Clutch spoke with Andrew Garkavyi, CEO of Stanfy, as part of a series of interviews about wearable technology.
Could you describe your company and your role there?
Stanfy is a team of software developers and designers that focuses on wearable, mobile, and IoT [Internet of Things] solutions. We've been doing that for the last ten years but specifically started the mobile leg seven years ago. We've developed our expertise in the design, development, and engineering sides of those areas throughout the years.
I am the CEO of Stanfy.
When did Stanfy begin designing applications for wearables?
We started a little less than two years ago, with the release of the Pebble and our application for the Pebble watch. So that was probably the first step, along with some of our Android experiments.
Could you describe the three wearable applications you have developed: MyCalendar, MagicFace, and Waterbalance?
Two of them [MyCalendar and MagicFace] are applications for Pebble smartwatch and were developed as our internal products. The third application was for Apple Watch and was created for our client.
MagicFace was our very first experiment, to see what the platform [Pebble] was capable of. This app is for entertainment. It’s similar to the Magic Eightball toy from your childhood: a ball with eight sides that tells you what to do in certain situations. It's fun and easy to use.
We created the MyCalendar app to solve one of the pain points that other smartwatch users and us had – keeping up-to-date with our calendars. Pebble, at the time, didn't have any good integration with calendars, either on the phone or on the web, so we created this app, which integrates with Google Calednar, pulls out your most recent events, and shows them to you on the watch face or in the watch app.
The application became very successful and is now one of the most popular Pebble apps in its category. There are around ten thousand active users, which is pretty good for the platform.
In the case of Waterbalance, we already had a working smartphone app with more than two million users tracking their water consumption daily. We felt that having a simple way to track water consumption was on the wrist, and this task would be a natural fit for Apple Watch.
We made the Apple Watch application and removed the smartphone from the standard use case, setting a new record for the app. We now see that this was the right decision because users enjoy the simplified way of interacting with the Apple Watch app extension.
The Waterbalance Apple Watch app extension was featured in the App Store during the firsts months that Apple Watch was on the market. That was cool!
Designing for the Apple Watch is not an easy task. Because user patterns are totally new, there is no known and established interaction model for the smartwatch user interaces that works. We tried several designs and interaction models until we found the right fit.
The Pebble apps were early experiments with the platform, and we were discovering the different opportunities that existed. We decided to take a chance and try Pebble. The community was growing pretty quickly, and the platform itself provided many opportunities. The experiment was successful, and our products ended up reaching a good-sized audience.
Another big success for us was on the Apple Watch platform. Our first applications, with help from Apple, produced good results and attracted a lot of new users. Apple Watch potentially seems to be the most promising platform for smartwatches.
Could you describe the process of developing these wearable applications?
The development process was pretty exciting because these are all new platforms with a lot of unique restrictions.
The smartwatches are even more limited than the first smartphones. They are decades behind in terms of software engineering from the developer’s perspective, but they are a unique challenge from the design perspective.
Analysis of Use Cases - You cannot treat a wearable application as a replacement for a phone: you cannot simply transfer the functions from the phone to the wearable. It’s the same thing that happened with desktops and phones. Previously, when people started building apps for the mobile phones, they were trying to mimic things from the desktops. Here, it's the same. When we started building the Apple Watch app, we had to analyze at what time, in what places, and in what situations people would be using the application on the device.
Choose Essential Features - We do not overwhelm users with information, so we decided to keep only essential features, in order to make the wearable app functions handy and quick. The phone is in the user’s pocket, but the watch is on the wrist, which is even closer to the user. This is a big benefit, but it’s also a great responsibility. You have to be very careful about what and how often you communicate to a person with these devices.
Duration and Timeline
As with any software project, the timeline depends on the number of features included and the market strategy. You cannot only publish an app. You have to track how people use it, when they stop using it, and how they spend most of their time with the app. This analysis provides valuable information about how to improve the product and how to evolve it over time.
Compared to our mobile app development projects, the three wearable projects were pretty fast. They took a much smaller amount of time because of the lower amount of functionality and simpler use cases.
The Waterbalance Apple Watch app took only a few weeks – under a month.
Hopefully, with the new Apple Watch and with access to more sensors, new possibilities for use will surface. For example, using data from the heartbeat monitor or accelerometer on the watch can result in a whole new set of applications that didn’t exist before.
From your experience, what are the ideal use cases for wearable applications?
Productivity - Wearables are really unique for a lot of productivity tasks because the information is right on your wrist. For example, smartwatches provide quick access to important information, and other, simpler wearable devices can communicate messages through touches and light.
