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

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.