Not just about battery life

Why Apple Watch apps should be usable in 10 seconds or less

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As Apple reportedly prepares developers to ready the first batch of Apple Watch apps, the company is setting a guideline: Try to keep your app usable in 10 seconds. That tidbit comes from Bloomberg in advance of next week’s “Spring Forward” Apple event where the new watch is expected to launch.

Tim Cook Unveils iPhone 6 and Apple Watch

[company]Apple[/company] CEO Tim Cook said in September that the Apple Watch would require a daily recharge, so I’m not at all surprised by the guideline as it almost seems obvious to me from that perspective and also based on my own smartwatch usage experience since 2004. The more you use an smartwatch app, the more of that little battery inside the watch will get used by the screen, processor and other components, of course.

But it’s worth a mention because of January reports on the expected Apple Watch battery life. Sources then told 9t05Mac’s Mark Gurman that Apple was shooting for between 2.5 and 4 hours of active run time on the watch, with 19 hours of mixed use. The key bit here is “active time” because the more you use the watch — any smartwatch, not just the Apple Watch — the more strain you put on the small battery. Here’s how Apple is trying to manage that with app developers, according to Bloomberg:

A big challenge for Apple and its developers is building applications that are useful without being annoying. Apple has recommended that developers be judicious about interrupting people with constant alerts that will buzz their wrist or drain the battery. If desktop computers can be used for hours at a time, and smartphones for minutes, the watch is being measured in seconds. Apple is suggesting developers design their applications to be used for no longer than 10 seconds at a time.

I think the strategy here isn’t just to maximize battery life, though. If you haven’t used a smartwatch, let me explain.

These wearable devices are best suited for short bursts of information and interaction. Once that burst becomes too engaging and takes up more time, the benefit is lost; at a certain point, you actually get a richer experience by handling the activity on your phone.

Apple Watch dial crown

How long should that burst be? In my experience 10 seconds is a pretty decent threshold and allows for a margin of error of a few more seconds. Get beyond 15 seconds on any smartwatch and you probably would have been better off using a phone in the first place, where you have a larger screen, more information and additional room for interaction or other features from an app.

Put another way: Do you want to be fiddling with a device on your wrist for a minute or more? Why bother when you can probably accomplish more in less time with the smartphone you have with out.

Is Apple trying to manage expectations for the Apple Watch battery life with its reported developer guideline here? Sure it is, but that’s only part of the reason. Providing a compelling user experience is the other. If Apple Watch developers deliver on providing very useful functions in 10 seconds or less, Apple can offer both benefits — a smartwatch that will get you through the day with the convenience of glanceable notifications and application functions.

12 Responses to “Why Apple Watch apps should be usable in 10 seconds or less”

  1. The Evernote apps will allow users to dictate notes, perform searches, and see recent content on their watch when they need it.

    Users will be able to set reminders and check items off their list without ever taking out their iPhone from their pocket. The app moves with the user from wrist to hand and back again, and will also enable users to seamlessly switch between iPhone and iWatch when reading.

  2. Dan Scott

    Ten seconds is *way* too long; I was an early adopter of an Android Wear device and I can’t imagine anything taking even five seconds to use–at least, nothing that I would find useful. The longest thing I can think of is “Ok google, show me my heart rate”, and that launches within a second, then measures my heart rate over the next ten seconds. But I rarely use that.

    The glanceable active notifications with (usually) timely Google Now cards, with vibrations on my wrist where I will notice them rather than in my pocket where I don’t, are almost all that I use, and that’s more than enough value for me.

  3. I don’t think it has anything to do with the battery, it’s a human interface thing. Most interactions should take like two seconds. A notification comes in, you glance and ignore, dismiss, or respond with a fast tap. Only if you are say, talking to Siri to compose an Email, should you need more than a couple of seconds. And even then, when a call, text, or email comes in, they provide canned responses you can get to with a single tap “Call you later” sort of things, bypassing the need to dictate a reply in many cases.

  4. Kevin, screen time is what drains the most battery, so a watch would definitely save phone battery.

    I might browse emails or posts on a watch. The 10 second thing is for the benefit of the watch maker, not the consumer. But dont let that stop you for being apologetic for them.

    • There’s no apology here in the post; the short burst guideline applies equally to my Android Wear and Pebble watches as well. Put another way: The Pebble gets me 7 days on a charge — but I don’t want to use it for more than short bursts; after a certain threshold, the phone is a better tool for the task.

    • It’s a convenience factor and one that not everyone will be willing to pay for; that’s the biggest challenge of any smartwatch – offering compelling features for a second screen accessory at the right price.

    • I keep my iPhone in my shirt pocket. When a notification comes in, I pull the thing half out of my pocket and read it to see if I need to deal with it. This is especially annoying while driving, and I don’t know what I’d do with the phone in a pants pocket. With the watch, it’s already right in front of my face when my hand is on the wheel, and often a fraction of a second glance is all I’ll need. I count that as a safety feature!