Yesterday, Samsung announced their new Galaxy Gear smart watch. With a 1.63 inch display, it packs a lot of power into a very small interface that is meant to fit on your wrist. Add in a camera, speakers, and a microphone, and you have a compact new platform for some really interesting new apps.
Haven’t seen it yet? Check out this overview from The Verge, or watch their overview video:
Over 70 apps will be available when the Galaxy Gear launches, and undoubtedly more will be coming as the platform matures. But developing apps for a watch is a very different process than developing them for a smartphone. In particular the interface and design elements will be very different, meaning that app developers will have to change the way they think about how their apps function. Let’s look at a few reasons why:
The Galaxy Gear is a Satellite for a Smartphone
The Galaxy Gear is not a stand alone device. Instead, it connects via Bluetooth to a separate Galaxy Note 3 phone. That has two big implications. First, your app needs to allow the user to smoothly transition between the parent phone and the satellite smart watch. As a user, I should be able to see relevant summary content and perform simple actions on the watch, while seeing more detailed information if I pull out my phone.
The second big impact is that the watch can only connect to the rest of the Internet when it’s in proximity to the phone. The Galaxy Gear has no built-in WiFi or mobile support, meaning that an Internet connection may simply disappear if the user walks away from their phone. Your app needs to be bullet proof and accommodate this kind of sudden change.
Gestures Replace the Keyboard
With a tiny display, there’s no room for a QWERTY keyboard. The 320×320 display has enough room for a few buttons and interface items, but most of the inputs will be gesture driven. That means thinking about how the user will select items, move between views, and interact with different elements. If the user needs to input or edit text, they’ll have to transition back to their smartphone.
Focus on the Essentials
What does a user really need on their watch vs. their phone? Complex interface elements, multistep processes, and decorative UI chrome will create frustration when combined with the Galaxy Gear’s small screen. Build your app with a focus on the UI components that actually matter. And don’t just strip down your app’s regular phone UI and call it a smart watch app. Think about what your user wants to accomplish with their smart watch and develop an app that targets those specific use cases.
Battery Life is Critical
As you can imagine, there’s not a lot of room inside a watch for a large battery. The Galaxy Gear features a 315mAh battery that’s much smaller than a comparable smartphone battery. Your app must be sensitive about power. Avoid performing complex calculations on the watch or unnecessarily transmitting data back and forth with the smartphone.
Testing Will Be Critical
With all these changes, it’s almost certain that anyone developing an app for the Galaxy Gear, or any smart watch, will need to adjust their assumptions and perspective about app design and development. Nobody should expect to get it right the first time, and that’s why good testing will be critical to making sure an app is ready for launch.