Clutch spoke with Sep Seyedi, CEO of Plastic Mobile, as part of a series of interviews about wearable technology.
Could you describe your company and your role there?
Plastic Mobile is primarily a mobile agency. We help our clients gain a competitive edge in the app space. We started in the days of smartphones and tried to bring an experience that stood out from the crowd. But, since our inception about eight years ago, we’ve grown from smartphones, to tablets, and now to wearables, which are extensions of other devices and apps.
For us, it’s always been about apps that are truly personal, on the go, and helpful to larger companies and brands that want to reach their audiences and compete in a very saturated space. Our role is ideating, designing, building, and maintaining these apps for them.
I am one of the founders, and I run technologies overall.
When did Plastic Mobile begin designing applications for wearables?
It’s about our fifth year in the business, so about three years ago. At that time, it was pretty early in the wearables space, and there was not a lot of standalone wearable technology. I think the closest thing that you could put an application on was the Pebble.
When we started out, as part of our innovation lab, we built our own wearable device. We had our fifth anniversary, and we wanted to put a wearable device on everybody’s wrist so we could track social interactions during the anniversary party. We put up a huge leader board, and we were able to track how many conversations people were having and how social they were being. Overall we were able to gamify the whole event. This was our starting point for wearables because we developed all the hardware and software necessary to run the wearable wristband that was distributed to everyone.
The application was not built on a specific platform. It was our homebrew. We decided not to put it on a platform for a couple of reasons. We wanted to give it out at the event, so we needed it to be relatively cheap: we did not want to spend hundreds of dollars on the devices. Also, we wanted it to be custom for the event. For us, we partly wanted to make the event more fun and interactive and partly wanted to figure out what goes into these wearables. How do we take full advantage of the sensors and build something that works?
Since the launch of Android Wear in 2014 and the Apple Watch earlier this year , wearables have become more mainstream. Even though it's still early, we are ready to create interactive experiences on your wrist.
Could you describe the wearable applications you developed for PizzaPizza and Realtor.ca?
The PizzaPizza and Realtor apps were both for the Apple Watch, and we did this in conjunction with the Apple Watch launch. Plastic was one of Apple's launch partners, and we worked very closely with them to bring the devices to life.
The PizzaPizza app is all about satisfying your belly. It’s a pretty rich app, in that it allows you to do everything that the actual smartphone version of the app does but is optimized to allow you to do it very rapidly and with single taps.
Menu Accessibility - The PizzaPizza app provides a customized quick menu for viewing the existing menu. We didn’t filter anything away,
so you can actually see everything on the menu. You can see all your favorite pizzas and your recent orders. But, if you want a pizza, you can’t
customize it. You only can order from the pre-configured options.
Payment - The app allows you to select anything off the menu, pay for it, and order it straight to your door. PizzaPizza has a loyalty program, called Club 11-11, and on the app, you can check to see your status and gift card balanaces.
Delivery Countdown - The app also incorporates a countdown feature to track how long it takes for the pizza to be delivered to your front door. If there is a 40-minute guarantee, then after 40 minutes, the food is absolutely free.
As you can see, we didn’t hold back on the PizzaPizza app. We didn't think it should be just a thin watch app for you to track your pizza delivery or check on your loyalty club point balance. We wanted to satisfy your belly with a few taps, and we did it.
It’s a remarkable app because we’ve managed to create a unique experience with tapping only. It’s fast, and it’s a brand new experience – a brand new use case for people using wearables. We wanted to provide something great for them.
Source: Plastic Mobile
The Realtor app is more of an companion app to the Realtor mobile app. The mobile app allows you to search a micro-area, meaning relatively within one or two kilometers, to check what properties are for sale around you, monitor favorites, call an agent, and browse property images.
The wearable app is meant to be fast but with limited functionalities for ease of use. You can use it for quick scans if you’re walking around
thinking, ‘I wonder what’s on sale? I wonder how much this house is right in front of me?’
