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Apple Watch - 2 Styles of Apps

First things first, Apple Watch Apps aren’t really apps, they’re more like extensions. There are two styles that an extension can be: Hierarchical or Page-Based. Read on to find out exactly what the hell they are.




  • If your app extension needs lots of information, go Hierarchical.
  • If your app extension is very visual, or contains data, go Page-based.
  • It’s not a light decision, so take time choosing the right one

A big note:

You cannot mix app styles. I repeat, you cannot mix app styles. You choose one or the other. Cool? Let’s move on.

What you're used to:

On an iPhone, an app can be anything. Don’t expect that on the Watch. You’re strapped on what you can do (applause for the pun), but let’s look at what those things are.

1. Hierarchical:

Without even knowing it, you’ll be pretty familiar with the Hierarchical app style. It’s super similar to standard iOS apps – but what are you actually familiar with?

  • List views
  • Multiple pages
  • Each page takes the user to another page
  • Back buttons
apple watch hierarchical

What will people expect from this style?

People are likely to spend more time in a hierarchical app, and will most likely be browsing or performing a specific action.

What's awesome about this style?

  • Ideal for information heavy extensions.
  • Allows multiple uses of an extension.
  • Gives users multiple journeys.
  • Clearly sectioned.

What sucks about this style?

  • There is no easy way to retrace steps. The deeper you get into an app, the more the views stack. To get back, the user will have to tap the back button for each step they’ve taken.
  • You may fall into a trap of putting **too much** information into an extension.

Examples of apps that could use this style:

2. Page-based:

This one you won’t be as familiar with, although, some iOS apps use something similar to this – I’m looking at you, Nike Fuel! Let’s look at what a page-based style actually is:

  • Multiple pages that you swipe between.
  • Each page shows quick and useful information.
  • Each pages data is not directly related to other pages.
page based layout apple watch

What will people expect from this style?

People will expect to get quick and glanceable information from a page-based app.

What's awesome about this style?

  • Encourages light touch interactions.
  • Ideal for data that can be visualised.
  • Quick bits of information that can be swiped between.
  • You have to be very concise with data, and therefore will have to design smart.

What sucks about this style?

  • You don’t have much space to design in.
  • You have to be very concise with data, and therefore will have to be selective.

Examples of apps that could use this style:

So, what now?

Choosing the style you’re going for is a big step, this will define everything about your app. The design, the flow and how the user uses it. Go forth and get deciding!

Published on January 21, 2015, last updated on April 9, 2019

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