Layer

It’s Time – How the Apple Watch Will Change Communications

At Layer we think a lot about the evolution of communications. We’ve been researching how a new set of connected devices such as the Apple Watch may impact communications. We believe that a wearable on our wrists has the potential to change the way we communicate drastically.

From minutes to seconds

Smartwatch apps are not meant to replace existing applications fully, but are intended as a complement that does one important thing – handles all those interactions that require a second or two. Similarly to how smartphones fully replaced only a subset of the tasks we were used to performing on computers and more commonly enabled us to do quick tasks on the go, smartwatches will enable us to be even faster at consuming tiny bits of information and act upon those.

A WatchKit app complements your iOS app; it does not replace it. If you measure interactions with your iOS app in minutes, tyou can expect interactions with your WatchKit app to be measured in seconds. So interactions should be brief and interfaces should be simple. — Apple Watch HIG

Good examples of such interactions are real-time information updates, reminders, score updates, and traffic information. Of course, communications generate by far the most notifications. Pretty much any notification you are used to dismissing from your lock screen without taking any action is easier to consume on a smartwatch. The main benefits are giving you time back and removing the need to pull your phone out every time you feel it vibrate or hear a notification sound.

Notification as the atomic unit of apps

Smartwatch apps take the paradigms we’re used to from our smartphones to the next level. Actions on notifications were officially announced with iOS 8, providing the ability to quickly react to a notification. Apple Watch builds further on that.

If your iOS app supports local or remote notifications, Apple Watch will display those notifications at appropriate times out of the box. The user is made aware that a notification is available with a slight tap on the wrist via the taptic engine.

The user can choose to ignore the notification and not even look at the screen. If the user chooses to view the notification by bringing the wrist up, a “short look” splash screen is displayed first and then nicely transformed into a “long look” notification with additional content and up to four actions. The notification becomes a contextually adapted atomic unit of an app.

This is a key interaction pattern, that can be used creatively for all types of products. As an example you could choose to reply to a message notification with a Thumbs-up, Thumbs-down, your Location or just Mute the conversation straight from the notification. Alternatively, a notification about grocery delivery might have the options to Thumbs-up or Delay delivery for 30 min. In either case the response is a message that gets sent back. It’s up to the application creator to define the best possible actions with a lot of room for creativity and innovation. A simple thumbs up can go a long way.

Composing a message

Because of the limited input options on the device itself we expect to see a lot of innovation. A quick voice message, a recorded vibration pattern (morse code anyone?) or a quick sketch are easier to input than a text message. Another pattern that is easily applicable is a list to choose from — either emoticons, photos (GIFs!) or imojis). Dictation has proven to be ready for prime time (at least in English) and intelligent assistance from Siri might help compose textual messages just by using voice. These different message types will require passing payloads of a variety of types and sizes back and forth.

Compose on a small screen device can’t take more than a scroll and a tap, compared to the multiple taps we are used to while writing a message on smartphones. Longer or more complicated messages will still require a larger device.

WatchKit and Layer

At Layer we’re working to support WatchKit fully. As devices become available and we can finalize testing, we’ll be adding advanced features to our platform so you’ll be able to build great communications experiences on this new, exciting device.

As always, we can’t wait to see what you’ll build!