SPG App for Apple Watch

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

The SPG app for Apple Watch provides the industry-first mobile check-in functionality and the 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 hotel’s address 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


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 staying 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. We could not see or use the hardware when we started the process. We were designing the experience, 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 to let us understand what the experience would be like. It was crude, but our first prototype was created by walking around for the first two weeks with a sugar packet 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

We wanted the Glance to use our state-aware user experience design, so the content will change depending on if you are on or off the property. All the on-property glances are branded and use photography unique to each property to make them feel as relevant and personalized as possible.

If you are not on one of our properties, the Glance will display all essential information about your SPG account, including your Starpoint balance and member tier. If you are on a property that does have SPG Keyless technology, then the Glance serves as a shortcut to unlock your door from Apple Watch.


What you need before you need it

The app 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.

The app will notify them 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 how 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 smartphone tap. 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 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 typically be in sleep mode to preserve 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 the phone, we used the metal in the watch to wake up the door sensor. 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 the 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, the home screen will display those stays, which they can then use as a jumping-off point to the property pages to find out more about the hotels. For example, when the user stays at Starwood property, the home screen will customize itself with shortcuts that allow the user to quickly 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 comes to life when the guest arrives at one of Starwood’s 1,200+ properties worldwide. 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. For example, 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 in multiple places in the iTunes App Store, including the primary 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. It was highlighted in three places as one of the best apps 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.