Smartwatches: Brands Should Prioritise Context


applewatch_16It used to be relatively straightforward for marketers, online meant a singular digital touch-point that captured consumer attention. Now of course that single digital touch-point has grown to include mobiles, tablets, connected TV’s digital kiosks, and more recently, all manner of wearable devices – in particular smartwatches.

It goes without saying that we live in a mobile world.

With shipments planned all over the globe throughout 2015, the era of the Apple Watch, and everything that it can do, is about to accelerate. According to the Adobe Digital Index there will be “unexpected demand for Apple Watch” with 27 per cent of 1,000 consumers polled who don’t currently own a smartwatch indicating that they are “very likely” to buy one in next six months. Of those, 67 per cent said they would buy the Apple Watch.

Elsewhere analyst firm, Strategy Analytics pegs Apple Watch’s global marketshare (versus all other smartwatches combined) at more than half with 54.8 per cent by the end of 2015. That’s 15.4 million Apple Watches shipped against 12.7 million (every other smartwatch).

Unsurprisingly Apple’s recent World Wide Developer Conference gave brands a lot to think about. In amongst all of the announcements, Apple announced that developers will now have the ability to build to native apps that live and execute on the Watch’s own processor. Apple also announced access to new tools that will allow developers to create apps that use the microphone and speaker, and play video on the Watch face.

Untethered from another iPhone, this means that the watch will become even more attractive for developers simultaneously opening the door of opportunity for brands to get even closer to consumers. But before the rush to secure presence on the latest digital surface, developers and brands alike need to get a handle on what that opportunity looks like.

The size of the screen and its location on a users wrist massively increases the importance of designing for the use case, not the hardware. The hardware approach will almost certainly result in all creativity being lost. We need to start with what the application is trying to accomplish overall and how the Watch can assist in that process.

In other words, app developers must exercise appropriate restraint. Trying to push the kind of content that is currently served on smartphones will be a mistake. Rather an edited approach is required that balances the contextual elements of the watch with utility. Get that wrong are you are in to the realms of a poor user experience.

Tiny screens and glances – pay attention to attention

goldfishAccording to Chartbeat’s Tony Haile, 55 per cent of websites get less than 15 seconds of attention. Paradoxically consumers spend more and more time online. But that time is spread over an increasing array of devices and frequently as a tiny capsule of attention as consumers multi-task, device in one hand bus-ticket in the other.

Broadly speaking, brands grab that attention by creating more engaging content, whether that’s an app or website, yet as content has grown increasingly abundant and immediately available, attention becomes the limiting factor in its consumption — a conundrum.

Transfer that logic to the watch screen, which comes with 38-millimeter and 42-millimeter screen options and the challenge in app development is twofold; shrink them down to their most basic features and design for tiny capsules of attention (on a tiny screen).

It follows that Watch apps exist primarily as Glances on the screen, allowing the user to see an overview of content from a specific app – without actually having to open that app on the screen. Glances are a companion to an app’s deeper functions, which can be explored on the watch itself, or elsewhere. A BBC headline for example, first seen on the Watch, will prompt the user to explore the story on an iPhone or laptop.

This means that brands are going to have to be concise, not only to fit their messages onto the screen but to also work in harmony with consumers’ shortening attention spans. App content necessarily has to be legible and immediately useful. And native apps that require more than basic touch and swipe actions will result in mis-keyed commands.

short-look-long-look-apple-watch-notification-1024x632Buzzing notifications

The watch from my experience is primarily a notification device. You can hear, see and feel push notifications from apps via its taptic (haptic) engine that buzzes against the wrist to notify the user of any given update.   By default, Apple Watch sends you lots of notifications, from every app on the Watch, and many from the paired iPhone itself.

On a smartphone push notifications are a great way to wake up a user and get them to re-engage with an app. On a users wrist, with a physical sensation, the risk is that notification overload quickly becomes irritating.

There are already some great apps that follow these design principals. Starwood Hotels’ app for example, enables users to get directions to the hotel and use the app on their watch as a room key. Uber allows users to request a ride, the app then pings the users location, gives real-time updates on where they are and supplies basic information about the driver and the car.

Crucially both of these examples focus on the user in the moment and their immediate need for utility. The success of the Apple Watch is pretty much assured, it is the perfect device for brands to engaging time-poor, multitasking consumers.  The success of native apps requires a measured approach that captures these consumer needs and elevates them to design principals.

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