Notification: Apple Watch Is Missing Something Big

Apple Watch has the potential to be life changing: it will surface problems we didn't know we had, transform how we interact with objects, and likely make our necks hurt a little more.

Through conversations in my office and around the New York tech scene, I've gathered that the Apple Watch’s most appealing feature is the short and long-looks: the watch defines how much information and options to present based on the length of time you turn the watch face up for viewing. It’s cool, but the apps that power the short and long-looks will be the most talked about features, very soon.

As anticipatory Apple Watch apps are developed, users will be all abuzz talking about them, but only if they can extract value from them…

While the apps anticipate your needs based on your physical or digital activity, Apple Watch can't distinguish between notifications: you can only turn them on or off. This may seem small, but it is a big issue.

Not all notifications are important.

Imagine you're on a business trip, and you're giving your final presentation to clients. Right as you reach the pinnacle moment, the demo, your Dropcam alerts you via a patterned buzz with the Taptic Engine that it has detected motion in your backyard. But at the same time the Giants have just tied the game in the bottom of the 9th with bases loaded, and your ESPN app goes bizzerk notifying you. You only have a moment to look down and see what’s buzzing- and it looks like you're just missing a great game. You’ve missed the critical information.

We'll become dependent on technology to scan and sense our physical and digital lives, and we hope it will think and notify us of significant events, but it’s a flawed concept for now.

Apple Watch can't distinguish between the urgent, the important, and the frivolous. — Greg Larkin, Founder, Bowery 315

Apple Watch needs an app hierarchy:

I see two app-level solutions, solving how notifications layer.

  1. Drag-and-drop ordering within the Apple Watch iOS app. Like iPhone notifications, this would give priority to simultaneous notifications. Likely this is easiest for users as it is familiar.

2. Pre-set stepped hierarchy, set initially by Apple and noted in the App Store, then modifiable by users. For example, medical and security apps get highest priority, then travel apps, then sports and leisure apps.

Both solutions will screw up time-based layering, but there is a way to remedy the issue. Users could need to pick a time-frame, such as past hour, for which notifications are kept active. Potentially notifications could switch to the iPhone’s Notifications Center after the hour, as a chronological order of missed activity.

A solution to this issue will help users differentiate notifications by importance when a short-look for every notification isn’t possible. For now, users will need to be ultra-selective of what apps they allow to push notifications, and cull them frequently.