SPG App for Apple Watch

Client: Starwood Hotels & Resorts
Role: Creative Direction / App Design / UI Design

The SPG app for Apple Watch provided the industry-first mobile check-in functionality and ability to unlock a guest’s hotel door, explore the property, your SPG account, and more right from their wrist at over 150 W, Aloft, and Element hotels worldwide.

The SPG app for Apple Watch creates an unparalleled experience at our 1,200+ hotels by providing the important information guests need right when they need it like the address of the hotel in the local language, transportation options, directions, and SPG account updates.  It will even remind them of the most commonly forgotten thing when traveling – their room number.

Featured by Apple in:
• 3 keynotes
• 3 TV commercials
• Apple.com and the iTunes App Store
• Apple Watch Human Interface Guidelines
• Best Apple Watch Apps

Key learnings from this project

Prototype early and often

We started designing this app with a rubber band and a sugar packet (ask me about the story). We kept prototyping through the entire project, making all the difference in designing and refining the experience.

Invest in teamwork and trust

This was only possible in this timeframe and under this pressure because of the teamwork and trust we had built between the design, engineering, and product teams that let us take risks and push each other.

Design, test and evolve

We had to continually learn, evolve, and pivot on every part of this project as we learned new information, the hardware evolved, and learned what was possible.


Curated content when you need it

Unlike other mobile apps for smartphones and tablets, wearable experiences need to be designed to distill and curate information for the user who is focused on using the form factor to help them accomplish something in the moment. The SPG App for Apple Watch continues the pioneering concept of state-aware design to give guests the information and functionality they need before, during, and after they stay at a Starwood hotel through glances, notifications, and the Watch app.


It started with a rubber band and a sugar packet

For an app that got so much attention, the design process could not have started in a simpler way. The team and I had been asked to be one of the first groups to start designing an app for what would become the Apple Watch months before it was even announced. This meant that when we started the process were not able to see or use the hardware. We were designing the experience for which presented obvious challenges. How do you create an experience for something you can’t see or use? We did it by looking around the room we were working on to find a way to build a prototype that would let us understand what the experience will be like. It was crude, but our first prototype was created by walking around for the first two weeks with a sugar packet that had been sized to what we had been told would be the size of the watch rubber-banded to my wrist.


1 Glance with 1,204 designs

Glances were created to simple, single-screen looks at the most important information from your Watch app. We wanted the Glance to also use our state-aware user experience design so the content of the glance will change depending on if you on or off the property. All of the on-property glances are branded and use photography that is unique to each property to make them feel as relevant and personalized as possible.

If you are not on one of our properties then the glance will display all of the most important information about your SPG account including your Starpoint balance and member tier. If you are on property but it is not a property that has keyless technology then the glance will display a shortcut to see your room number. If you are on a property that does have SPG Keyless technology then the glance serves as a shortcut to be able to unlock your door from Apple Watch.


What you need before you need it

When a guest first arrives in a city the SPG App for Apple Watch will show them a notification with the address of the hotel in the local language to make it as easy as possible to get to the property.

When the guest arrives at the hotel for the first time the SPG App for Apple Watch will show them a notification with their check-in date, check-out date, and confirmation number so they have all the information they need to check into the hotel.

When they arrive at the property every time after their initial arrival they will receive a notification welcoming them back to the hotel and displaying action buttons that will show them their room number or give them the ability to unlock their hotel door.


We’ll get the door

SPG Keyless represents a groundbreaking turning point in the traditional hotel experience by fundamentally redefining the way guests arrive and check in to their rooms. SPG Keyless – powered by the SPG app – enables guests to bypass the front desk, avoid waiting in line, and ultimately unlock their stay with a simple tap of their smartphone. This innovation frees up hotel associates’ time, allowing them to engage with guests and transform the first interaction from transactional to personal. It’s high-tech supporting high-touch unlike ever before. Starwood tapped the world’s largest lock manufacturer, Assa Abloy, to create an all-new, Bluetooth-enabled lock as well as keyless software, which are designed to securely recognize and connect with a guest’s mobile device. Learn more about SPG Keyless here.


