Wearable Apps Development: When Size Does Matter
The modern life: life that mobile device owners carry around today in order to use every single fact, event or opportunity. How to make the best use of the possibilities offered by smart wearable devices so that your application will not only attract a contemporary user used to diversity, but will truly become a part of such life?
The wearable devices have been much talked about and will remain the topic to discuss for a long time.
On the one hand, along with the ordinary smartwatches and fitness bracelets, the world of wearable technologies constantly surprises us with new features and gadgets: from smart shoes that in case you fall, will send notifications indicating your whereabouts, to smart tattoos that will monitor the level of blood sugar and serve as wearable medical devices.
Hövding smart helmet, which looks like a hood, and opens when a cyclist falls reducing the risk of concussion and providing gentle shock absorbtion.
On the other hand, the key players in the wearable tech market keep improving their products, avoiding resting on their laurels.
The release of Android Wear 2.0 has brought the possibility to use the native apps without a smartphone.
New Apple Watch Series 3 has received LTE module and eSIM-card. Accordingly, a step has been taken towards an autonomous use of a watch without a mobile device (however, 18 hours of operation with one battery charge have not been extended yet).
The industry is progressing at a fast pace, and the wearable devices future looks promising. The more often and willingly the users buy wearables, the higher the demand for relevant apps is.
Currently, in terms of wearable applications development, smartwatch attracts the greater interest as compared to other wearable electronics.
These gadgets have existed for a long time and already found their users. Stylish, functional and easy-to-use – if you have a good smartwatch, you hardly want to give it up. In some cases, it resembles a smartphone, but with less functionality.
A reasonable question:
Does this mean that you can simply take an existing mobile app and scale it down to the size of a smartwatch?
No, it doesn’t work this way. The smartphone app cannot be simply transferred to a watch. Why? Let’s find out the difference and draw the conclusion.
Specific Technical Features of Smartwatches as Wearables
Size is the first and most obvious difference from a modern smartphone.
Fewer cores, lower bit timing frequency and less memory. Sure, they represent some limitations for the developers. But from the standpoint of convenience and functionality, the smartwatch has all wearable devices benefits.
And, a small screen. Let’s make it clear, the ppi value is not bad, while the pixels are few (Apple Watch Series 3 has 272 x 340 pixels (38 mm), 312 x 390 pixels (42 mm)).
It all adds up to one: for example, you can create a navigation app for a smartwatch, but cannot show many map markers, create a complicated structure or add complex animations.
Firstly, such an idea will be difficult to implement in practice (explained further).
Secondly, the smartwatch is simply incapable of "heroic deeds" (at least, at this stage of wearable technology progress), this will negatively affect the speed of the application.
For the watch as a user interface, the size also matters. It is more difficult to make gestures, since the interactive area is significantly smaller than on the usual smartphone screen.
To compensate for this, there are physical keys or wheels to manage the smartwatch (for example, Digital Crown by Apple). Accordingly, the principle of user interaction with the gadget is different, and so is the approach to app development.
With all the above differences related to the size, the smartwatch is originally positioned as a companion accessory for a mobile device, but not as a full-fledged smartphone. No need to create apps for the sake of apps. The cornerstone is the ease of use.
And though Apple Wear Series 3 can be used independently, it's still more about walking, jogging or visits to the pool where it is hardly convenient to take a smartphone with. Other than that, these are two different devices, each performing its own functions.
Nike+ Run Club for Apple Watch brings variety into your training sessions: from experienced experts guidance to the Audio Guided Run allowing to choose a definite playlist.
The smartwatch running on Android Wear is more independent, and Google develops the concept of apps running without connection to a smartphone. Again, we do not mean the complete replacement, but the features that may be spared in your smartphone: abilities of your smartwatch will be quite enough.
Finally, functionality and simplicity are important. This is a focus of the hardware and emphasized by the existing restrictions in terms of software.
Imagine a simple situation: the creators of an app, carried away with ideas, overload it with small buttons, images or excessive functions.
On whom will the users unleash their fury, if they are unsatisfied? That's right, the smartwatch manufacturer.
Therefore, the initial conditions for developing smartwatch apps are rather specific, when compared to the development of mobile apps for smartphones.
Wearable Applications Development
To begin with, the development itself uses the same environment and language as for a companion-smartphone. But the toolkit is specific. In 90%, these differences come down to simplification: fewer tools, and more limited functions.
In other words, you need to decide on the operating system to run the app. The choice will depend on the functions integrated. For example, Apple smartwatch is better choice for performing Internet requests, while in case of Android Wear devices it's sometimes easier to use a smartphone for such a request.
Compare the visual XML layout representation in Interface Builder: the developer of a mobile app for a smartphone has much more possibilities to create a complex structure.
In no case, this means that any developer, unprepared, can take up creating a smartwatch app. Provided that the same environment and language are used, the tools, the approach to design (Guidelines) and UX are different. And you need certain skills and experience to handle them.
A key point in the development is the interaction of a smartwatch and a smartphone. The configuration of data exchange between the smartphone and the smartwatch takes a lion's share of time (often half the total time spent on the development). In a way, this is similar to a client-server situation, but here the developer is in charge of everything.
Undoubtedly, energy saving remains a stumbling stone for wearable electronics. To a greater extent, the burden to solve this task falls on the shoulders of vendors, but, one way or another, such solutions impact the development as well.
For example, using a black background on Amoled screens of Apple Watch to save battery charge is also a kind of limitation for creating apps. If you really try, you can make an effort to change the background in the app. But this will result in higher energy consumption and does not comply with the Guidelines, and, accordingly, is not recommended.
MATRIX PowerWatch – watch that you do not need to charge. It is charged with the warmth of a human body. And, among other things, it indicates the amount of energy that you generate.
Adaptation for the devices is easy enough. The only difference is that for Android Wear apps, it will take more time since unlike Apple Watch the screen of the devices can have both a round and a square shape.
Since the concept of the platform is not tailored for complex apps (as a rule, the watch has few screens and a very specific set of functions), the development does not take much time. On average, it takes from 2 to 4 weeks to build a smartwatch app.
A key step is to adjust the interaction between the smartwatch and the smartphone. And if the interaction is complex, then considering the limited resources of the watch, this can take more time and pose some challenges.
In general, if you plan to spend more than a month on the development, you will end up with a more complex app. And here, the question is: do you really need such an app for the smartwatch?
Food for Thought
- According to Statista, the number of the connected wearable devices will grow from 325 million in 2016 to 722 million in 2019. And this means the wearable devices industry will extend due to new users and new opportunities for app developers.
- Currently, the wearable apps are not so many, and the apps that have a version for wearable devices will be for sure noticed by the users in stores.
- Prior to starting work on the app, you need to decide on the range of functions in order not to overload the app, as well as to select a platform for development, since each platform has its own features.
- A wearable device app should focus on compactness, convenience, and functionality.
- To develop a wearable device application, the developer needs specific skills and experience. To make your app “score a big win”, work with professionals!