The use case we anticipated is more that you’re on the go and you need this information right in front of you on your wrist. So, we made it so that you can see all the images and information you need and then off you go.
Meanwhile, PizzaPizza is for when you’re somewhere on the couch and you’re too lazy to get on your phone, so you order a pizza on your watch.
Both apps were extremely fun initiatives, and we’re happy to say that the PizzaPizza one was the first watch app dedicated to pizza ordering. I think it was even close to being the first food ordering watch app in general. It pretty exciting to have a first of its kind out there.
Source: Plastic Mobile
Could you describe the process of developing these wearable applications?
Understand Use Cases - Our process for wearables is pretty similar to what we do with apps. It’s all about understanding who your users are, where they’re going to be using the app, and how they’re going to be using it. From there, we design and build something specifically to meet those needs and requirements.
We have a usability and design lab in-house, where, with the coming of wearables, we tweaked things so we could see how people use wearable apps as a part of their regular life. We spent time watching people use an app they had never used before, on a device they had never used before. Typically, people already know how to use the smartphone, but we knew that the watch was brand new, and a lot of people were experimenting, so we wanted to get it right. That was really important to us.
Testing - Testing was a very important part of the development process. With wearables, especially when there’s a companion app, it’s extra important not only to test the watch app itself but also to see how it interacts with all the use cases that go between. For example, if I start the app on the watch, then go over to my phone, then come back to the watch, what will happen? So all those situations, both from a user experience and a technical perspective, need to be fully tested. Doing this testing when the device is not even launched makes it even more challenging, but we did it, and it was a pretty successful launch.
Duration and Timeline
I think the development process took three-to-four months. The screen size is smaller, so things become more challenging. We wanted to push the boundaries of the platform, but what is in the platform and how you use it is very different.
Whenever there’s a brand new platform, those are the headaches involved: trying to figure out the platform's different technical aspects and use cases. As simple as it may look, when you’re developing something for a large brand and a large audience, it takes time to do it right, versus prototyping something that is throwaway.
The cost depends on the complexity of the applications in terms of features and functionalities. We can’t release the actual cost of the apps, but, as with any app, depending on the features involved, it can range anywhere from $75,000 to $300,000.
With watch apps, it really depends on the features. If you only want simple notifications on your app, these are well supported. But, if you want the whole nine yards, the cost may increase.
From your experience, what are the ideal application features and functionalities for wearables?
With some of these watches, including the new version of the Apple Watch that’s coming out, you have all sorts of great sensors that you can take full advantage of, along with a screen that’s right on your wrist at all times. Figuring out what you do with each of these sensors is where it gets interesting.
The sensors include GPS locators and motion-capturing capabilities. In the case of applying the motion sensors to the PizzaPizza app, they could tell when the user begins to enjoy his pizza.
We also will have full audio-in and audio-out capabilities, so all sorts of interesting uses come into play. Also, the heartbeat sensor is going to be an interesting feature ofr all health-oriented businesses.
I think what’s most important to figure out – regardless of all the technologies and cool features available – is what your wearable app strategy is, how you’re going to make your wearable app useful, how it’s going to evolve over time, and where to start. There’s many different ways to do this, so figuring out your strategy is a very important initial step. From there, you have to figure out how your users interact with wearable devices. Then, you put something together that is meaningful and useful based on this information.
What challenges did you face during the project's rollout, and what steps did you take to overcome these challenges?
For PizzaPizza, we wanted to be able to do complete, end-to-end ordering. To do this, you have to be able to have a shopping cart. So figuring out how you do a shopping cart with a screen that is less than an inch-by-an-inch and an interaction that is a finger tap is challenging. How do you do that without adding too much complexity for the user? Figuring out how to do this in a meaningful way was a big challenge, as well as testing it to make sure it worked, was speedy, and was something people would actually use.
As I mentioned, the design lab is where we were able to hypothesize how we would build the app, complete a quick prototype, and put it in front of someone for user testing. Do they understand that they just added something to their cart and now can continue shopping for more pizza?
