• 11.19.14

The Clever Way The Apple Watch Shapes UI Around Your Movement

The Apple Watch knows how long you’re looking at your wrist, and can change what you see based upon that.

The Clever Way The Apple Watch Shapes UI Around Your Movement

Apple recently published its human interface guidelines for the upcoming Apple Watch–what’s basically a rundown for how developers should design their apps to work on the platform.


For the most part, the design guidelines look a lot like Google’s for Android Wear, focused around delivering information that can be understood with a quick glance. Apple even offers developers the option for side-swiping right to see more of an app’s content, which is a lot like Android Wear’s cards.

Short look, left. Long look, right. via Apple Watch Human Interface Guidelines

But one clever, and seemingly unique* design detail is that the Apple Watch can sense how you’re using the watch actually change the UI accordingly. How? It breaks notifications into “short look” and “long look” styles. A short look style appears when accelerometers recognize that you’re just quickly glancing at your wrist. It’s a pretty minimal screen that conveys information in a tightly regimented template–an app’s icon, a one-line message, and the app’s name. So you might see the Facebook icon, then read that a friend has tagged you in a new photo.

A long-look notification, prompted by you looking at your watch longer (or tapping a short-look notification), allows a developer to build an interactive screen for when a user is more engaged with their watch. In this case, the notification can display a full photo–say, that Facebook photo you were just tagged in–along with buttons to comment, like, or dismiss the notification.

The idea is that if someone’s just glancing at their watch, they just need to know why they’ve received an alert. “Ugh, it’s just something from Facebook again.” But if someone is really looking at their watch, chances are, they’ve got some time to kill. So sure, show the user that photo, and offer them the chance to dig a bit deeper into social media.

A small design detail? Maybe, but it’s fascinating to see Apple delve into what’s honestly some pretty experimental territory in terms of shaping user interface: Not just to create best practices, but to the create best practices at any given second in someone’s life.

Read the full Apple Watch documentation here.


*If for some reason Android Wear has this option buried deep in dev documentation, I’m sure you’ll let us know in the comments! But we haven’t come across it.

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.