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5 Quick Things We’ve Learned About Designing Apps for Apple Watch

It’s an exciting time to be exploring the wearables space.

Released just over two weeks ago, WatchKit allows developers to begin coding and testing apps for the Apple Watch. It’s a two-phase rollout. We’ll be given the ability to create native applications later next year – at WWDC 2015, likely – but the initial release is still quite capable.

We can build Glances and Actionable Notifications, as expected. But the real surprise was the ability to build iPhone-driven apps. Essentially, apps are extensions to your existing iOS app. The Watch handles all of the app’s UI, while an iPhone extension takes care of the heavy lifting. An Apple Watch app compliments your iOS app instead of replacing it.

It’s a smart way to handle the limited power and processing capabilities of the Watch, allowing a fair bit of interactivity while keeping the load on the Watch extremely low. Developers rarely need to consider the split when developing their apps and it means we can build useful apps now, instead of waiting until next year.

Here at TWG we’ve already begun exploring the possibilities provided by WatchKit. Given that we won’t have access to hardware for some time, it’s important we begin to anticipate design considerations now, rather than just reacting at launch.

Here’s a few things we’ve already learned whilst experimenting with WatchKit:

  1. Avoid the urge to “minify” your existing iOS app. With such limited space available it’s important to consider the information that will be most relevant to the wearer at any given time. Aggressively cut down on interface elements until only the most important remain.
  2. Fonts: Go big. Now go bigger. Particularly when designing a Glance view, it’s important the wearer be able to read text without holding their wrist unnaturally close to their face. This was a problem in many of my early designs. For the most important information, we recommend font sizes of 40pts or more.
  3. Improve “Glanceability”. Think about visual cues that will help the wearer spend less time parsing your views. If I were presenting the latest score for a hockey game, for example, I would consider including large team logos to make it easier to tell what’s happening from a distance.
  4. Make use of all available space. The Watch display is intended to blend into the bezel surrounding it. The Human Interface Guidelines suggest almost exclusively using black as your background colour to help support the illusion. Unlike designing for other Apple devices, there is little need to create margins around your views for the Watch.
  5. “Cards” may not appear as intended. Because the screen does not extend to the edges of the Watch, “card” layouts may look strange when they hit the edge of the display. Remember, the display and the bezel are intended to work together, visually.

Interested in developing for the Apple Watch? I’ve been collecting some of the best WatchKit resources and assets at WatchKit Resources. I’d love to hear about any cool resources you’ve found.

Our explorations of the Apple Watch and other wearables continue and we’re looking forward to sharing more in the weeks and months to come.

Want to help us build the next generation of mobile apps? We’re hiring.

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