This step was pretty interesting, and obviously, implementing it was a whole other challenge of, ‘How do you do this, and how do you make sure it performs as speedily as possible on the Apple Watch?’
The other challenge, for Realtor, with the initial Watch OS, was that you couldn’t make outgoing calls from the watch. But, being able to call your realtor agent from the watch when he pops up on the screen is a natural feature that we wanted to incorporate.
Despite the built-in technical limitation, we were able to achieve what we wanted to do. When you tap ‘Call’ on the agent icon, it gives you a message telling you to open the Realtor mobile app from your phone. Then, when you open the app on the iPhone, it knows what you want to do and calls the agent automatically.
As you can see, we were able to overcome a technical limitation by adding an inconvenience – the need to go back to your iPhone and open the app. But, at least we were able to connect the call without making the user type the full number in, or better yet, just not call the agent. This calling capability will be in Watch OS2, so we can change the process.
There’s a lot of creative problem solving involved in designing for and working with new technology. The same thing happened with the iPhone and Android when the platforms were in their infancy. You have to figure out creative solutions to limitations until the platforms enable the necessary features features bit-by-bit.
In what ways did your initial conceptualization of the applications change throughout the development processes?
One example is of having to tweak the design for the Realtor wearable app, so it matched how users understood and used the call agent feature. We figured out a pretty clever approach for Realtor to solve this problem.
Could you share any statistics, metrics, or feedback that might demonstrate the application’s performance?
Unfortunately no, but what I can say is that it’s definitely early in the wearables game. I think companies, like Apple, have really stepped up the quality and features, so the demand is definitely going to build up.
I think the key thing that’s important is to understand that any apps or experimentation in wearables is not just for the sake of checking it out, but rather for the sake of understanding these things and seeing if you can provide your customers with something meaningful beyond just the app – even if it’s for your advanced users that are slightly more technical and adopt things faster.
At the end of the day, what we have to realize is that any media coverage and PR worthiness that comes out of the fact that it’s a first on wearables – especially when you’re early in the game – is a good one, not only for the company involved but also for your iPhone or Android mobile app downloads.
What lessons did you learn from this experience, and what areas would you like to improve upon or do differently in the future?
Develop A Unique Use Case - I think it’s important to learn from the fact that even though the screen size is small, there’s a lot that can be done to bring your app to the wearable platform. It’s not just about downsizing your app and switching it on. It actually requires a lot of work.
When you think wearables, you think, ‘Watches! Oh, how easy! It should take no time to pump it out.’ But, it takes a fair bit of effort, especially when you have something much richer, more robust, and less ‘notification-y’ that you’re putting out.
Create A Prototype - The other part, as usual with any app development, is to try to prototype the app beforehand by thinking through the use cases and playing around with the watch before doing the complete build.
Do Not Copy Mobile App Only - The rest involves applying the same principles and ideologies from apps and mobile to wearables.
Future of Wearables
What role do you see wearable technology playing in the next 6-12 months?
Increased Consumer Demand - We think that, with the holiday season coming up – especially events like Black Friday – we’re going to see wearables being bought as gifts, just like the Android smartphones, iPhones, and iPods were for many years. That is going to increase the audience and number of people actually using wearable devices. That’s a great thing for wearables in general.
Growth of Augmented and Virtual Reality - The release of AR [augmented reality] and VR [virtual reality] capabilities as commercial offerings, such as Oculus Rift, HTP Vibe, and Microsoft's Hololens, will trigger their adoption as gaming units. When they go mainstream, they will change the wearables space.
We started with our wrists, but the next step will be our eyes and even our brains.
Wearables As Part Of Mobile Strategy - As people evolve their mobile strategies, wearables should definitely be on their radar. We see wearable technology as a component of the mobile strategy.
I’ve been attaching these devices to my wrist for a couple years now. Even more phenomenal advances will occur in the next few years, and I'm excited to be a part of it.