The Apple Watch’s 1.5-inch screen is larger than a U.S. quarter (.9 in) and smaller than the average human thumb (2.6 in). More expensive models of the Watch come in at 1.7 inches, but that’s still tiny when you compare it to the iPhone 6’s 4.7-inch display.
Needless to say, designing for the Apple Watch is completely new terrain, but it’s an opportunity we couldn’t resist. Infor Ming.le™, our business collaboration platform, is the kind of app that just begs to be on the Apple Watch. Infor Ming.le for mobile and desktop is all about keeping workers informed and making it really easy for them to take action. The Apple Watch—which is essentially an extension of the person who is wearing it—super charges Infor Ming.le’s immediacy and fluidity and, therefore, the wearer’s workflow. But like every great opportunity, designing for the Watch came with its own unique obstacles.
Here’s what we learned from the challenges.
1. Don’t try to squash a mobile app into the Watch
The Apple Watch is essentially a window into the most pressing activity that’s happening on the user’s phone. Only urgent updates and the most micro interactions make sense on the Watch. Everything else is just clutter. I believe that Twitter, for example, is going down the wrong route. The Apple Watch isn’t designed to read tweets. It doesn’t come with a web browser, so users won’t be able to click through to see linked content. Some people might want to write a tweet on the Watch, but once the novelty wears away, what’s the point?
You need to decide early on how your Apple Watch app can help the user, and not overload him or her with information. A lot of the design that goes into a Watch app happens in the background—how the app processes content, how it’s filtering certain pieces in and filtering others out, how it’s delivering only the most up-to-date, relevant, and crucial information.
The biggest advantage, and disadvantage, of the Apple Watch is that it’s immediate. There’s no way to miss a message, but there’s also no way to avoid one. The user can always mute his phone or put it in his pocket, but the Watch is always there, tapping his wrist.
When concepting the Watch version of Infor Ming.le—an application that deals with a lot of data on desktop and mobile—we knew it was important only to show things that are either changing or becoming more important than the rest of the information. Urgent matters that demand action in real time (such as a broken machine or a customer complaint) make the most sense. Less pressing issues (such as a message about the office holiday party) have no place on the Watch.
2. Learn to work within UI constraints
Apple provides designers with just two types of UI layouts for the Watch: Page-based screens (which scroll down) and gallery-based screens (which scroll right). To put that in perspective, iPhone app designers don’t need to use any of the UI components that Apple provides—you can draw whatever you want. The possibilities reach as far as your imagination can go. But we’ve come a long way since the first iPhone, which didn’t even offer native apps by third-party developers.
The Apple Watch forces designers to keep things simple—and that’s great. Initially for Infor Ming.le, we wanted to include super cool interactive charts. But because of Apple’s constraints, we had to take a far more direct approach that, in the end, we believe will be far more beneficial to the user.
3. Think of the application in three distinct modes: The main app, glance, and notifications
Main apps on the Apple Watch should be very micro with limited interaction. You want to design something that people can use within five to ten seconds. One of the best examples is Uber: Press a button and it orders a cab. That’s it. For the main Infor Ming.le app, we decided to show stats. When the user launches it, he’ll get an overview of what’s happening—how many notifications are waiting and how many alerts have escalated since the last time he checked in.
Glances are quick updates that aren’t actionable, such as the latest weather or breaking news on CNN. We figured out early on that just because Apple gave us this option, Infor Ming.le shouldn’t have a glance mode since we only want to deliver information that demands action.
Notifications are actionable updates, such as a text message. This is where Infor Ming.le’s Apple Watch app really takes form. Take, for example, a construction foreman. He spends most of his day helping his crew, managing real estate moguls, and running from point a to point b to point q. His phone is always on mute and he spends approximately 15% of his shift in front of a computer. His voicemail and email inboxes are bursting at the seams and his crew wishes they could implant a GPS in him.
Let’s say a pipe breaks. Or a fire erupts. Really, a million things can, and do, go wrong on a construction site. Right now, the crew can hope to track down the foreman but if they can’t find him in time, they’ll just need to deal with it themselves. With Infor Ming.le’s Watch app, he can instantly know when disaster strikes and respond to his crew with next steps by speaking into the Watch. This immediacy will prove invaluable for the foreman and his counterparts in every industry: sales, manufacturing, public safety, healthcare. And the best part is—we’re only at version one.