A New Approach for Smartwatch App Development

As smartwatches slowly start to gather more market exposure, the smartwatch app ecosystem has grown steadily larger. There have been some really inventive app concepts and of course a plethora of fitness based apps that weren’t truly viable on smartphones.

Ignoring the health and body apps though, so far, native smartwatch development seems pretty uninspiring. Of course, smartwatch apps are still newborns in the world of ever changing software engineering and it is still early to judge. Unfortunately though, it seems that smartwatch apps are generally headed in a rather dull direction.

To understand the issue with current app offerings, it is important to understand the current app design philosophy. Smartwatches are a new area to exploit and most developers are working towards making their current offerings available on this new platform. The name of the game is miniaturization and developers are fixated by just how to make a full-blown smartphone app work smoothly on the wrist. Therein lies the problem. Smartwatches are a different kind of animal compared to smartphones and they should not be running smartphone style apps.

Smartwatches add utility by being convenient – they are available with a flick of the wrist. They also provide insight into our health and vitals. At the moment they are as close as possible to a consumer device connected directly into our bodies. They can measure our pulse, how many steps we’ve taken, how many calories burnt, how well we have slept, even our blood oxygen level!

Based on the inspiring capabilities of smartwatches (not to mention other connected wearables), current app development is so uninspiring! Why is it necessary to make weather apps (of which there are plenty) on a smartwatch? The weather forecast doesn’t change that often – it will probably be the same as when you last looked on your smartphone!

To genuinely realise the massive potential of smartwatches a more direct, suitable approach is required. Rather than developing apps top down, apps should be created from the bottom up. Instead of taking a perfectly good smartphone app and shrinking it so it works on smartwatches, developers should create new uses to complement current smartphone apps.

Who needs a calculator app on their smartwatch? Factoring in the amount of time it takes to accurately type in the numbers on a tiny smartphone screen, it would probably quicker to whip out your smartphone and use the larger screen anyway! What’s needed are smartwatch apps that can be useful mainly because of the unique functions that smartwatches provide.

A wonderful example of this is LookBehind for Android Wear. The concept is fantastic. Using your smartphone as a camera and your smartwatch as the screen, you can view hard to see places. The app developers have really made the most of the smartphone-smartwatch relationship by utilising each one for a separate function, that together complement each other.

There is so much more that can be accomplished though. Take iHeartRadio for example. The app on Android Wear works just as well as it does on Smartphones. It is easy to navigate and it plays music just fine. Add in voice control and it has all the makings of a great smartwatch app. Good job by the developers and, disregarding incremental improvements, the app is as good as it could ever hope to be, right? Wrong! The app could be so much more! By using the smartwatch sensors and measuring the listener’s emotions whilst each song plays, the app could reach a whole new level.

The app could measure a listener’s pulse, to see if it quickens when listening to a song they like, or slows when a song they loathe is played. The pedometer could also count the number of steps taken during a song. Did the listener start dancing during the song? The fact that their steps followed the beat might suggest so. Perhaps a jogger might run faster if they listen to a song they are fond of. There are so many possibilities of what can be measured and what data can be collected. Using all this information, the app could then start curating personal playlists, without the listener ever having to specifically define their particular tastes.

In the future I hope we get to see thoughtful apps created for smartwatches built from the bottom up, rather than taking an existing smartphone app and shrinking them down to watch size. By looking at the specific capabilities of smartwatches and building from those point upwards, app developers can build unique experiences that would have otherwise been unobtainable without smartwatches.

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