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Airbnb debuts on smartwatches with Apple Watch app

So you can ask for the Wi-Fi password — from your wrist

Airbnb

Airbnb thinks it deserves a place on your wrist. Today, the home rental service launched its first smartwatch application, exclusively for the Apple Watch, with features for both guests and renters. The hope is that as Airbnb becomes a more prominent hotel alternative, its users feel that communicating on the app is as functional and available as texting or using chat apps like Facebook Messenger.

To that end, the Aribnb smartwatch app will let hosts receive new booking requests that display a name and a photo alongside a message from the prospective renter. The ability to accept or reject a booking can be done straight from your wrist, as can messaging between hosts and guests, which will be handled in similar ways to Airbnb's smartphone and tablet apps.

Airbnb on my... wrist? Yes, really

Airbnb's smartwatch app will also let you write custom message replies. When a message through SMS or another chat app pops up on the Apple Watch screen, users typically have the option to respond with canned replies written by Apple or a voice message you can dictate on the spot. Apple lets you change those responses for texting, and Airbnb has added the ability. The feature should be important for hosts who are routinely asked the same questions, like what the Wi-Fi password is or whether you should panic and flee the premises if you're locked out.

Of course, notifications for notifications' sake are the bane of the smartwatch's existence. There's no point in carrying around another device, especially one strapped to your body, if it's going to over-complicate everyday interactions. To address that, Airbnb had to do a little experimentation.

airbnb apple watch gif1

"For the watch, we didn’t have any kind of gut or intuition about what that experience should be," said Keenan Cummings, head of what Airbnb calls experience architecture — in other words the business of figuring out the optimal way to use a piece of software.

Cummings said the team devised a scavenger hunt around San Francisco with the goal of figuring out what could and what should be incorporated into a smartwatch app. Members of Airbnb were scattered about to think of and test out real-world scenarios in which guests and hosts may find the wrist a more convenient place to be pinged. The design and engineering teams then decided that communication should be the primary engine within the smartwatch version of the app to help hosts become more responsive and make guests feel more at ease.

For Android users, Airbnb doesn't have any plans at the moment to release the app on competing platforms, even with Google's Android Wear watches now working with the iPhone. "We will want to build experiences for platforms that we believe our hosts and guests will use," a spokesperson said when asked about expanding to competing software like Android Wear.

"I liked having the constraints."

With Apple's upcoming Watch software overhaul, called WatchOS 2, due out this fall, Airbnb's design and engineering teams will need to be conscious of adding too many functions for a device meant to keep our head in the world around us. The company plans to launch its app for the new software when it's released some time this fall, but will plan on updating it as it seems necessary.

"I am excited for the new capabilities [of WatchOS 2], but at the same time I liked having the constraints," Cummings said. "We want to avoid doing the things that are tempting because the capabilities are there." That logic goes for much of what passes as smartwatch innovations these days. For Airbnb, it will need to be sure it's not adding to the already stressful experience of being in a new place and relying on a complete stranger for a place to sleep at night.