2015 Jun 09

Re-thinking notifications with a damn cool device strapped to my wrist

Some may say it's too early to jump onto the Apple Watch (and wearable technology in general) bandwagon - some even right here in my office (you know who you are Brad Rach ;) - but even though I tried (really, I did) eventually I broke down a few weeks ago and pre-ordered this sleek new device.  Version 1 of a new device can be a dicey endeavour (especially with Apple), but what the heck, let's do this.

First impressions?

After a few days of use, I'm wondering what life was like way-back-then when I didn't have a smartwatch strapped to my wrist. It's kind of like having children... you immediately can't remember what life was like before them.

To put it simply, I'm loving this device.

But what does it do?

What does the Apple Watch do for me? How am I using it?  A few quick thoughts:

  • First and foremost, this is a notification device - it quickly answers the question, "what just happened?"
  • I use the "quick replies" frequently for standard responses to text messages, i.e. a quick "Ok" or "No, bugger off"
  • I talk to it more often than I expected to, which comes in two forms: saying "Hey Siri," then asking Siri a question like "who won the NBA game last night;" and as a speaker phone - you can have full-on telephone conversations by talking to your wrist, and the quality is ~pretty~ good
  • Activity tracking - it does a really nice job of tracking my steps and calories, amount of exercise, and "taps me" anytime I've been sitting for more than an hour - reminding me to stand up and move around
  • Checking the weather - of all the apps that are on the phone, I find this is the one I most frequently go looking for with a practical purpose in mind
  • Checking the time - yes, it does tell the the time of day too ;)

At the end of the day, if you're intrigued by really cool technology, the Apple Watch should definitely be strapped to your wrist. That is, if you can stomach the ~$600 price tag for the cheapest version, once you include Apple Care and taxes (I purchased the Apple Watch Sport edition with the standard black sport band).

Understanding Notifications

Over the past few days, I've been (pleasantly) surprised at times with the different notifications I've seen on my watch. Examples include:

  • Common things like emails, text messages, and phone calls appear (as you would expect)
  • Someone "Likes" an article I've written on LinkedIn, I get prompted
  • My son's team wins (or loses for that matter) a soccer game, I get a TeamSnap update
  • If I have a larger than normal number of overdue invoices in Quickbooks, a prompt appears to let me know

Photo of the LinkedIn notification on an Apple Watch

What has struck me the most are the LinkedIn and TeamSnap notifications that I've received. Not because they are in themselves extra-special, but because there is no App on my watch for either of these services. So how is it that my Apple Watch is prompting me about an update when there is no app on my watch to manage this?

Photo of the Team Snap notification appearing on my Apple Watch

Curious to learn more about how notifications work on Apple Watch, I dug deeper... the first article I stumbled upon was on Apple's support website, and explains when you would see a notification on your phone vs. on your watch

Great, but let's say I'm not a company like LinkedIn or TeamSnap, but I do have an app that I've created for my users. If my app is running on a user's iPhone, will all notifications that would normally be seen on their phone auto-magically display on their watch?

The short answer is Yes, which Apple explains in detail in their Apple Watch Human Interface Guidelines. The concept of "short looks" (what the user first sees on their watch when a notification is sent) and a "long look" (what the user sees if they hold their wrist up after receiving a notification) is very interesting. Apple has defined default systems for how these notifications are displayed, and those defaults appear to be extendable and customizable with some development effort.

So if you have an app with notifications built-in, you're notifications will also appear on Apple Watch.

Apple Watch and your organization - relevant, or not?

At first glance,  your organization (a corporation, association, agency) should not be in any rush to jump on the wearable tech bandwagon. Early adopters are still the primary purchasers of these devices, so you can't rely on it to be a key information delivery tool to your customers or members - yet.

But if we look at the watch as a notification centre first and foremost, it doesn't require much imagination to see value. If you need to deliver timely content to a user, what better way than to deliver it directly to their wrist?

Here at Industrial, we're currently developing a new app for the Canadian Paralympic Committee. It will be used at this summer's Para-Pan Am Games as a key communication device for family, friends, and fans of athletes. It will deliver up-to-date scheduling, news, and results, and notifications will play a key role to keep users up-to-date.

And for users that have an iPhone and an Apple Watch, it will be very interesting to see how the notifications we build in to the smartphone app will display on a user's wrist.