Why Apple’s new notifications may tip its plans for the wearables market


 Apple unveiled iOS 8 at its Worldwide Developers Conference last week in San Francisco. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Developers have had their hands on Apple's upcoming mobile operating system, iOS 8, for only a few days, but the  response has already been strong. Even at last week's Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple's announcement that it would overhaul the way notifications work on its phone prompted cheers.

For those who missed the announcements last week, Apple is opening up a lot of options for the app-makers outside of its own walls to customize the small alerts and notifications users see on their screens.

Because, really, what is the thing that anyone who makes wearables really, really has to crack? Notifications.

Think about it. Right now, notifications are largely a text-based, static affair.  With the limited screen real estate, you can't  run many programs, apart from simple ones, such as pedometers and the occasional calculator app.

To justify a new class of device, companies have to present some new, compelling reason to buy them. But any wearable device has to walk a fine, fine line between being useful and being too intrusive. That makes notification design incredibly important. People worry that wearing Google Glass, for example, will make them feel overwhelmed. So, much of the work from Glass developers has focused on how to provide just the right kind of information.

If Apple is planning a wearable device, it makes sense that it would allow other developers to create notifications that make its platform for those devices more seamless to use. With Apple's new notifications, you'll be able to do more than you currently can with the alert messages but not so much that it will feel overwhelming. For example, when you're alerted to a Facebook message on your lock screen, you'll be able to reply straight from that screen.

The timing also seems right. Apple hasn't said, outright, that it is making a wearable device. But it's certainly not doing anything to dampen the rumors. All hinting at great new products "in the pipeline" aside, Apple's also been putting a not-so-subtle focus on expanding its efforts in fitness and health applications -- the strongest current market for wearable devices --  both in its latest advertisements and by announcing the coming rollout of its Health app, which collects data from multiple health applications.

All those signs, plus recent reports from the Nikkei Asian Review and Re/Code that Apple is planning to unveil its first wearable in October, indicate that the tech giant is laying the groundwork to burst onto the wearables scene, and its new notifications may show the start of what that could look like.

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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