements in technology are, the idea of placing a portable computer in the palm of your hand is a bit ridiculous. Videos, games, email and social apps suck people in and tend to block out the very real world all around them.

How many times do you see people so engaged in their phone while walking on the sidewalk that they have no idea what is going on around them?

This type of distraction is becoming very irritating to the actual enjoyment of life because it is making people simply miss out on what is going on around them.

Consider this; how much time does it take to deal with your smartphone when you receive a notification during a meeting? The phone vibrates lightly in your pocket or your bag alerting you to some type of message. Immediately you stop paying attention to the presentation because 1) you are excited or irritated about the interruption and 2) you are wondering how much it will annoy people if you check your phone. Of course plenty of people ignore the second consideration although they shouldn’t.

You slide your phone out of your pocket, unlock the screen, tap the app and then digest that important email headline from Best Buy, “4 HOUR SALE!” Then you lock your screen and put your phone away, quickly realizing you have no idea what was being said for the last 30 seconds. On top of that, more than likely you have distracted others with your behavior.

Consider the iWatch user who has a well-design email program that doesn’t vibrate or beep, but instead is configured to alert him to only important communications from family or his boss with a slight screen glow. That user simply glances at his watch, which used to be a very common and non-intrusive action in society, for a split-second interaction which did not take his (or her) full attention away from his surroundings.

Wearable tech, like the iWatch, is the perfect vehicle to allow tech to be an enhancement to our lives if the apps are crafted with that focus in mind.

How do you Enhance real life?

What are the key concepts you would then focus on if you are designing an app to enhance a person’s real life?

  • Right place, right time – At the top of the list is the core concept of simply providing the right information at the right time. There is no need to cram 50% or more of the functionality you might get from a desktop on to your wrist. Even 40% or 30% is too much when 20% of that functionality will do. By limiting what you are trying to display and control with the app you will enhance the actual experience of the iWatch. We already hunch over our phones, so why would we want to hunch over an even smaller device?
  • Solve problems while moving – Next when you are designing the focus should be on what you can accomplish while actually moving around and when you are experiencing life. An app that helps you pay for coffee, a weather app that alerts you to the upcoming forecast when you walk outside, or a mapping app that alerts you when you are off-track to your expected destination are ways the iWatch would enhance our daily life without interrupting. A key focus here is to be very careful about features as the more options you have, the greater the chance it requires an interruption to use.
  • Notification options – One interesting feedback some developers have recognized is that vibration alerts can be very annoying because there is a differently level of sensitivity on the wrist area compared to a pocket. So it pays to be careful in how you use them and what they are used for. With the option of a screen glow as well it might be useful to have different notifications for certain things. Also consider offering the option to configure notifications from the phone to allow more control over what is conveyed and when. Going back to our meeting example, you don’t want a notification for regular email but perhaps for important texts from your high-level contact list.
  • Consider the context of use – When are people going to use this app? What will they be doing at that time? Where will they be? How does the app usage vary for people sitting, riding, running, etc. All of these questions need to be asked and answered before you design so that the device interactions, from glances to taps, make sense to how the user will actually attempt to interface.
  • Consider the emotions of the user – For the most part as a designer there is no control over the emotional state of a user. People are going to be happy, sad, mad, etc depending on how their day goes. However, we can use them during design to really consider how features might work, or not work, given real-world scenarios with users having real-world emotions.
  • Limit visuals – Small devices have a limit to what can be displayed so aim to summarize and limit what is provided to work with that context.
  • Test in the world – Last but not least is real-world testing! Rather than just sitting in a room running over features, take that app out into the big world to simulate real-world actions, conditions, problems and the like including weather. On a bright sunny day can a user see that glow screen?

Wearable tech is unlocking a new realm for users in which tech can be useful, but takes a backseat to the world around us. By designing for the user with visually pleasing, minimalist designs and limited interruptions while providing what is needed when it is needed, we are truly making something that allows us not to miss out on life. That is why enhancing real-life experience is the best UX concept to consider when designing Apple Watch apps.

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