When to Develop a Watch App (or Not)

With the recent release of Apple Watch 2 and new versions of Android Wear smartwatches introduced regularly, the idea of building a watch app is front of mind for many clients. A watch app seems cool and timely (couldn’t resist), fun to use, and super convenient. While a watch app is all those things, it may not be the right choice for your business.

Although some watch apps (like fitness tracking, Apple Pay, music) do still offer some functionality without a phone nearby, watch apps do not stand alone at this point in time. As a result, one doesn’t build a watch app instead of a phone/tablet app, but rather alongside these devices. The best watch apps do not mimic the features of the phone app, but act as a companion app that takes advantage of the unique features of the watch in order to bring additional value to the user’s experience. In almost all cases, the user will continue to use other devices for more in-depth tasks.

In order to help our clients decide if a watch app is a valuable addition, we ask these questions.

Does your app provide info that is frequently changing?

If the information in your app is regularly updated, a watch app could be a great addition that allows a user to see and interact with changing data more easily. This is especially useful if a quick response could change an outcome.

For example, the eBay for Apple Watch app allows users to closely monitor items they are bidding on, selling, or watching. The watch app even includes a “quick bidding feature” for those high-pressure, last-minute auction moments, helping users to win items without having to lose valuable time to break out a device.

This is an exciting feature that complements the functionality present elsewhere. Users who wish to browse through listings will still prefer to scan on either a phone, laptop or tablet.

eBay Watch App
Image credit: TechnoBuffalo.com

Can your data be understood in a glance?

People use smartwatches to get important information fast, with interaction time being measured in seconds. For a watch app to add value, it must deliver information that is “glanceable”, meaning that it can be understood at a glance with minimal attention.

If your app idea contains a limited set of timely data for users to scan quickly, a watch app may be the right solution. Tasks like checking stock quotes, scanning sports scores, or viewing weather conditions fit the bill. In contrast, reading a lengthy article or reviewing data analysis on a watch would be tedious.

Can information be represented in a compact form?

Clearly, the watch has limited display space, and your companion app must be able to conform to the size restrictions of the physical device. If the functionality of your app is complicated, or large imagery is required, or many layers of data must co-exist, it will be unwieldy and difficult to create a good user experience in a small form factor.

In contrast, if your data is easily understood even without a lot of context, the accessibility of a watch app could make life easier for a user. Consider a travel app that presents gate numbers, baggage claim information, and flight status. These pieces of information often change, are critical to know, AND easy to display in a compact way – the perfect combination for a watch app.

Does your app allow for brief, simple interactions with useful outcomes?

In addition to delivering essential information quickly and simply, effective watch apps allow for instant, productive interactions. Consider the following potential use cases for watch apps that allow users to get something done with a quick watch interaction:

Dictation: With a microphone-enabled smartwatch, a user can create to-do lists, record vital information from a meeting or call, or compose a text. The possibilities for productivity and retaining important information make the use of a smart watch a good choice.

Marketing: The value of a watch is not only for the wearer, but also for merchants in their vicinity. Using GPS capabilities and real-time notifications, potential customers can receive useful alerts about nearby happenings or sales, resulting in more foot traffic and store profit.

Communication: Simple text or voice responses can benefit personal and professional relationships. Allowing for an easy and fast way to respond to someone, or just reach out, is an enormous benefit of a watch app.

So, should I develop a watch app?

As with any software development idea, the answer is never straightforward. If you can answer “yes” to the four questions posed above, you may be on the right track for a watch app. You’ll also want to take time to consider the likelihood that people in your particular market/industry would own a smartwatch. While logging time via a phone might be a great win for a construction worker, it doesn’t make sense to build the watch app if few people in that demographic own watches.

We’d love to help you process the questions above and then build a watch app with you if it makes sense. Let’s connect!