Health and Fitness - Another useful category is health and fitness, as in activity and fitness trackers and medical devices used in hospitals.
What challenges did you face during the project’s rollout, and what steps did you take to overcome these challenges?
There were two big challenges.
Selecting Essential, Appropriate Features - First, from the product design perspective, we had to create a UX [user experience] that would feel natural to people, be easy to use, and not be too distracting – yet still noticeable.
Space Limitations - Second, on the development side, the devices have limited memory and computing resources. You need to measure the space you're using carefully, so you don't consume all the memory or leak the memory. But, at the same time, you have to be able to achieve what you planned.
Animations - Even the Apple Watch was pretty limited. An exciting thing happened when we were dealing with animations on the Apple Watch though. The initial plan was to have gorgeous graphics with smooth transitions, but Watch OS did not have to capabilities to do that. But, we revised and simplified our plans and managed to keep the design looking great.
In order to have a good animation on Apple Watch, you have to transfer some of the computing to the phone and back. When you do that, you need to make sure the user is not annoyed by the fact that he or she is waiting for too long. That was a really good challenge, and we even have a series of blog posts on our site regarding the Apple Watch OS development. The second version of the Apple Watch is very promising in this regard.
In what ways did your initial conceptualization of the apps change throughout the development processes?
Because of the different platform restrictions that were not obvious from the beginning, we had to rethink our approach and the different features we wanted to include in the middle of the development process. For example, the multiple graphical limitations with the Apple Watch forced us to adjust how things were displayed and rethink some UI/UX [user interface/user experience] decisions.
From the beginning, we knew about unique use cases for the devices and software, but it was more difficult to implement these use cases when we started testing our product in real life. We had to consider means of communicating information other than the standard UI [user interface], like vibrations or light.
Could you share any statistics, metrics, or feedback that might demonstrate how the three apps have performed?
I can not disclose the exact numbers. Compared to products in the mobile space and some products with accompnaying mobile applications, the numbers are much lower but very promising.
For example, in the case of our Apple Watch app for the Waterbalance project, there are around two million users on the phone platform. The feedback coming from watch users is phenomenonal. People actively are asking for features, which rarely happened with mobile app users. This demonstrates a promising level of engagement and interest.
Could you describe the process of updating the applications on the different platforms?
For the Apple Watch, the update process is similar to the one for the phone and tablet apps. You submit the binary code to the Apple store, they review it, and push it to the AppStore. That process is pretty straightforward, with the only complication being the duration of the review, which may take a little while. But, overall, it's not a big deal. From a technical standpoint, it's also straightforward, unless you face platform complications.
What lessons did you learn from your experience with these three apps, and what areas would you like to improve upon or do differently in the future?
Smart Watches Are Not Phones - The main lesson learned, as I mentioned earlier, is smartwatches are not phones, so you are not meant to treat them as phones. You need to think about the experiences you want to bring the user and design them in their own unique way.
Understand Platform’s Limited Resources - Lesson two, from the engineering perspective, you have very limited resources that you have to use wisely, and you need to think about them from day one as you're building something on these platforms.
In terms of what to improve further, we're experimenting more and more with different design and UX solutions for smartwatches, but there's still a lot to be discovered and unique use cases to be tested. The smartwatches and wearables have opened a totally new area.
What advice would you share with another company that is seeking to develop a wearable application?
There were a lot of people who were rushing to push their app in the first days of the Apple Watch release because they wanted to be featured by Apple. This approach made sense in the early days. But, when you're building something new, it is important that you don't try to create an app just to have an app on a new platform. Try to develop a unique use case – something that would benefit users a lot if they used your app on the smartwatch instead of the phone – instead of copying what you have on a mobile application.
Future of Wearables
What role do you see wearable technology playing in the next 6-12 months?
Wearables are a private network of data. They give more and more information about us. It starts with simple things, like heart rate monitors and accelerometers, but there are more and more devices that measure very intimate parameters, like blood-glucose level or VO2.
This data provides unique insight into our lives and our bodies – the kind of information that was not easily accessible previously or cost a lot. Right now, wearables simplify and make it much cheaper to access this information, understand what is happening to our bodies, and identify how to improve the quality of our lives.
It is important to remember that wearables are not just smartwatches. There are many different niches and use cases for wearables that provide still-to-be-discovered possibilities. We talk about smartwatches a lot at this point in time, but I think there will be much more value coming from other areas of wearable technology, like having sensors near us and inside our bodies.