Designing a smartwatch app

The dawn of wearable tech is taking its toll on the smartwatch developer companies. Samsun, Google, Microsoft and Apple are in a bit of a mess. Their biggest problem is creating complex apps and making them work on a tiny 1 inch screen.

Smartphone screens are getting bigger and bigger, so it’s no problem there with creating detailed and complex interfaces. The problem lies with the wearables, and developers are forced to rethink them. The lack of space makes having the same interface impossible. The problem is clear, what about the solution?

Well before the answer, there are other problems such as tiny batteries, low-powered processors, low resolution and slow Bluetooth data transfer speed. These problems force the developers to get creative and simplify things.

Everything is limited

Kristian Lukander, from Finnish design firm Fluid Interaction, started to apply the principles for Galaxy Gear 2’s new app, Watcher. This app cram calendar events, local weather and time in a simple, readable, clean watch-face. Because you have to be careful at what it is presented at a time, you need to optimize and limit the amount of information which overlaps.

A dark background saves battery life so Fluid Interaction created a clear visual hierarchy which will prevent information from overlapping and at the same time emphasizing the main information. Watcher’s main view is able to combine time and calendar event for the next 12 hours.

It was important to remember the technical limitation of the watches, so Lukander decided that animations will simply be heavy burden for the processor, and also cut the Bluetooth traffic between the smartwatch and the phone.

By going for a dark background, the contrast was maximized and the display is still readable in sun light.

Keeping tradition for the future

Withings, a French consumer electronics, has taken a more simpler approach when it came to designing Activité, their first smartwatch. They started with watchmaking then moved on with technology. Loubiere says that that the reason why analogue watches have not died out when the digital watches appeared, was that in reality, they represent the most easy and intuitive way of telling time.

Withings decided to go traditional, with an analogue watch face and no digital display whatsoever. Loubiere also added that they build an analogue sub-dial which used a scale from 0 to 100% and a blue watch hand to allow the user to track his activity. In order to have an intuitive and simple way of activity tracking, the company made the decision of keeping the tradition.

Rule Breaking

The problem with designing wearables lies in the fact that the wrist is more resistant to change while innovative technology changed a disturbed the status quo. We do not know yet it over the centuries, the watchmakers have found the best way to put technology closer to us, or if the centuries formed hard-to-change human habits. Lukander is of the opinion that, for now, wearable technology should abide by the rules.

Smartwatches are best used for fast notifications anf status information, but it not very good when it comes to long term consumption.