Our new Apple Watch app was created in just five weeks: here's how

Earlier this month we launched our Apple Watch app, created in just five weeks; five somewhat stressful, caffeine-fuelled weeks. Five weeks where quality couldn’t be compromised, despite the clock ticking to launch. Here, we share the journey our iOS team undertook, from the first seeds of an idea to launch.

A utility concept with no back-up data

With the Apple Watch being a completely new product for iOS users, the first challenge we encountered was in shaping the utility concept with no back-up data to support it. Unable to refer to industry data on smartwatches, we instead scoped out an initial idea without any technical limitations, which actually turned out to be a refreshing way of working.

First we asked ourselves: _what might a traveler need that can be provided by an ‘on the go’ technology that’s also in line with our existing Hotels app? _A clear concept came to the fore: a ‘find your way back’ style app.

Say you go out for dinner, or simply a walk in a new city. Often, you can find yourself a little lost while trying to figure out how to get back to your hotel. We’ve all been there, and it’s all the more easy to become confused and disorientated when street signs are in a foreign language or a completely different script. Even if you’ve got access to online maps, map search still has limited functionality to find hotels, especially if you don't know the exact name or address.

Therefore our idea was to create a simple, easy-to-use app for the new Apple Watch that helps travelers get back to their accommodation. We named it ‘Find Your Way’.

Five days of intensive research and design

The rapid pace required for the research and design in a short time-frame presented a fun (if exhausting) challenge, since the end result had to be a working product, not just a prototype. As such, continuous feasibility checks with our software developer teammates were vital, especially as the Watch was a completely new tool for them too.

Two things that shaped our journey:

  • To sync the app with the Watch, we needed to build on its current capabilities, so we decided to go with the existing ‘Favourite’ feature
  • Since we didn't have an Apple Watch to hand, we relied on Apple's well-defined, standard guidelines for the UI

In the first two days of the research and design sprint we explored the flow of the app on sketches and drawings, combined with ongoing discussions with developers on the feasibility of our proposed features. Working so closely with our developers was one of the biggest learning outcomes of the whole process: we learned how to think with a developers’ perspective.

Day three: testing

Day three, and we had an initial design and even a tester. Of course, that also threw up a pretty basic but crucial conundrum: how on earth were we going to test the app without an actual Apple Watch device? So we went old-school. We printed the watch on a paper, got crafty with the scissors and put it on the wrists of our tester volunteers.

As the Watch app is about getting back to your hotel, we stepped out from the usual user testing methods and went to the streets, walking around and talking with our testers; how did they feel about the concept, what did they think about this particular aspect. Another added challenge – like us, our testers had never used the Apple Watch either, and most hadn’t even set eyes on one. Usually, even if an app is new to someone, testers know how to start to explore it because they’ve handled the device (say, an iPhone) before – but of course, this wasn’t the case with the hotly-anticipated and closely guarded Apple Watch.

Our solution was to take testers through the two paper prototypes (which represented the two key screens of the app), and, given the constraints above, we also talked them through key features, rather than explaining what they could do on the screen or how they could control it.

Such limitations did make it tricky to agree on final learnings and take-aways. However, plenty of UI variations later, our technical requirements were taking shape. The biggest area of debate surrounded readability, which is crucial on a device like the Apple Watch. Without the real thing to hand, we had to make do with mobile handsets, experimenting with how the designed content might look like on a small screen.

Finally: the real thing!

Drumroll please: we were like kids in a candy store come the Apple Watch Lab event, where we could finally test the app for the first time, on a real, live device. We discarded our paper cut outs, consumed a frankly unhealthy amount of caffeine and energy drinks, and really got down to the nitty-gritty, rapidly making changes and amends until we had final approval.

From seed to Apple app in five weeks: it was whirlwind, but we’re delighted with the results (even if we do say so ourselves!). Our first users were from the US, UK, Germany, Australia and Japan. You can see the outcome yourself: we’ve created a guide to using the ‘Find Your Way’ feature here.

What's next?

We’re looking at how those people who have downloaded and used ‘Find Your Way’ and the Skyscanner Hotels iPhone app interact with the product, so we can improve the user flow and experience. Like any new product designed for a new brand ecosystem, we will need to learn and iterate to fulfill the needs of our users. If you’ve used the ‘Find Your Way’ app, let us know what you think!

ios, mobile, Product