What Apple WatchKit brings to the party for developers

Picture credit: iStockPhoto

Last week, Apple released WatchKit to developers. Over the next few months, ahead of the launch of Apple Watch, developers now have the opportunity to take their existing apps and add the necessary extensions to interact with Apple Watch. This point is really key here, Apple isn’t telling developers they have to build new apps, merely take the successful apps they already have and extend them.

As alluded to when Apple introduced the watch, much of the leg work of running apps will be handled by a paired iPhone. The two devices will work in tandem, like a perfect duo, to execute and perform tasks. Any input done on the watch will be sent, over the air, to the phone where the processing will be done.

This isn’t to say that the Watch can’t work by itself, if say the wearer goes for a run without their phone, it can log the workout but not the route. What it does mean, however, is that the Watch won’t be able to receive any data from apps such as messages without its host phone present. This will change for some apps, later into the Watch’s lifespan, with Apple providing native support for apps later in 2015.

Opportunities for developers

Though there are new techniques to learn for developing for Apple Watch, with regard to how information is presented and how users engage with their apps, developers don’t have to start again from scratch. They can take WatchKit now and start integrating it with their existing apps in preparation for the launch, sometime in Spring.

Apple has provided developers with plenty of time to get to grips with this new framework and test the best way to interact with Apple Watch to enhance their apps. There are a number of ways developers can let users interact with the Watch, including:

App: Users can launch the watch app from the Watch home screen - this will allow users to interact with the app via different input methods. This will either be represented as a card, with image at the top and text below, or in a table view. If we take an example like CityMapper, using the app could allow the user to select options about searching for favourite destinations.

Glance: This is an abbreviated form of the app with very simple UI. As the name suggests, it’s intended to be about glancing at information without having to do much input. For CityMapper, this could be based on your route information.

Interactive notifications: Users will be familiar with this from their phones, where users have the ability to respond to incoming alerts or action requests from apps. Again, with an app like CityMapper this might be for taking an alternative route, should delays occur (this isn’t currently part of the app so is totally hypothetical).

When it comes to user inputs, users can, use the digital crown to scroll or press, swipe up, down and across on the screen, do a short or long touch, swipe from the edge of the screen and use Siri. For such a small device, this may sound like a lot of possible user inputs, but each of them provides a specific way to interact with the Watch.

Swiping in an app will be used to move up, down or across (depending on the user interface the developer chooses to use). The crown can also be used for this, reducing the need to touch and cover the screen. Swiping from the edge, left or right, can be used to go forwards or backwards in a page - as with Safari on the iPhone and iPad. Swiping up from the bottom edge opens glance view.

Developers can’t create custom inputs for apps, meaning that once a user has got to grips with the inputs, all apps will work in the way users expect them to.

It’s worth remembering that using the Watch isn’t designed for long engagement. If anything, developers should be thinking about how they can provide exactly what a user needs so that they can spend a minimum amount of time with the app. Whilst on a phone or on the tablet, encouraging longer engagement can be good for developers, with the Watch, it’s the shorter, the better.

In terms of some of the other considerations, the Watch won’t support video so we shouldn’t expect to see a YouTube watching app anytime soon. What we could see, however, is a YouTube app that allows users to control YouTube on their Apple TV or one of their other Apple devices via the watch.

If a mobile phone is a remote control for the world around us, helping us to get places faster, control smart houses and connect with other smart devices, the Watch is the remote control for the phone. Part of its purpose is to help users complete tasks without always having to get their phones out. This is where the power of wearables is.

Of course, all of this is a ‘nice to have’. A watch probably won’t change your life in any huge way, it will probably just make it easier.

 

If you are interested in wearables, please visit IoT Tech Expo Europe in London's Olympia, December 2-3 2015.

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