The Power of a Good Smartwatch App

The Power of a Good Smartwatch App

At Key Tech, we are proud to say that we’ve worked on our share of connected devices. We look at the rapidly changing Smartwatch app market as a logical extension of medtech device connectivity and we have established some guidelines and insights for smart app development.

Are you developing a wearable device with a paired app?

Considering that hundreds of millions of wearable devices are shipped annually, and the rapid growth expected in this market[i], it’s no wonder you are considering developing a wearable device with a paired app. But all apps are not developed equally.

The Smartwatch market is surging

We are seeing incredible growth in the global Smartwatch market. This market was valued at USD $48 billion in 2018 and is estimated to reach almost $131 billion by 2024; a compound annual growth rate of 18.23%[ii]. A recent report states that Americans aged 55 and older are the fastest growing group of people using wearables[iii]. Roughly, more than one in five (21%) people who use the internet are now also using wearable devices. Smartwatch shipments are expected to grow at a very healthy 11% annually to 2022. The market, which is currently driven by the rising demand for wireless fitness and sports devices along with increased levels of health awareness, is rapidly developing with advanced Integrated Circuits (IC) technology. Top players like Philips Electronics, Fitbit, Basis Science, Garmin, Covidien (now Medtronic), Omron Corp[iv], among others, are actively involved in developing in this highly competitive market.

Ease of Use is Critical in Smartwatch development

Knowing how someone is going to interact with the Smartwatch is an important aspect to be considered while developing a Smartwatch app. You must understand the boundary between technical needs and user experience. Compared to a smart phone, a Smartwatch is rudimentary in its functionality. It is critical to design with those limitations in mind.

Connected devices need well-planned connection architecture

In medtech device development, especially in today’s connected environment, and as market shifts and technology development allows for more sensors and sophistication in watches, many devices may now require a Smartwatch app component in place of or in addition to a phone app. When developing a connected device or its connected app component, it’s important to consider the architecture of all device connections.

Key Tech’s Technical Tips for Smartwatch App Development:

Cross Platform Environments

Here at Key Tech, we are now developing in cross platform environments (i.e. software that is compatible in multiple operating systems). We use Xamarin, made by Microsoft, which lets us create one app that works with Android and IOS, and allows us some cross over from a phone app to the Smartwatch app, so we can share some of the underlying code between them. As with any Smartwatch that faces a user, platform localization is important. A Smartwatch app must “match” the platform and the user’s method(s) of interaction with it. A Smartwatch is not a smart phone and needs a unique design. So, while there are economies of development across platforms, don’t lose sight of the uniqueness of a platform and design accordingly.

Which Sensor Options Should you use?

It’s important to understand that there are more sensor options than ever.  Smartwatches all have Bluetooth, but they can also feature Wi-Fi, LTE, GPS, NFC, and have heart rate sensors. It’s important that your wearable app:

  • Use power sparingly,
  • Start up quickly,
  • Respond quickly to user interaction.

How Well will your End User Interact with the Smartwatch?

In addition, it is important to familiarize both the GUI designer and developer with the platform, as not everyone uses Smartwatches in daily life.  This makes it hard to put yourself in the shoes of a user. Also, don’t try to make a Smartwatch what it isn’t. The screens of Smartwatches are tiny and have limited input. Your app shouldn’t have features that don’t play into a Smartwatch’s strengths. Try to avoid including a large amount of text entry, large volumes of data to display, and complex screen workflows/sequences. Instead, it will be better to have simple controls (pause, play, etc.), status indications, and notifications.  You could also try using voice to provide navigation and field input; however, the underlying technical challenges can be substantial.

Smartwatch or Smart Phone or both?

Smartwatch apps usually work in concert with a smartphone. The smartphone is the “home base” where the main control typically lives, whereas the Smartwatch is “remote”/”viewer”/”sensor”, etc. Use each item in the pair to its strength. Smartwatches have convenience (it’s on the wrist!), but lack resources (small screen size, limited processing power, etc.). With the emergence of stand-alone apps, and the advancement of Smartwatch technologies, we may see more apps on the smart phone itself, or solely on the watch. Smartwatches continue to evolve, and the line is merging between Smartwatches and smart phones.

Which Smart Phone Competitors are Leading the Market?

Currently, Apple Watch (iOS), Android Wear (Android) and Tizen (Android) are the main competitors in the Smartwatch ecosystem, all with unique features and feels. The ever increasing competitiveness among Smartwatch developers and key players above can be attributed to their consistent commitment to product innovation as well as product development. Smartwatch platforms are definitely less overlapping in terms of cross-platform development than apps/phone apps platforms. It is important to understand their unique attributes and the design versions of your app to maximize ecosystem strengths and minimize shortfalls.

Furthermore, GUI designers play a role in designing wireframes for the mother smartphone app. They also help in adapting imagery to the watch platform.

Testing your App

You can test your app on an actual watch by connecting to the Smartwatch via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. Development with an actual Smartwatch enables you to better evaluate the total user experience. A watch emulator also is available. You can use the watch emulator in Android Studio to test your app with different screen shapes and sizes. More information is available at this link:

Should you use a SIM card?

Additionally, the US is also trying to integrate virtual SIM cards into Smartwatches to encourage the manufacturers that want to target the stand-alone smart watch category. The Internet of Things (IoT) is also being used in the Look Watch, which is an independent smart watch that need not be paired with a mobile app and has features, such as GPS, fall detection, an integrated SOS button, response system, etc. that are driving market growth.

Smartwatches and app development are fast-moving technologies with innovations coming on the market at a rapid clip. When you stand back just a step and look across the swath of emergent technologies, especially through the medtech lens, it’s easy to see a convergence of AI, automation, neural interfacing and sensors (both body sensors and environmental sensors). It is also the convergence of feeding data to and responding through the smart devices wrapped around one’s wrist, attached to eyewear or headphones, and then bringing that data and applications together to seamlessly interact in tomorrow’s enhanced reality.

If you have an integrated device and need a partner to test, de-risk, and design out the apps, the architectures, or the devices themselves – Reach out or call us at  410-385-0200.




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Mason Watts
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