The multi-device interactive app iBeads is one of the first Chinese apps for Apple Watch, which launched on the same day when Apple Watch launched China market. It combined the digital technology and traditional Buddhism beautifully and unexpectedly. iBeads was designed and developed in only one week and drew more than 1,000,000 pageviews on Chinese social media.
When Apple announced the new wearable product, Apple Watch in 2015, we were so excited as an app dev team. I thought it could be a whole new world for user experience. Apple planned to launch Apple Watch globally at 24, April 2015, and two weeks before that time, we decided to create a simple, fun and creative app for Apple Watch. If we could make it before 24, April, our app could be launched to App Store with Apple Watch on the same day, which was perfect timing. The challenge was: what kind of app we would like to make, and how could we make it in only a few days?
I was the product manager, UX / UI designer of the app. Also, I did things like research, prototype in the developing stage, and marketing after the app launched.
Started by a joke?
After Apple Watch released by Apple to the world, everyone talked about it from a different perspective. I read a joke from social media said: "in China, the biggest rival for Apple Watch was not other watches, but Buddha beads bracelets". Many Chinese males, especially middle-age wealthy men, like to wear a Buddha beads bracelet on their hand as an identity symbol. I laughed at it at first, then thought from a designer's perspective again. How might we make an app for Apple Watch which could simulate the function of Buddha beads? I shared the idea with the developer of my team, and we thought it could become a real thing.
Through most of the so-called middle-age wealthy men in China only wear expensive Buddha beads on their hand for showing off, there are practical ways of using Buddha beads to improve minds. You can count the beads you wearing, and by rapid doing it, you might enter a peaceful status which is similar to meditation. When I did my research and learned the rules and background knowledge of Buddha bead, the goal of the app was clear: we were going to make an app simulate countable beads on Apple Watch, and present the result of counting on iPhone in real time.
After we set up the goal of iBeads, the first challenge of the design was the style of beads. I collected many images of real Buddha beads and tried to use the real image as the material resource for the app, but after a few hours concept designing, I gave up this plan. My ideal design goal of iBeads was to create an elegant, clean and pure UI, which was not achievable by using real Buddha beads' images. I would like to create a style like Zen Garden, which should be created from scratch.
The real Buddha beads were defined by its materials, such as incense wood, black wood or rosewood. When I decided to create a clean and elegant design style of the UI, I also decided to think outside the box. I selected four types of material for the beads, which are wood, gold, jade and stone. These are the materials which don't use for Buddha beads often, but I think we can do it differently because we have different users from traditional Buddha beads customers. After created the beads image, I tested the moving effect with the developer and found sequence image is the best solution for dynamic effect.
The research I've done about Buddha beads
When I designed the background and the other UI element, I would like to make a "Zen Garden" style. So I chose pure grey and white as the primary colour, and simplify the element as possible as I can. I chose the font, which was similar to the Buddhist scriptures too.
The content of counting was not only just numbers, which would be very dull and predictable. In Buddhism, numbers have specific meanings. Seven is a unique number, which means a small cycle of things, and forty-nine means a big cycle of things. So I planned that there would be some interaction when the counting met specific numbers, such as seven, fourteen, twenty-one, and so on. There would be a chime sound and different sayings from Buddhist scriptures displayed on iPhone when user dial the beads on their Apple Watch. I carefully selected 108 Buddhist sayings from different Buddhist scriptures.
The sketches of user flow of iBeads
When we updated iBeads to App Store, we got Apple's invitation soon, which offered us an opportunity to go to Apple's office in Beijing to test iBeads on Apple Watch before it launched in Apple Stores. We happily accepted the invitation, went to Beijing, tested it and uploaded it successfully before 24, April 2015. At that day, when customers bought Apple Watch, they found iBeads was on App Store for them to download and install on their new watch.
The sequences of the beads movement
iBeads became the tech trending when Apple Watch launched, more than 10 tech media reported it in different ways, and quickly drew more than 1,000,000 pageviews on Chinese social media. We thought it was a triumphant achievement for an app developed in one week.
"iBeads is the most boring and useless app, but developed most interestingly and seriously."
It was a comment from Sina Tech about iBeads, and I think it was a very proper comment for this app.