Won Sun Parque
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Tripadvisor apple watch app

Apple invited us to partner with their watch team to develop an app for its product launch event. Apple selected our app as one of the 25 apps in their media package from over 100 companies invited, and CNN placed TripAdvisor Apple Watch app on the top of its 10 best travel Apple Watch apps list.

A TripAdvisor engineer and I joined Apple's Watch team to develop the TripAdvisor Apple Watch app.

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App Design concept


Nearby restaurants and attractions are what travelers search for the most on TripAdvisor mobile apps when traveling. Supporting a quick and easy view of these places on their wrists can be extremely helpful.

We built a Glance module to give travelers a quick view of best places nearby, a watch app to support Glance with the details of these nearby places and the ability to handoff to their phones for more information. We added many smart features in the app, such as suggesting the type of places based on time of day, auto range expansion, saved places syncing and priority, etc. 


How we did it

The Apple Watch project presented a few unique challenges:

  • Uncertainty of hardware spec

We were invited to Apple campus to work on the project and prior to arriving at Apple, we had no previous knowledge of any product spec of the Apple Watch. None was revealed to us until the first day of the project when we arrived at Apple and signed the NDA.

Many of our initial Apple Watch app ideas were not achievable once we learned more details about the preliminary Apple Watch developer kit at Apple. For example, one of the most popular features on TripAdvisor Offline City Guides app was "Point-Me-There". It launches an arrow on the screen that acts like a compass but instead of always pointing at the north or the south, it always points at the Point-of-Interest that the user chooses. It was great because a user could now get some navigation help even when he/she was offline. We wanted to add that to our watch app because we believed that Apple Watch is a great platform for short interactions like this when users navigate their ways through an unfamiliar area without an Internet connection. However, once we learned that the compass access was not available to us on the Apple Watch, we had to let go of this app concept. 

Our Solutions: We went back to the drawing board and started from user goals instead of starting from the platform and feature list. We put our focus on addressing users' need of finding best nearby places to go and developed our final TripAdvisor Apple Watch app.

  • Limited time and resources constraint

We had five 12-hour days to develop a working prototype. We were brought to a storage room first to leave our bags, laptops and phones, and then to a windowless room to work on our app. Each of us had access to an iMac that had no Internet connection, and my developer and I had a shared iPhone and an Apple Watch prototype. Any restroom break needed to be escorted to and from the restroom facility. We were allowed to bring external storage to copy design assets, codebase, and data to our iMac under supervision. On the afternoon of the third day, we were asked to give a presentation of our app idea, and then on the final day afternoon, we were asked to give a demo of a working Apple Watch app.

3 months later, we were asked to go back to Apple again for another week to finalize the Apple Watch app. By the end of that week, we needed to have the app polished, packaged and ready for submission. This time around, since Apple Watch developer kit had been made available to the public previously, the security was not as strict and we could carry our bags into the room (however, they needed to be left at the back of the room, not by our desks), and we could bring our own MacBooks into the room. We had Internet connection as well.

Our solutions: For the first round, on the first day, I focused on design concepts while my developer focused on getting himself familiarized with Apple Watch developer kit. We were sitting next to each other and had frequent conversation back and forth about design concepts and their feasibility. On the 2nd day, I started translating our sketches to wireframes and mockups while my developer cleaned up our phone app codebase and database. We also tested a few design UI details to see if they worked on the Apple Watch. By noon on the third day, we had wireframes and mockups ready for the presentation. On the fourth day, my developer started coding as I continued finishing up the design and prepping the assets. We continued testing and refining the app in the morning on the fifth day and had a working Apple Watch app ready for the demo in the afternoon.

The second round, to take advantages of the updated Apple Watch developer kit, we made some improvements to the app and did some UX adjustment. We continued to refine the app and added some intelligence and more robust error handling, which we didn't have enough time for during the first round.

The Apple Watch app project was a great design experience. Apple UX designers and Watch developers were by our sides the entire time and ready to offer assistance. It was great to be able to step out of our office and go to Apple to focus on one single project for an entire week without any distraction. While there were some challenges, none were unresolvable and we came away with a great TripAdvisor Apple Watch app.