Dear Apple Watch Developers: Please be like Marco

Nate Swanner - May 13, 2015, 10:18 am CDT
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Dear Apple Watch Developers: Please be like Marco

Apple Watch is going to change a lot of things. It’ll change how other companies consider wearables, and its popularity will certainly make being on the Apple Watch via apps a necessity. Apple Watch is also accelerating how we think about those apps best considered as ‘micro-mobile’; those that are made specifically for wearables. With so many Developers having worked on their Apple Watch apps based off of emulation ahead of launch, we’re starting to see them go back to the drawing board. And they’re right to do so.


Of all the things to spark this return to idealism, a third-party podcasting app seems to be responsible. Overcast, which you may or may not use, was quick to jump on the Apple Watch train. On launch of the Apple Watch, Overcast had a simple, effective, basic Apple Watch experience.

It was good. Nobody criticized it. A quick glance at your Apple Watch let you control podcasts. That’s what Apple Watch is about, right?

Yes. And no.

Apple Watch

Let’s first understand the Apple Watch isn’t perfect. Nothing is, but Apple Watch apps that try to do too much will only highlight the wearable’s shortcomings. Developer Marco Arment, who built Overcast, recognized as much quickly.

In a blog post, Arment discussed why Overcast was rebuilt for Apple Watch. It really only had three main screens, but that was too much. Navigation requires cooperation between the watch and your phone.

It was good, but not great — and nowhere near perfect. Arment could have said ‘not my fault, guys. Bitch at Apple!’. He didn’t, though. Arment reconsidered the confines of his space, and made better use of his Apple Watch app.

Apple Watch review

What we got in return was an experience with less dead space and better navigation (which also means less back-and-forth with Apple Watch, as you’ll be moving through screens less). Overcast doesn’t sacrifice usability. Overcast doesn’t strip away features just because Apple Watch (and WatchKit, for what it’s worth) isn’t perfect.

More Developers should traverse Arment’s trail. In his blog, Arment wrote “It’s unwise and futile to try to shove iPhone interfaces and paradigms into the Apple Watch. Instead, design for what the Watch really is.”

Apple Watch review

Salient advice, and probably rings truer than some want to admit. I’d venture most apps for Apple Watch available now were done ahead of experiencing the Apple Watch. That, like WatchKit, were the confines Developers were forced into; either do it in emulation, or don’t have an app on the hottest wearable ever at the time of launch. Your choice!

But hey — now that Apple Watch is out, and you Developers have your special underscore_blue version of Apple Watch, it’s time to revisit your app. Not all of them will need to be re-worked ad hoc, but many could use some hands-on time and a fresh set of your eyes.

Apple Watch review

I think of Apple Watch apps like I think of IKEA showrooms. How the hell did they get so much utility into 338 square feet? Iteration is a key part of it, but so is refinement. As they go through the motions of paring down stuff and increasing usability, they pack more into those rooms without making you feel overwhelmed, cramped, or as though you’re sacrificing.

The question now is how good can your IKEA showroom Apple Watch app really be?


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