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Will The Apple Watch Make Us More Productive, Or Less?

For developers designing productivity apps for the Apple Watch, the biggest challenge is keeping you out of the app.

Will The Apple Watch Make Us More Productive, Or Less?
[Photo: Flickr user 世書 名付 | LifeHack]

When the Apple Watch ships on April 24, it will have its work cut out for it: taking your phone calls, tracking your morning run, sending your heartbeat to your bae. But some developers are hoping to carve out another niche for the smartwatch: keeping you productive.

That’s the aim of OfficeTime, a time-tracking app that will be available on the Apple Watch at launch. Since the WatchKit SDK launched in November, the team behind OfficeTime has been busy porting a stripped-down version of the phone app’s functionality over to the new wrist-bound interface.

“The biggest challenge with tracking your time is remembering to do it,” says OfficeTime founder Stephen Dodd. “I want to be able to walk into a meeting, tap a button on my wrist, walk out, tap it again, and, at the end of the week, have a breakdown on my iPhone or computer of where the heck my time went.”

It might seem like an overly obvious use for a watch (Keeping track of time on your wrist?? Go on. . . .) but as anyone who needs to keep track of their work hours knows, the process can be tedious. Whether one uses slickly designed software or more analog methods, time-tracking is almost always just annoying enough to seem like a chore—or, worse, to let us forget to hit the “stop” button.

An early mockup of the OfficeTime time-tracking app for Apple Watch.Via OfficeTime

With the arrival of the Apple Watch—and the general mainstream-ification of smartwatches that it’s likely to herald—what we’re getting is not so much a new set of capabilities (our phones can already do most of this stuff), but a new interface. And crucially, it’s an interface that we wear on our bodies, rather than tuck away in our pockets.

For something like time-tracking, Dodd and his team are hoping that this new wearable, always-in-sight interface will remove just enough of that friction to make the experience less of a chore and as natural as, say, glancing down to check the time.

Another productivity-focused startup that hasn’t wasted any time digging into the WatchKit SDK is Todoist. It might not be the only to-do list management app out there—there are seemingly unlimited options for to-do software—but it will be one of the first to be available on the Apple Watch. Like other Apple Watch apps, Todoist simply breaks off the most useful bits of functionality and information, and packs them onto the watch’s limited screen real estate. In this case, that means a list of tasks and projects, along with simple actions like marking tasks as “complete” and replying to comments from team members.

Todoist isn’t the only company eyeing up the smartwatch form factor for its potential as a wearable to-do list. Task management favorites like Omnifocus and Things are already poised to launch Apple Watch apps of their own.

There are other productivity-focused Apple Watch apps coming as well. Beloved products like Evernote and Mailbox will be available for the watch when it ships. Other organizational apps like EasilyDo, Jiffies, and 24me will also be ready come April 24. Salesforce has an app ready to go, and Slack is reportedly working on something too. And those are just some of the ones that have been announced.

Glancing Away

But just because productivity software makers are lining up to slap their apps around your wrist doesn’t mean the Apple Watch is going to make our work lives easier. Indeed, there’s a case to be made that by porting notifications from our phones onto an always-in-view screen, we may wind up getting more distracted than ever.

The Institute of Advanced Motorists has already expressed concerns about devices like the Apple Watch, which seem primed to make distracted drivers even less alert. And while driving is different from most work scenarios (unless you drive for a living), the basic logic holds true: When we’re trying to focus on a task, it probably doesn’t help to have our wrists lighting up with new messages and reminders every 15 minutes. There’s a reason some of us stow our phones away when we need to focus for prolonged periods of time.

Design wireframes from the UX design process at OfficeTime.Via OfficeTime

This distractibility issue isn’t lost on developers building apps for smartwatches. However cautious developers may (or may not) have been with the frequency of push notifications on smartphones, even more sensitivity is required when nagging us from our own wrists.

When building apps for smartwatches, more than ever, simplicity is key—especially given their tiny screens. “The best thing we’ve found that we can do as developers to help is simply get out of your way,” says Dodd. “The more features and interface we put on it, the more you have to fight through it to simply track that you’re being productive. We’ve honed down to the key task: make it as easy as possible to simply resume working on that project you’ve been doing recently. Or even just starting a timer and deciding later what you’re actually doing. Nothing fancy.”

Beyond just ensuring a no-frills, dead-simple user interface, the team at OfficeTime was sure to be very cautious about how it implemented notifications on the new app. Yet again, the rule of thumb here seems to be that if you can avoid including it, you should.

“Luckily, we seem to have some control over it,” says Dodd, referring to the watch’s more distracting tendencies. “We can limit app notifications and get email alerts only from our VIPs. However, I still think it’s going to contribute to our already distracted lifestyle.”

About the author

John Paul Titlow is a writer at Fast Company focused on music and technology, among other things.

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