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Some inital thoughts about the Apple Watch and Drupal

An article from ComputerMinds - Building with Drupal in the UK since 2005.
12th May 2015

Chris Didcote

Senior Consultant

In recent months there has been much hype over the newest addition to Apple’s product portfolio: the Apple Watch. It’s undoubtedly an impressive looking piece of kit and Apple have been quick to show off its many features in an attempt to get developers thinking up weird and wonderful applications to make the most out of this whole new approach to how users both consume and interact with their content. But what does the Apple Watch mean to us as web developers? How do we leverage Content Management Systems like Drupal to make use of this recent trend towards wearable tech?

The first thing that is obvious is that the screen real estate on offer isn’t large enough for even the most slim line version of a full website to be displayed. So everything we’ve learnt about responsive design all of a sudden isn’t really relevant – it’s just simply not going to be possible to achieve an Apple Watch ‘version’ of a website and if we’re being honest if this was our goal we’ve fundamentally missed the whole point of the device. To understand how and what we should be doing to get the most out of not just the Apple Watch but smart watches in general we really need to go back to first principles and focus on content.

Apple describes the Apple Watch as an ‘immediate communication device’ that ‘brings an entirely new way to receive information at a glance’. This is the crux of the proposition that is set before us; the Apple Watch is a device to receive content and not to find it. So in many ways we can put the whole idea of fancy interfaces to one side for now, what we really need to be concerned with is how we decide what content to show users, in what form and at what time. In actual fact this isn’t as revolutionary as it first sounds, we’ve actually been doing it for a while now on our smartphones, we’ve all got used to push notifications from things like Facebook keeping us up-to-date with who likes or comments on what without the need for us to do anything to receive this information. The Apple Watch is just the next logical step.

The technical infrastructure to facilitate push notifications is now very established and hooking this into an existing website is a pretty routine thing to be doing. The challenge comes in deciding what content to push to users and when. This is something that will no doubt need quite a lot of thought, and I suppose in an ideal world should be heavily customisable by the user as everyone is different. Some people might want to get notifications every few minutes about things that are only of tangential interest to them, but for others, and probably the vast majority of users, this intrusive approach to pushing content will be annoying at best and do little to endear people to your content.

To help ensure relevance of what we push to our users we have to remember we have a wealth of data at our disposal to be able to intelligently serve up content. For example the Apple Watch links to the location services in the iPhone allowing us to potentially show relevant local content only when it is needed, a nice example of this might be something like traffic updates or even special offers in a shop or restaurant triggered by nothing more than where you are: no more browsing or searching for content is needed. So we don’t have to simply poke around in the dark hoping we send relevant content to our users; we can actually be really clever about deciding who we show what and when we show it.

The best thing about all of this is that really it’s not going to take that much technical glue to get it working. CMSs like Drupal are, as the acronym would suggest, obviously all about Content Management, so in many cases we already have the content side of things covered. What we as web developers have to do is figure out what we push to users and when, to act as a digital carrot to our sites. In many cases this isn’t going to be an exact science so we should strive to put the user in control; if we get the balance right we can use devices like the Apple Watch to open our content up to a whole new means of consumption. Smart watches aren’t meant to be standalone devices; instead they act as a beacon to more fully fledged content that is ready to be read on the phones in a user’s pocket. They compliment everything we have been doing in recent years to get traditionally desktop content displaying sensibly on a mobile screen by directing our users to things that are going to be of interest to them. They are the next step towards a web where content finds our users and not the other way around, and CMSs like Drupal are actually ideally suited to this new approach, being as they are primarily concerned with content delivery.

The next few years will no doubt see a whole range of ways developers start to tackle this new approach head on, but one thing's for sure: the way we find and consume our content is changing. The challenge is going to be one of keeping things relevant to our users and striking that all important balance between usefulness and annoyance.