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All the news that's fit to squish -- on a smartwatch

Matt Hamblen | April 2, 2015
New York Times to put one-sentence stories on Apple Watch, possibly others.

Zebian also said that the paper's breaking news alerts, now hitting 15 million devices, will extend to Apple Watch. Editors on three continents are dedicated to providing content to mobile apps, including the Apple Watch, 24 hours a day.

As an indication of how involved the preparations for smartwatches have been, the Times ambitiously called its Watch entries a "new form of storytelling to help readers catch up in seconds on Apple Watch." There will be content on business, politics, science, tech and the arts, among other topics.

Portable journalism explained
"One-sentence stories are a first for us," Andrew Phelps, senior product manager for the Times, explained via email when asked about the plans by Computerworld. "We created them exclusively for Apple Watch, but they turn out to be a highly portable form of journalism. We will explore whether to adapt this approach for other platforms [such as Android Wear] in the future where it makes sense."

Phelps said that the content will come from NYTimes.com and mobile apps. "They are the same stories, but we've refashioned them as one-sentence stories to accommodate the device's small screen."

He said that a "cross-functional team" comprising journalists, engineers and a designer worked together to create the product, calling it "an unusual challenge, even for the most skillful headline writers."

To be sure, the Times will compete against other bite-sized news and feature headlines from other sources already appearing on watches from Samsung, Motorola and more. That means the Times will need to differentiate its content with intriguing photos, unusual fonts and in other ways. While it might be possible to show on a single Apple Watch display a new dinner entrée from another country, there won't probably be room for a full recipe, Burden speculated.

Explaining topics like nuclear disarmament negotiations could pose an even more difficult challenge.

"We're designing the app to provide a mix of the news of the moment, sad or happy, hard or soft," Phelps said. "That's not to say we won't also have a bit more fun, too. But the Times always will bring the most important stories front and center. Our challenge is making those stories meaningful on a small screen."

The challenge is indeed far-reaching. "This idea gets to social issues more than technology," said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates. "What is it that users will want? I would want to read the headlines and click through if a story is of interest, but others may not. That doesn't seem to bother many, [but] it is indicative of the often superficial understanding of many things in our society and their broader implications."

 

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