WatchKit has Landed

WatchKit is the new development kit provided by Apple and is ready for us to start building Apple Watch powered Apps, Glances and Notifications. The Apple docs are awesome, so dig in there for more, but I’ll give a high level look.

So how does it work? Essentially, an Apple Watch app is installed on the customer’s watch when they install a watch-enabled app on their phone. You could think of a Watch App as a little satellite app which relies on the phone app counterpart for lots of stuff, like data. They’ll be asked if they’d like to add the Watch App and with the magic of bluetooth, it’ll be there on their wrist. After that, there’s three ways they could interact:

  1. Watch App: this is meant as a trimmed down version of the phone app and should surface wearable-friendly use cases. More on that later.
  2. Glances. Each watch app can provide a glance which is a way to swipe between apps on your phone, seeing only a glance-able, single screen, from each app. Tapping a Glance takes you to the Watch App.
  3. Notifications. Custom designed notifications can be surfaced on the Watch and allow the user single tap actions from their wrist. Very cool. You can also opt for the default notification look.

Here’s the great part. All you have to do is add watch functionality to your existing iOS app, wait for the Watch to ship, and people can start using your app from their wrist.

 Product Considerations

But what use cases? Apple intends Watch Apps to be “personal” and “lightweight”. I think it’s easy to imagine the use cases that won’t work: browsing lots of rich data, composing content, performing multi-step activities. But what are we left with? I think the best use cases are those which require immediate attention and can be completed with a simple action. I can also see cases where a quick glance of rolled up analytics/dashboards would be excellent. Ultimately, I think Push Notification-powered use cases will be at the core of a great watch experience. As a user, I want to know important stuff happening right now - and if it’s not important, then don’t bother me. That makes me feel like relevance and tuning will be key. Relevance, so that I only see what’s important to me, and tuning so that I can alter what gets delivered as I hone in on the right amount of interruption I want from my wrist. Early thinking, to be sure.

 Design Considerations

Real estate is tight. Processing power is low. Programming model is (very) limited in version 1 of WatchKit. So how do we design a great Watch App? As usual, Apple has our back. I’d compel any would-be Watch App designer to pour over the Human Interface Guidelines for WatchKit - it’ll surely provide all the insight we need as to how Apple is thinking about these UIs. Guidelines here.

 Dev Considerations

As is always the case, Apple is rewarding developers who go all in on Apple tech when building their apps. If you already love Storyboards, use Core Data, and have your app split up into logical Frameworks, then you’re laughing. All of these pieces have been heavily pushed by Apple, and those who were early adopters will now see some nice upside. For those who are new to these things, no worries, you might just have a little more work to do to adapt your app. For MediaBox, I’ll need to place a bunch of stuff in a Framework, but the CoreData model and data should just work once I have it positioned in a shared location for Watch App to access.

 Wrap Up

While I don’t think a Watch App is something large numbers of our app users will need in the short term, I do think app developers would be remiss to not stay tuned into the wearable advancements and make sure we know enough to be ready to pounce. From what I have seen, Apple has provided such limited flexibility (by design) that it really isn’t very hard to build out your first Watch App extension and be ready when this new and exciting market opens up.

Until the Apple Watch launch, happy coding.

 
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