App DevelopmentMobile Strategy

What To Watch With Watchkit

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Apple released WatchKit last week, and our iOS team has already begun developing a few Watch apps. It’s still too early to know if we’ll look back at this week and call it a seminal one the way we did when Apple released its original iOS kit to developers in 2008. But we think there’s a good chance. Especially given that Morgan Stanley analyst, Katy Huberty, said in a recent note to investors that 30 million Apple Watches in the first year might be a “conservative” number.

So what do you need to know?

More functionality than expected

Many developers expected only basic functionality with the release of WatchKit, predicting complete functionality to arrive next summer when version 2.0 comes out. Apple, however, has pleasantly surprised us by including actionable notifications to controls, glances, Handoff, and more. We’ll explain what all this means below, but the bottom line is that we have much more control over the Apple Watch than we originally thought we would.

The basic architecture

Think of the Watch as a custom “view” of the information on the iPhone, with some basic ability to interact. The iPhone contains the code that actually makes everything happen, including reacting to taps, changing values, etc. The brilliance is that everything happens in the background via Bluetooth – so from a development perspective, we are not developing to two devices, but instead to another screen from the core device.

So, for this first version, we should really not be thinking of the Watch being able to run apps, but instead just extensions of existing iPhone apps.  We expect true independent Watch apps to arrive summer of 2015.

New approach to layout

Apple’s come up with a completely different approach to layout, which we think is brilliant given the small screen size.  You basically use “groups” that are either vertical, horizontal or nested.  Then you can apply some styling like background color, margins, etc.

Notifications & Glances

Our position continues to be that notifications are the “secret sauce” of mobile, and the Watch takes this to the next level. For many apps, the Watch is a way to make notifications more elegant, timely and easy to digest.  There are three terms you need to be aware of:

Glances: a list of content within an app.

Short Notifications: what comes through immediately, which is an icon and very brief text

Long Notifications: the full message that you can tap to read, but what we love is that if you continue to hold your arm up for a few seconds, the Watch automatically switched from short to long.

What to do now

Any notifications your apps are running should be ported to the Watch. As always, Apple will be heavily promoting apps that support its new hardware. So if your apps offer any real-time data, from Scores to News to Coupons/Discounts, we would suggest making them Watch compatible as quickly as possible.

We also believe that enterprise applications for the Watch have the ability to fundamentally change business processes. Examples include everything from restaurant employees (e.g. notification that an order is up) to field delivery/technicians (e.g. notification of a new job, or ability to confirm a job is complete) to notifications from other connected devices (e.g. alerts that a device has failed).

For a deeper read, go to Apple’s WatchKit page, and for even more detail, Apple’s WatchKit Human Interface Guidelines.

By this time next year, we may all be wondering how we managed our lives and jobs without a connected device on our wrist.

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