Credit: Image by janitors on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

The launch of the Apple Watch today and its impressive presale figures mark the smartwatch's move from a wearable device for technology enthusiasts into the mass market.

As the number of smartwatch users is set to increase, there is a new screen which news outlets could use to reach their readers or viewers.

But it is important to understand smartwatches are more than just a smaller screen. The way people are likely to use them will be different, and likely not centred around news – the smart wristband trend originated in the fitness industry after all.

In Denmark, the Stibo Accelerator is looking at the opportunities smartwatches could bring for news publishers, in partnership with Aarhus University.

Stibo Accelerator ran a workshop at Digital Media Europe this week outlining some of the key considerations for publishers who are thinking about a presence on smartwatches, and here are three main issues to keep in mind:

You will disturb

"You're always on, this is a wearable technology, you have it on your wrist. When you get push notifications it vibrates in different forms and different patterns," said Jonas Skytte, researcher on Stibo's wearables project.

"You will get in some way disturbed by the notifications you get."

WAN-IFRA also published a report this week looking at wearables and their implications for news. As part of the report, Jeff Jarvis, director of the Tow Knight Center of Entrepreneurial Journalism at the City University of New York, writes that relevance "should reign with news on smartwatches".

"Every morning, my watch buzzes with the most useless imaginable alert: The New York Times tells me that it has 20-some new stories. No, really? If the day comes when The New York Times does *not* have new stories, then *that* would be news that's worthy of an alert."

Journalism at a glance

Most smartwatches available are paired with the users' smartphone, and existing news apps on Android for example can be extended to support Android Wear notifications.

Skytte explained that news publishers shouldn't necessarily try to "lure readers" to a longer version of the story on a different device – although the possibility to do that is there.

The push notification on the smartwatch "should be a title explaining the entire story in very short terms," he said.

Users would then have the option to swipe and read the story, or dismiss the notification if it's not of interest.

Skytte also pointed out the importance of images that display alongside notifications, as they could play a crucial role in communicating news to a user.

"That [image] really is important for how the user also understands the concepts and makes sense of the content as well," he said.

It's really personal

Tom Quast, developer and co-founder of Creative Vikings, explored the possibilities of wearables as a platform for news during his masters' degree at Aarhus University.

He outlined his key findings at the workshop, explaining the smartwatch could be a convenient platform for reading news as it facilitates "microinteractions" – so the time required before a headline can be read is significantly shorter on a watch than with other mobile devices.

To read a push notification on your phone for example, you have to first take it out of your pocket and then unlock it. With a smartwatch all you need to do is look at your wrist.

But a more intriguing proposition from smartwatches is the amount of contextual information they offer about their user. They do, after all, still carry fitness apps and have the ability to monitor their users' heartbeats.

This makes it possible for app developers to get more detailed data and tailor content to the users' activities.

For example, if a person is running, would they want to be disturbed by an alert?

"Or the other way around," explained Quast. "If we see that [the heartbeat is] low the person is probably sleeping, so sending a notification out to this person right now is probably not the best idea."

For publishers wondering what their apps should look like on smartwatches or if they should have one in the first place, it is worth remembering Jarvis's conclusion in the WAN-IFRA report:

"The bottom line: Don't rebuild news once again around yet another platform. Instead rebuild news around people – individuals and communities with their distinct interests and needs – and that will help you adapt to any platform."

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