How to write for smartwatches

Digital copywriters have already reprogrammed their brains to write for mobile. Now we have to contend with the smartwatch. See our tips for writing for this wearable device

 How to write for smartwatches

What is a smartwatch?

The smartwatch puts your smartphone on your wrist – syncing with your phone over Bluetooth. It’s the most common example of wearable tech.

Smartwatches can:

  • display text messages sent to your phone
  • show your notifications from Facebook and Twitter
  • remind you of your next appointment
  • direct you to your next appointment using your phone’s GPS
  • help you track your health and fitness
  • let you research holidays and stay abreast of the latest news and sport

The rise of wearables

The smartwatch isn’t the only wearable device on the block. Fitness bands and trackers, smart glasses like Google Glass and other things fall under the category.

Analyst IDC says shipments of wearable devices will rise from 19.6 to 45.7 million by the end of 2015.

The recently launched Apple Watch is the best-known wearable device. Analysts predict it could play a key role in making wearables mainstream, rather than a niche product for early adopters.

Where does copywriting come in?

A smartwatch is always with you, always on. It’s a potentially great way of staying in touch with customers.

There’s research that suggests many brands will be building an app for the Apple Watch this year.

Current apps for the Apple Watch include CNN, TripAdvisor and The Economist. These are places you’d normally find long-form content. But with the smartwatch, long copy presents a problem.

How will it change copywriting?

You’ll have less room to get your message across – much less room, in fact. Smartphones are getting bigger, whereas smartwatches have to be small enough to sit on your wrist. While the Apple iPhone 6 boasts a 4.7-inch screen, the Apple Watch screen is either 1.4 or 1.7 inches.

The typical smartwatch screen is limited to around 15 characters across and 3 lines down. What happens if you try to put a regular headline into that space?

How this headline would look on a smartwatch:

6 great movie ta
glines and what
copywriters can

This is what you would see on the screen without scrolling. The rest would be revealed as you flicked through the screens.

How to write smartwatch-friendly copy

In short, everything you write for a smartwatch needs to be glanceable. There’s no room for confusion – your reader must be able to get the gist of what you’re saying in seconds.

Here are 6 tips for writing smartwatch-friendly copy:

1.    Never use a long word when a short one will do
This adage is from George Orwell’s 6 rules for writing in Politics and the English Language (1945). But it’s just as relevant today – particularly for smartwatch copy. With roughly 15 characters per line, opt for short words that are easy to read and understand and less likely to split across 2 lines.

2.    Put the most important words first
Front-loading is key to all copywriting. But it’s absolutely essential to writing for smartwatch screens. Fail to do it when writing for wearables and that important message could be lost deep below the fold.

3.    Strip your copy to its bare bones
Again we reference Orwell: ‘If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out’. Use nouns and verbs and remove unnecessary adjectives. Only try to say 1 thing – and get to the very essence of that thing. Let’s look at how CNN handles content on its Apple Watch app.

This major news story will run to pages and pages online. But CNN knows the Apple Watch isn’t the place to tell that story. Instead it condenses the story into a breaking news headline. Each word here earns its place – there’s no fat to trim. It tells you the key information:

  • bitter cold has hit the eastern half of the US
  • temperatures are 25-45 degrees below normal

4.    Think about where they go next
A smartwatch is with someone all of the time, making them to some extent a captive audience. It makes smartwatches a great way of letting people know you have something interesting on your main site or tablet app.

There’s only so much a person can do on a 1.7-inch screen though. Make sure your copy elicits a response; that it acts as a stage in a user journey towards something fully formed.

The CNN app does a great job of this. They cut off a news story’s main headline, and let people continue reading the story on their smartphone or tablet by tapping the watch.

5.    Give people only what they want
If you’re only communicating 1 message, how do you speak to your different customers or users? Develop an app which lets people customise the content they see.

For example, the CNN app lets you choose which news categories will pop up on your smartwatch, including health, entertainment and politics.

6.    Be clever with punctuation
Use punctuation instead of words, wherever you can.  This can save you precious screen space for what you’re actually trying to say.

Semicolon: this can be used to join 2 closely related sentences. It allows you to do away with longer conjunctions such as ‘because’, ‘while’, and ‘although’. 

For example: Writing for wearables is hard; be concise