In early 2015, I received an invitation from Apple to test a Trove watchOS application in a lab in Cupertino on prerelease Apple Watch hardware. Along with one engineer, Apple granted me one-day access to validate user experiences on a real device shortly before Apple Watch shipped.
By this time, Trove’s iOS application had been developed for nearly a year-and-a-half. Trove was sending breaking news and user activity push notifications to users, and users could leave comments on stories. In addition, over 100 content partners allowed full access to stories.
Apple Watch presented a difficult design challenge — a wrist-worn interface was entirely foreign at the time, and (until the lab session) interaction with the medium was exclusively simulated through Xcode. My approach in designing Trove for Apple Watch centered around the capabilities of the device and the tasks it would simplify for users: namely dictation and notifications.
Trove was built around the concept of following news topics (called troves) that a user would promote stories within. Before the lab, I had structured the watchOS app using page-based navigation — a user could swipe horizontally from topic to topic and browse a list of stories within each topic.
Once in the lab, we quickly noticed that page- based navigation was suboptimal. To view headlines from a particular topic (a documented use-case from iOS), the user would have to spend too much time swiping just to find that topic. During the lab, I redesigned the application as a simple hierarchical drill-down experience where users would be presented with a menu of their followed topics, leading to a list of stories, leading to details about a story.
For added speed and convenience, the application launched one level deep on a news feed of stories from across all the user’s topics. While running, the watchOS application would also communicate with the iOS application to fetch and cache a limited set of stories from each topic to avoid displaying loading indicators.
Accounting for a direct launch of the watchOS application was only half the design challenge. I viewed Apple Watch foremost as a vehicle for push notifications and designed an experience to ensure that notifications were a first-class method of interacting with content in Trove.
Notifications on Apple Watch demanded interactivity and rich content. When a user received a notification and raised their wrist to view it, a “long look” experience would process the payload and display a new interface with additional details and actions the user could take.
Breaking news notifications displayed a featured image (if available), headline, source, count of various actions taken by other users and a set of actions the user could take (promote, favorite or comment on the story). Notifications for comments left by other users would display the text of the comment and encourage the user to reply. We leveraged dictation features on Apple Watch to allow users to comment on stories just by speaking.
The first iteration of watchOS encouraged users to interact with their favorite applications using a quick-access experience called Glances. I designed a glance for Trove that presented a single, periodically-updated featured headline based on topics the user followed. Just by swiping up on the watch face, a user would see the one most relevant story to their interests at any given time.
In the lab, we found a 42-millimeter screen is a suboptimal size for consuming content at the length newsreading often requires. We leveraged the Handoff capability between devices to allow a user to easily continue activities started on watchOS on their larger screen. As an example, a user viewing a detail view for a story on Apple Watch could launch Trove on their iPhone to that exact view to read the full text of the story.
Trove was briefly featured in the news category of the App Store for Apple Watch in 2015.