Using a Grocery List on the Apple Watch

Not every app should support the watch, but when the Apple Watch was announced, the one use case that immediately seemed obvious to me was quick access to a grocery list.

I built this feature for MealPlan, putting a good amount of work into getting it to stay in sync with the main iPhone app, which also syncs with the cloud.  This means you can plan your weekly meals on the iPad, and then have the grocery list automatically generated and on your watch when you’re in the store.

April 24th, the watch launched, and customers were able to try this for the first time. And so was I.

I didn’t have a watch pre-launch, and I didn’t get invited to any of the WatchKit labs.  Like most other developers, I was flying blind when it came to understanding the nuance of what would make an app work well on the watch.

But I did get my watch on April 24th, and discovered with some disappointment that my app had some technical difficulties on the physical device. You had to have the iPhone app open or the watch app wouldn’t be able to retrieve your grocery list. I quickly fixed this, and to their credit, Apple approved the update within 24 hours (no expedited request required).

So now that I had my app technically working on the watch, how was the experience of using it?

My first thought was “wow, those tap targets are small”.  In retrospect, after a few day of using the watch, I realize that tap targets on a watch are just naturally smaller. There’s no avoiding that because of the lack of screen real estate, but I find it makes many things on the watch difficult to use while you’re moving around.

You can pull out your iPhone, quickly unlock it and tap on things with one hand, and because the digit you’re using to tap things is on the same body appendage as the phone itself, there’s not much difficulty hitting the targets.

The watch, however, is on one arm, and you’re tapping on it using a finger at the end of your other arm.  This takes a fair bit more coordination, and I find it much more difficult to do without either stopping to aim, or resting my right hand on my left hand, for the extra stability required to tap accurately.

Have you ever shopped at Costco? It’s a zoo. Stopping mid-aisle to interact with your watch will annoy other shoppers, but I found it impossible to work with the watch app while moving around in a busy store. I found myself pulling the buggy over next to the diapers where I could spend a few seconds crossing things off my grocery list.

It takes more focus to work with a shopping list on the watch, than it does on your phone.

What I’ve learned from this is that while the watch is a convenient way to display information, it’s not a great way to interact with information, especially while on the move. I still think having the grocery list on the watch is more convenient than having to pull out your phone to see what’s next, but managing the grocery list - tapping things off as you pick them up - may remain something that is best done on the phone.