Shazam's Apple Watch strategy: Make it dead simple

Apple Watch
Stefanie Loos | Reuters

For Shazam Chief Product Officer Daniel Danker, waiting for Apple's vice president of technology to showcase his company's app for the upcoming smartwatch was among the scariest moments of his life. (Tweet This)

Hundreds of fanatics and bloggers were in attendance for the Apple Watch launch on March 9, and any glitch in the music discovery app would be instantly magnified on Twitter, where "Apple Watch" was trending all day.

"Watching the live demo on stage is simultaneously terrifying and incredibly rewarding," said Danker, who along with two of Shazam's iOS app developers spent two months building the service. "It was a moment of total relief and pride after that."

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Nerves are the price of admission for being one of Apple's chosen few, especially as the world's most valuable company enters its first new product category in the Tim Cook era. Perfection, speed and secrecy are also part of the package (Shazam isn't allowed to release a high-resolution image of the app until the phone hits stores on Friday).

Of course, as Apple's Kevin Lynch strolled up on stage, it was all worth it. No other company gives developers this kind of exposure. And nobody else can sell a million units under pre-order on day one, despite the gadget being priced higher than competitive products and with so few people having tested it.

Danker knew early on, even before getting his hands on an Apple Watch, that Shazam could be a very useful service. The app has been installed almost 600 million times and is among the 10 most popular music apps on iPhones and Androids.

The `Shazam Effect'

The 'Shazam Effect'
The 'Shazam Effect'   

Music fans use Shazam to get artist information, song names and lyrics on whatever it is they're listening to, whether in a car, restaurant or shopping mall, with the push of a button. The London-based company more recently added TV shows to the mix.

A function called Auto Shazam, introduced in late 2013, allows users to keep the app perpetually open so that it's always listening and collecting data as new songs and shows pop up.

In developing for the watch, there were some surprises along the way. For example, with Auto Shazam on the watch, which is activated by a hard press on the screen, the team originally thought it would send physical notifications anytime a new song was recognized. Instead, it opted to have updates pop up on the screen and just let users catch them with a glance at their wrist.

"It would be really annoying if every 3½ minutes your wrist would light up and shake," Danker said. "It wasn't clear how that was going to feel until we used it on the device."

Critical to the app's success will be its simplicity in the eyes of consumers. The Apple Watch is such a new gadget, and every app will offer an unfamiliar experience that requires some education, so it's a good bet that any service that's difficult to use won't get much traction.

Danker's team started off complicated and kept peeling away features so that in the end consumers have one button to push to start the Shazam process and can swipe up to see past activity.

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Danker says the company has a "fairly ambitious roadmap of ideas" regarding Shazam's direction, including taking advantage of sensor data when Apple eventually makes it available to developers. Mostly, the company will take its cues from users to see where it should go next, as consumers will—no doubt—loudly voice their opinions.

"Starting on the 24th, we will be glued to those forums to see how people react and what they want," Danker said.