Whenever a new computing platform is announced, developers’ thoughts quickly turn to what great new apps they can write for the hardware. The Apple Watch is no exception. A new form factor, motion sensors, and novel health monitors all provide both fascinating opportunities and challenges that are markedly different than those on an iPhone or iPad. Though there’s still a ton we don’t know about the device, that hasn’t stopped us from mulling over what apps will and will not work well with Apple Watch.
What Won’t Work
It’s easy to think of applications that just don’t make sense on your wrist. Most anything that requires a lot of screen real estate is a non-starter. We’re unlikely to see video editing tools, spreadsheets, or development tools on the platform. Power-hungry apps will be uncommon as well, since the watch’s battery will be substantially smaller than that of a phone–you’ll have to do your Bitcoin mining somewhere else. And finally, since it looks like Siri will be the only way to type, anything that requires substantial text entry is out as well.
The Good Stuff
Watch apps clearly need to be tailored to the form factor. Some of the successful executions we’ll see right off the bat will simply be existing apps that translate reasonably well to one’s wrist. Apps like Swarm, Twitter, and Weather can be reformatted for the small screen without much difficulty. However, things get more interesting when we consider apps that will take advantage of the unique opportunities that the watch’s form factor brings:
Before the curtain dropped, there were all kinds of rumors about what magical health sensors Apple would be providing on its watch: blood oxygen level, blood pressure, blood sugar, etc. What we’ve ended up with for version 1.0 of the product appears to be only a heart rate monitor. This puts the Apple Watch among the top-tier of health monitoring devices, but several others have already beat Apple to the punch here. Still, Apple has announced that you’ll be able to share your heartbeats with other watch wearers, which is an interesting use of this sensor that we haven’t seen before. Even if it appears to be something of a gimmick, it’s good to see Apple giving careful thought to how to make the most of the hardware.
On-Wrist Motion Sensors
Activity tracking is the obvious and ubiquitous use-case for these sensors. There are some other less-common applications that could also be very interesting:
- A golf coach that monitors your swing and provides feedback on how to improve.
- Virtual drum kits: play the drums in Garage Band simply by “air drumming”.
- “Simon Says” style games, where players are required to match the motion of a leader.
- Strap an Apple Watch to a model rocket to get telemetry on a launch.
- Motion/gesture control of drones, R/C cars, nearby HomeKit devices, etc.
A More Available Screen
One interesting thing that both the Apple Watch and Google Wear devices have in common is a screen that’s easier to access than the one on the phone in your pocket. This makes the watch a very appealing platform for time-critical and lightweight information that will improve your situational awareness or for settings where pulling out your phone just isn’t practical. Here are several ideas:
- An app that provides parents with notifications of their children’s whereabouts (leaving school, arriving at home, attending soccer practice, etc.)
- A ping pong scoring app that can be effectively operated without having to fumble your phone in and out of your pocket between serves
- An app that shows who of your friends is within walking distance to help facilitate serendipitous meetings
- Key business metrics or server stats for those who need to constantly monitor them through a workday
- New modes of lightweight communication like the shared heartbeat and exchanged sketches Apple demonstrated during the device’s introduction
- Medication reminders for aging individuals who might be prone to missing or ignoring alerts on their phones
- Glance-at-your-wrist navigation and “taptics” that provide directions without making you look at your device (or get mugged while looking like a baffled tourist)
- Discreet score updates for your favorite sports teams
- Give presentations without the fear of dropping the controller, while getting a glance of the next slide or your notes
While we’ve now seen the Apple Watch, almost nobody outside of Apple has gotten any hands-on time with a functional version of the device. More importantly to us developers, we haven’t gotten access to the SDK yet either, though we know it’s called WatchKit and it will be available sometime in November. (We will certainly be scheduling a hackathon at Mutual Mobile around it almost immediately!)
Because of all the still-unanswered questions about the watch, some of the things we speculated on above will likely turn out to be unrealistic. However, there will also be possibilities that we still haven’t conceived, and we’re excited to explore along with the rest of the community. It’s a great time to be a developer!