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Apple Watch: Why are developers so excited?

iOS developers have a new toy to play around with – here’s what you can expect to see from Apple Watch apps

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We’re getting closer to the launch of Apple Watch and with the Watchkit SDK already available, production on apps has already begun. It means programmers can get to work on extending their iOS apps to the Apple Watch interface, with support for native apps running solely on the timepiece coming at some point next year.

The Apple Watch means a new platform for developers to play around with: two new screen sizes, a new set of sensors to call upon, a different way of interacting with the device from a user perspective and a brand new font, and that’s got a lot of coders excited about the potential. “We developers love new platforms, and are always excited to explore their bounds and see how we can bend them to our will,” says Sean McMains, iOS developer at Mutual Mobile, adding that the new SDK would enable coders to “integrate our existing iOS apps with the new device in compelling ways.”

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McMains’ enthusiasm is matched by David Smith, an independent iOS and Mac developer. “Developing for an Apple Watch will allow for the creation of apps that are dramatically more personal and connected to their users,” Smith says. “Having something that is quite literally attached to you changes the friction and ease by which you can interact with an app. While the specific opportunities this opens up are likely highly dependent on what Apple allows, it isn’t hard to imagine new classes of apps… something that is highly tailored to your daily routines and allows you to quickly access whatever information, communication or entertainment you want, wherever you are.”

We’ll have to wait until spring to see exactly what these apps and notifications look like on the timepiece itself, though some pointers were given by Apple during the iPhone 6 and Apple Watch launch event in September. Emails can be dismissed with a swipe and calls can be answered with a tap, while the digital crown solves the problem of zooming in and out on a tiny screen. There’s limited voice control too, another factor for developers to consider. “What we didn’t do was take the iPhone and shrink the user interface, and strap it on your wrist,” pointed out Tim Cook during the unveiling of the Apple Watch. “The display is too small and it would be a terrible customer experience.”

Apple vice president Kevin Lynch showed off apps that could display upcoming appointments, a user’s current location, today’s weather, photos, music playback controls and more. He then went on to demonstrate third-party app integration, covering basic notifications (a Facebook friend request), alerts with embedded content (a tweeted image), and more advanced functions such as apps showing flight gates, reminding you where you parked or even unlocking hotel doors. These are the kind of possibilities that third- party developers can now explore.
“There are two primary kinds of opportunities we’ll see,” says Sean McMains. “Those enabled by the device’s form factor, and those that result from its capabilities. Having a device on your wrist is terrific for lightweight notifications and situational awareness, information that is important right now but may not be of use three minutes from now. In addition, the watch’s sensors make it useful for tracking health data, for playing air drums in GarageBand, for Wii-style sports games, for controlling RC toys with gestures, and so on.”

“I see the Apple Watch following the pattern of an initial wave of apps that are ostensibly just the wearable version of existing apps,” adds David Smith. “These might focus more on just putting information that little bit closer to you as you go about your day. Things like seeing sport scores or news at a glance. As the platform matures and Apple opens up broader abilities for developers, I’d expect to see a movement from apps just pushing data onto the watch to a situation where users are able to pull into their watch whatever would be most specifically useful for their current context.”
Apple made much of its Watch’s versatility during the launch event, and that versatility will only grow as third-party developers get to work on apps of their own. Until they’ve had a chance to pick through the SDK code, we won’t know exactly what apps will appear or what they’ll look like – but with a whole new form factor, input options and set of sensors to play around with, it will be interesting to see what they come up with.
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