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How not to implement activity encouragement

December 24, 2017

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I split my time between the iOS and Android ecosystems to keep current on both. That includes watches: I wear an Apple Watch (Nike+ series 2) when carrying my iPhone, and a Gear S3 when carrying my Note. When running I prefer to wear my Apple watch: it’s lighter, and I don’t mind sweating over it or its band (although I prefer the Gear S3 when I want to automatically track my activity, rather than manually).

In the latest version of watchOS, Apple added activity encouragements. At the start of the day, it’ll encourage you to keep closing your rings, or, if you’ve fallen behind your goals for a day or two, raise your game a bit. Normally I don’t mind, although the encouragements have zero impact on my actual activity (most of my exercise comes from running and biking to/from work).

What does drive me crazy, however, is when the watch tells me to raise my game because I had no activity yesterday and I wasn’t wearing the watch. There’s a big difference between activity data showing no activity and a total lack of activity data. And yet the watchOS developers were too lazy (too rushed? Too indifferent?) to bother to distinguish between the two. Regardless of the reason, it turns what’s a fairly harmless feature (encouraging you to keep fit) into something that just makes the watch look dumb. The watch really has no idea what I did on a day with no activity data; I could have run a marathon for all it knows. Encouraging me to be more active when it has no idea what I did just makes it (and Apple) look dumb.

So do yourself a favor: if you’re building an app that encourages users to engage in some activity, make sure you differentiate between an absence of that activity and an absence of data about that activity. There’s a crucial difference.

From → Design, Software

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