The software that lives in the hands of millions of users will soon be renting space on their wrists. As the anticipation for the new Apple Watch grows, designers should be considerate of how the watch will change the way we think about the user experience of wearables. Not only will the Watch open a new world of UX based on a smaller interfaces and constant user exposure, it will eventually sneak its way into its predecessors.
The Watch takes much of its navigational foundation from the iPhone, the first being hierarchical. This style is complimentary of apps that are information heavy (i.e. sports, news, media). Page based navigation is suitable for lighter apps that have a centered functionality (i.e. weather, utilities). The navigation style that the Apple Watch uses easily ties into their existing interfaces. By gradually updating their navigation, Apple is able to make new functionality feel easy to adopt because it fits within a foundation that the user is already used to. Once users adapt to the updates in the navigation, habits will form, and new UX issues will arise. It’s our job as designers to predict these problems before they happen and integrate solutions into our interfaces.
An important takeaway from the navigation is the limited amount of user interactions. In each view, the user should only be presented with one choice to make. That choice will influence the next interface they see, and so on and so forth. If an iPhone app is currently using a flat navigation (tab bar) it might be tricky extending it to a watch app. For apps that have flat navigation, the best solution is to to strip your app down to its most essential functionality for the watch extension.
The Apple Watch has adopted an unfamiliar form of user experience in which the device will be initiating most of the interactions, which is not to be taken lightly. You want your wearers to be delighted with a notification, not annoyed. Having a wearable device means its value is held in the moments when your hands and attention are directed elsewhere, so be mindful of how you would like to remind your wearer of your app’s presence.
Limited Resources Spark the Imagination
When WatchKit arrived, many designers and developers were disappointed with the limited resources and capabilities. A huge letdown was the lack of animations. All animations need to be handled the good old fashioned way; pre-rendered using a sequence of images. Interestingly, Apple does not withhold animations altogether, making perfect sense. An industry leader would not want to release choppy, afterthought animations when they can further test, develop and learn from the community of designers and developers that surround them. I anticipate updates galore based on the first generation of watch apps.
Since we are all still anticipating the release, the future of wearable iOS is yet to be discovered. Once designers and developers are able to get well acquainted with their new extensions, we’ll start to build an understanding of how we want our wearables to look and act. I have a strong feeling that the extension of wearable iOS will render some features of the iPhone obsolete for new wearers. The watch will be providing instant connections and constant updates, removing the need for certain iPhone features. Not only should designers anticipate new UX with the Apple Watch, but consider the possibility that iPhone UX may be getting a facelift as well.