Developing software for smartwatches - how Hailo approached the problem

One of the developers for black cab booking app Hailo talks about the challenges of developing for wearables such as smartwatches

Cristian Zamfirescu, one of the developers for black cab booking app Hailo, is in the thick of the consumer tech revolution.

With the internet of things and wearable markets still growing, developers like him need to move fast to keep up with disruptive technologies. We are seeing smartphones becoming business technology and emerging market products, while consumer tech favourite Apple has plunged into the wearables market with the announcement of the Apple Watch at the tail end of last year.

So what does all that mean for businesses already developing applications for smartphones? Are they struggling to develop applications for every platform to please every customer?

Zamfirescu says that small devices pose particular development challenges. One of the big challenges in developing apps for smartwatches, for example, is the shorter battery life and lower processing power that are part of smaller devices.

Following the typical smartwatch model, the Hailo smartwatch app would connect to the smartphone application to send and receive information, so the phone does most of the processing.

And as smartwatches are still emerging technology, many fast-acting developers have the advantage, as any application design will be new and exciting.

“Developing for smartwatches is significantly different compared to other form factors. There aren't many established design patterns yet and companies can still come with stunning products to differentiate from the competition,” says Zamfirescu.

“Generally speaking, design should start by identifying the market needs. This is not completely true for smartwatches as they are an extension of the mobile version of the product.”

Part of these requirements is the need for ease of use when dealing with such a small screen, and the Hailo developers began looking into use cases that would improve the customer experience.

“We felt that initial prototypes implemented in Hailo could be done better, so went through a few more iterations to improve usability,” Zamfirescu explains.

“The small form factor also pushed us to reduce what we initially wanted to achieve and shaped the direction for future development.”

Addressing the different platforms

With all the different smartphones on the market, the availability of the applications depends on what operating system you are using and which app store it is attached to.

Hailo’s developers decided not to focus on one particular device, and didn’t run into many issues when developing apps for different platforms.

People who buy a smartwatch do it for the applications, as it's a lot more than a device showing the exact time.
Cristian ZamfirescuHailo developer

Zamfirescu says: “Android watches come in different shapes - square or round – and from several brands. Most of them are using the Android Wear platform developed by Google, but Samsung is also coming strong with the recently announced Gear S device and proprietary SDK.

“In regards to Android Wear we are planning to support all brands.”

But as Zamfirescu points out, the different platforms and operating systems are not compatible with one another, making it impossible to develop one app to work on all devices. As a result, the user experience varies slightly depending on the brand of watch.

“During our tests we didn't face greater challenges with one brand or another, at least not greater than developing for Android phones. Many are still only announced products, so we shall face the usual fragmentation of devices.” he says.

Because applications pair with smartphones, ensuring secure communication was not an issue even with varied smartwatch form factors.

“The communication is secure between the two and we don't have any concerns,” says Zamfirescu.

“For security purposes the watches can only be paired with a single phone at one time and need a factory reset to pair with a different one. This significantly reduces the chance of accidental pairing with an unwanted device and increases security.”

When can we expect these big names?

Zamfirescu points out that consumers who want to invest in smartwatches usually do so for a better user experience, and for condensed and easier-to-use versions of the applications on their smartphone.

But consumers will never benefit from these features until businesses catch up with the rapid development of the wearables market.

“People who buy a smartwatch do it for the applications, as it's a lot more than a device showing the exact time,” says Zamfirescu.

The big questions are what's going to be the market share in the future and what applications should have a watch version.
Cristian ZamfirescuHailo developer

“The big questions are what's going to be the market share in the future and what applications should have a watch version.”

So who will be the big market players? According to Zamfirescu it’s too soon to tell, but Apple waited until it was very confident with its design before deciding on a release, which is a good sign.

“The competition has had smartwatches for over a year now and this certainly gave Apple enough time to learn from their mistakes,” he explains.

“As Google released the Android Wear platform just a few months ago it's still too early to draw conclusions but the first signs are very positive. Several manufacturers have already released products or announced some very cool ones.”

As for Hailo’s smartwatch application, we’ll just have to wait. Zamfirescu says: “The product is not live yet and will be released when we are 100% confident in it.”

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