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Wearable Tech

Airbnb's Apple Watch app connects hosts and guests at the wrist

The home-rental marketplace unveils a wearable app focused on messaging.

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Airbnb releases an Apple Watch app that's focused on messaging.

Airbnb

When home and apartment-rental service Airbnb set out to design its new Apple Watch app, it didn't want to mimic its iPhone app -- it wanted to do something different.

The company's engineers tried creating user wish lists. They tested listings browsing too. Finally, the team decided to keep it simple and center on messaging.

"The focus of the watch is about communication between the guest and host," said Keenan Cummings, who heads Airbnb's apps design team. "It streamlines the workflow and allows them to be really responsive."

Airbnb spent so much time thinking about its Apple Watch app because it saw mixed reviews of other apps since the wearable device debuted in April. The estimated more than 4 million Apple Watch owners have criticized some apps for being clunky, hard to use and slow. Cummings said Airbnb didn't want to repeat those mistakes.

While some Apple Watch apps have been panned for being overly complicated, others have gotten high marks for being simple, such as the ride-hailing app from Uber. Like Airbnb, Uber didn't try to re-create every aspect of its service on the watch -- instead it merely offered a button that users can press to hail a ride from wherever they are.

By focusing on messaging for its watch app, Airbnb believes it can simplify the process of how users interact with one another. When setting up home-stays, Airbnb requires guests and hosts to be in contact about dates, house rules and other logistics. If users can communicate directly through a watch, Airbnb says the back-and-forth could be more efficient.

For example, when a guest sends a message to a host wearing the watch, the device will buzz. The host can then respond directly from the watch using a pre-written response or through voice dictation.

"This watch app allows hosts to be better hosts," said Scott Raymond, Airbnb's mobile engineering manager. "This means the guest and host are connected at the wrist."

While the subset of people who will use the app will likely be small, at least for now, Cummings said he sees Airbnb's work on the app as a learning opportunity for wearable devices in general. Airbnb currently doesn't have an app for an Android wearable, but it could in the future.

The Airbnb app will be compatible with both Apple's existing iOS 8 software and its upcoming iOS 9 software.