Introduction to Smartwatch App Development

Devices are becoming smaller and more powerful, this includes the smartwatches we wear which are becoming increasingly popular. Sure, wearables can come in various sizes, shapes and levels of sophistication. Although, one common denominator is the fact that all of the tech giants are placing their bets on smartwatches. In 2015 alone, Google added over 4,000 new Android Wear apps to the Play Store. Your wrist has even more functionality than ever before. And, the Apple Watch is constantly getting updated as well. This year, many are on the look out for the Apple Watch OS 3. What makes the Smartwatch even more exciting is it’s still in “learning mode”, which means there’s a lot of room for growth and creativity within this particular market.

Smartwatch vs. Mobile app development

To start out, you must consider the size and functionality of a smartwatch in order to develop a useful smartwatch app. To illustrate, take a look at Android and Apple smartwatch apps. This is how a user interacts with a smartwatch:

  • Seconds-long interaction
  • Context-aware
  • Notifications
  • Glances
  • External display
  • Other apps
  • Quick launch apps

In 2015, wearable shipments reached 45.7 million units. The IDC expects shipments to reach 126.1 million units by 2020. Smartwatches are essentially wearable computers. Since user interaction is expected to rise, developers should continue to look at the the smartwatch as the next frontier in computing platforms.

Things to consider when developing a smartwatch app:

  • The area of interaction is limited.
  • Assurance of true glanceability so users can get the full value of your app and get back to their next action.
  • Notifications as a means of quick interaction.
  • Efficient functionality. Users don’t want to struggle with your app.
  • Battery consumption.
  • Compatibility with companion mobile application.
  • Screen size
  • Resolution
  • Custom gestures and multi-touch is not supported.

With mobile apps, major SDKs are already developed, making it easier for developers to create the most basic to the most complex of apps. In addition, the screen is much larger than a smartwatch so a wide variety of apps can be created from games to stock market trading apps to image editing apps.

With smartwatches, it is about thinking beyond the device to understanding the motivations and needs of the people who wear it. Smartwatches are still in their early phase, meaning the tech can be a bit clunky. Yet, the possibilities are endless.

Still, Samsung’s Galaxy Gear smartwatch runs apps such as Evernote, eBay and Pocket. All of the brands carry popular apps such as Pandora and TripAdvisor, and new apps are popping up daily. For example, Dark Sky Weather is considered one of the best apps for your Apple Watch in 2017 because it tells you what the weather will do in a matter of minutes.

Matt Pollitt from 5K, a digital design company said, “Smartwatches still feel like an extension of other devices you would have on your person. But, as we see them mature, I would like to see them as an alternative to carrying a large phone or as a second screen offering discretion where required. Initially, we expect there might be the usual quick to market phone and tablet app ports of big name apps and services which should give way to some more interesting ideas later on as the adoption curve peaks.”

Smartwatch OS’s want to do more, this is why many have already improved access to third-party developers. The primary constraint is battery life. Although, many brands are formulating creative solutions to combat any battery issues. This means that instead of designing two separate apps–one for the smartphone and one for the smartwatch–developers could potentially focus on only creating one app for every device. In Q4 of 2015, sales of smartwatches overtook luxury watches for the first time at 8.1 million to 7.9 million.

David Singleton, head of Android Wear, says the wrist is “the ideal place for the power of Google to help people with their lives.” He believes smartwatches will soon be able to feed you data before you ask for it, act as a guide through the Internet-connected world and even talk to your doctor before you notice you’re sick.

Cost of developing a smartwatch app

Part of creating something new for a smartwatch are the app development costs. The key is knowing how to budget and plan for your project. You can’t come up with one distinct cost since every app is developed differently. You need to know how complex you want your app to be, on what platforms you would like it to be placed and how often you plan to maintain and update your app throughout the course of its lifetime.

One thing to keep in mind is Google sees smartwatch domination within 50 years or less. As a result,  it is critical to get an early start and lead within the smartwatch app market.