Opening the door with SPG for Apple Watch and a little misdirection

Getting SPG Keyless to work on Apple Watch was a complicated process because we had to find a way to get existing functionality to work in a new way and on a new form factor that had not even launched yet. After a lot of trial and error, we made it work by taking a simple approach that most people could not figure out because it was so obvious.

Using SPG keyless from the smartphone app was a process where you would open the app, tap unlock the door, and then hold the phone up to the sensor on the door to unlock it. The door sensor would normally be in sleep mode to preserve its battery life, but when the phone’s metal would disrupt the sensor field, the lock would wake up and start scanning for a key. The key would then be sent from the phone to lock through Bluetooth to unlock the door.

The process for SPG Keyless on Apple Watch was similar but different in a few key ways. Most people assumed that we used the Bluetooth functionality in Apple Watch to send the key, but no one could access the Bluetooth in the Apple Watch, and we were no exception. Like with the phone, we used the metal in the watch to wake up the door sensor. The difference was when a guest would tap ‘unlock door’ on the SPG Apple Watch app, we would trigger the key to still be sent from the phone but with a much stronger Bluetooth signal than if the key had been triggered from the phone. This way, it made it look like the entire process of unlocking the door happened from the Apple Watch as the guest would open the app, tap ‘unlock door’ hold the Apple Watch up to the sensor and then see the door sensor turn green as it appeared to unlock the door.

A small app with big customization

The home screen of the SPG App for Apple Watch has four different states based on where the user is in their stay cycle with SPG. The first state is simply a display that tells the guest they must log in to their SPG account to use the app on Apple Watch. This was done because we found that generic interactions on the property were not compelling and interactions, like searching for a hotel or booking a room, were too cumbersome to make sense of a device like this. Once the user is logged in but if they have no upcoming stays the home screen will display messaging customized to their SPG tea and show them their current SPG account information. If the user has upcoming stays then the home screen will display those stays which they can then use as a jumping-off point to the property pages where they can find out more about the hotels. When the user is staying at Starwood property then the home screen will customize itself with shortcuts that will allow the user to easily get their room number, unlock their door, and access all information they need for the hotel.


Your room key, local guide, and more

The SPG App for Apple Watch really comes to life when the guest arrives at one of Starwood’s 1,200+ properties around the world. Every part of the app from glances, notifications, the home screen, and property pages will all transform to help curate and present the information the guest needs when they need it. The home screen provides shortcuts to the most used functions while the property pages have a host of important information the guest will need from how to contact the hotel to how much a taxi should cost to get you from the airport to the hotel.


Featured on Apple.com, the iTunes App Store, in marketing, and more

The SPG App for Apple Watch was one of only 6 hero apps to be prominently featured on Apple.com where it had its own stand-alone module in the Apple Watch section of the site and was also part of the shopping process where customers could see what apps would look like on the watch they were thinking of purchasing. Once the Watch had launched the app was featured multiple places in the iTunes App Store including the main promo placement, topping the list of recommended apps in the Travel section and on the homepage of the App Store. The app was also featured in marketing communications including emails to new owners here it was highlighted in three places as one of the best apps to get for your new Apple Watch.

Covered by over 100 press outlets

The SPG app for Apple Watch has been featured 250 press pieces across top-tier national, tech, travel, and broadcast press. Notable coverage included The New York Times (print and online), USA Today, Mashable, AdWeek, CNN, CNBC, The Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, TODAY.com, Re/Code and Financial Times, among many others. And global coverage from the UK (Daily Mail, The Telegraph, The Scotsman) to China (China Daily, China.com, CCTV.com), among others.

Featured in Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines

The design work for the SPG App for Apple Watch was also included in Apple’s Watch Human Interface Guidelines which are the definitive guidelines for designing for the platform.