Apple Watch photo © Apple
As one would expect from Apple, the rules pertaining to what app developers can and cannot do have been laid down hard and tight. On November 18th Apple released their Watch SDK (WatchKit, they called it) to an eagerly awaiting world. And it contained the most detailed information to date on how the new watch will function.
The Apple Watch is selling itself around a touchy-feely, minimally-verbal communication premise. On its official site they talk about connecting to people in “new, spontaneous ways” and how “every exchange is less about reading words on a screen”. When you get past the rainbows and unicorns, you realise that this is probably what we all need, even if we perhaps don’t yet realise it. The thrust is all about communicating as quickly and efficiently as possible, so that the actual mechanics of communicating don’t get in the way. And although some of these elements might seem a little contrived and bordering on the ridiculous (as you’ll see later when we explore the built-in apps – ‘want to feel my heartbeat…anyone?’) it’s an interesting padigm shift which may see others following suit (along with plenty of lawsuits too, no doubt).
So what we now know is that the user experience will revole around some key interactions. As with all other smartwatches, one of the main ones will be notifications. Apple has broken these notifications down into “Short Look” and “Long Look”.
As the name suggests, the Short Look interface is used when a notification first arrives to view. It needs to impart the information in a quick and efficient manner as well as maintain a degree of privacy for the user from those prying eyes on the train. In order to accomplish and adhere to this requirement Apple have strictly defined the form this type of notification will take. It will only display the the Icon of the App, a very short developer-defined title (such as “New Message”) just to give a hint as to the content, and the name of the app. That’s it. When the wearer has viewed the notification and lowered their arm again, the notification will disappear.
However, and this is the clever bit, if the wearer keeps their wrist held up to view the Short Look notification, the Watch will register that they want to see more information, and the Long Look notification will then display in its place.
As the name suggests, Long Look notifications contain more information, but in addition they are also considerably more customisable by the developer. The stucture of a Long Look notification has a system-defined sash at the top, showing the app icon and name. Beneath this it where the app content goes. The developer essentially has a free-reign as to what this can include, however the layout will be determined by the OS, and the rule it uses for this is to flow everything down from the top left. Given the small display available, this will essentially mean a vertical sequence of information – images and text. At the bottom of this will be developer-defined action buttons, such as “reply” or “like” and at the end is the system-generated “Dismiss” button.
An option is given to provide dynamic content in the customisable section of the Long Look notification, however static content must be provided as a fall-back. Again, Apple do not want to take any chances on poorly-defined content detracting from the user experience of their Watch.
Another interface element defined by Apple are what they describe as “Glances”. Glances are the Apple equivalent of alerts. They appear at key points to advise and forewarn of current or imminent events. So, for example, the tasker app may inform you the number of tasks for the day you have completed and how many remain. Or, you may get a heads-up of the weather, or a traffic update. Apple states that the information has to be pertinent and relevant based on the time and the wearer’s location. You can horizontally scroll through the various glances, and the bottom of the display has been reserved for page indicator dots.
The other stipulations with regard to glances are that they are built around set templates, they are non-scrollable (the entire glance must display on one screen) and that touching them will only have the effect of launching the main app. Apple also insist that the glances provide useful information, and are not used for the sole purpose of launching the associated app.
As discussed in the overview of the Apple Watch, there is a new hardware innovation called “force touch” which can identify between a light and forceful press on the screen and react accordingly. A forceful touch will bring up a contextual menu with up to 4 possible actions. It will be interesting to see how useful this will be, as the standard method to bring up a contextual menu is a long press as opposed to a tap, and many people will find this method more intuitive since they are more used to it.
Navigation gestures around the interface has also been prescribed by Apple; horizontal swipes will scroll through pages, whereas vertical swipes will scroll up and down a single page. There is also a feature where you are able to swipe the vertical and horizontal edges of the screen to effect certain actions, as you can with some laptop touchpads. So a swipe left along the a horizontal edge will take you ‘back’ a step, while a swipe upwards along a vertical edge brings up the ‘glances’ screens.
Another innovative interface element is the rotatable crown control. This enables you to scroll up and down through a document, or scroll through ‘clickable’ elements on the screen much more quickly and effectively than using the touchscreen itself.
And of course for voice control there is alway Siri, ready to fulfil your every whim, from setting reminders, playing your favourite song and taking down an urgent note, Siri’s there.
Messaging – you can dictate a message using the built in microphone, and there are a range of built-in emojis which you can use to convey your innermost feelings. Then there is the strange. Such as the sketch feature which will allow you to sketch something on screen and send to, presumably, someone else also sporting an Apple Watch. There is also something they call ‘Walkie Talkie’ which essentially allows you to send soundbites to each other à la Whatsapp. Then it gets a little stranger. You are able to send a tap which friends and loved-ones will feel on their wrist. And here is where we reach the real heart-of-darkness: you have the ability to send to somebody, with the aid of the pulse monitor on the back of the device, your heartbeat. Just don’t send it to your new business client by mistake (although it may have a positive effect – you never know).
Whenever you get a message, the watch taps you to let you know. You can set up individualised taps for people you know, so you will know its from them without having to look at the watch – great for ignoring your Aunty Mabel.
Fitness – As with all other wrist-worn tech, fitness is an integral element of their function, and the Apple Watch is no exception. It has a tracker which breaks down your daily activity into three broad categories depending on intensity; move, exercise and stand. The ‘stand’ category is an odd one. Apple describe it as showing how often you have stood to take a break from sitting. It may have been better to measure inactivity instead. With each of these element you can set targets, and are even rewards in the form of acheivement badges.
In conjunction with the activity tracker there is also a Workout app which measures, in real-time, parameters such as distance, pace and calories burnt while exercising. It also gives encouragement during your stint with little messages informing you of how much you have left to do. Depending on how well you’re doing that may not be so encouraging.
You then have your standard fare, including a calendar, maps with navigation, a music app for playing music both from your iPhone or from the Watch itself, stocks, shares and a remote for your iPhone camera. An interesting one is called Passbook which handles a whole range of cads and passes such as store loyalty cards, tickets and even airline boarding passes. This is certainly a glimpse into how we may be conducting ourselves in the not-too-distant future.
Although the SDK for the Apple Watch has only recently been released, a number of apps from key partners have been known about since the Watch’s unveiling in September. Eugene Kim summarises these neatly in a piece for Business Insider, but here are some highlights:
American Airlines has an app which will allow you to check-in via a tap on the Watch
Starwood Hotels Group’s app enables you to check into a hotel and unlock your room by simply by bringing the watch near to the door
A BMW app can display the level of your car’s battery plus remind you where it is parked
Honeywell and Lutron apps allow you to remotely control the heating and lighting (respectively) in your home.
Apple’s notoriously strict app vetting process will at least ensure that any future apps will look, feel and operate as flawlessly as the Watch OS itself.