Ahead of the Apple Watch debut later this month, Wired's David Pierce interviewed Apple's Kevin Lynch, who left Adobe in 2013 and joined the Cupertino company. The long-form article doesn't focus on Lynch exclusively; rather it chronices the history and development of the Apple Watch.
In his conversation, Lynch reveals that Apple developed the Watch to solve a problem it created with the iPhone -- too much time interacting with a phone and not enough undistracted time with other people.
“We’re so connected, kind of ever-presently, with technology now,” Lynch says. “People are carrying their phones with them and looking at the screen so much.” They’ve glared down their noses at those who bury themselves in their phones at the dinner table and then absentmindedly thrust hands into their own pockets at every ding or buzz. “People want that level of engagement,” Lynch says. “But how do we provide it in a way that’s a little more human, a little more in the moment when you’re with somebody?”
There were a lot of individuals involved in the development of the Watch -- high-profiles leads such as Lynch and countless team members not mentioned in the Wired article. Besides Lynch, other project leads include Alan Day, head of Apple's human interface group, and lead designer Jony Ive, whose obsession with Horology reportedly was one of the driving forces behind the Watch project.
As revealed by Lynch, the first Apple Watch prototype, ironically, was an iPhone rigged with a velcro strap to attach to a wrist. The team then built a life-sized Watch simulator for the iPhone that would allow them to test the software features without the actual watch hardware.
With a crude, but working prototype in hand, the team went to work on developing an interface that provided for meaningful, but minimal interaction. The Watch team discovered early on that some interactions took too long to accomplish on a device strapped to your wrist. As a result, the Watch design team was forced to refine and sometimes eliminate any cumbersome tasks.
As the testing went on, it became evident that the key to making the Watch work was speed. An interaction could last only five seconds, 10 at most. They simplified some features and took others out entirely because they just couldn’t be done quickly enough. Lynch and team had to reengineer the Watch’s software twice before it was sufficiently fast.
Apple initially envisioned a chronological workflow, similar to the upcoming Pebble Watch, but abandoned the idea. The team instead focused on "streamlining the time it takes a user to figure out whether something is worth paying attention to." It took three rounds of refinement until the team nailed the launch version of the software.
The software then had to work with the hardware team to develop a Watch that would work well and wear comfortably on the wrist. The teams collaborated on the development of Watch's Taptic engine, which required them to turn notifications into physical sensations.
Apple tested many prototypes, each with a slightly different feel. “Some were too annoying,” Lynch says. “Some were too subtle; some felt like a bug on your wrist.” When they had the engine dialed in, they started experimenting with a Watch-specific synesthesia, translating specific digital experiences into taps and sounds. What does a tweet feel like? What about an important text?
It took more than a year for their work to reach a point that satisfied the hard-to-please Jony Ive. The hardware and software teams also had to develop novel ways of interacting with a small screen such as the digital crown, Force Touch and Watch specific font type San Francisco.
They also designed an entirely new typeface, called San Francisco, which is more readable on a small display than Apple’s standard Helvetica. The letters are more square, Dye says, “but with gentle, curved corners,” mimicking the Watch’s case. It’s wide and legible at small sizes, but when it gets larger the letters tighten up a little more. “We just find it more beautiful,” he adds.
If you have some free time, the entire Wired article is worth a read. There's a ton of insight into the time and effort that went into developing the Watch.