App Development

WWDC 2016: A Watch I Will Really Use

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I wear my Apple Watch every day, but I’ve rarely used watch apps in watchOS 1 and 2. I think that is about to change in watchOS 3.

I don’t use watch apps

Although the Apple Watch has had an app store since day one, I can only think of a few things I use it for:

  • Telling time on the watch face
  • Setting timers and reminders with Siri
  • Controlling my phone’s volume level with the Now Playing glance
  • Viewing notifications
  • Answering texts in notification actions
  • Navigating during a walk in the Maps app
  • Checking off my grocery list in OmniFocus

These are nice features, but only the last two are in-app experiences, and only the very last of them involves a third-party app. I use watch apps so infrequently that I haven’t thought to browse the store for new watch apps in months. And I’m at WWDC!

The simple explanation is that I don’t use watch apps because the watch app experience is crummy. Even a well-built app like OmniFocus suffers from slow launch time, a noninteractive glance, and a watch complication that sometimes lacks data. Since that experience turns me off, I don’t go looking for new apps, and I also don’t try to build them.

watchOS 3

The next version of watchOS includes big changes to how watch apps participate in the watch user experience. Apple’s goal for this version is to make watch apps “glanceable, actionable, and responsive.”

The Glances view on the watch face has been replaced with a list of favorite apps called the Dock. In the Dock, you see the main screen of each app, and each system app has been redesigned to show the most important information and functions to the Dock. Finally, favorite apps are kept in memory and they launch instantly. So when you tap an app, it fills the screen and becomes interactive right away. So instead of a list of glances, which could be tapped to slowly load an app, you just have a list of apps which are already prepared.

The other piece of this puzzle is a technology called Background App Refresh. I won’t go into detail, but the upshot is that apps have a better way to prepare their data, Dock appearance, and watch complications, before you ever raise your wrist. Loading operations are still necessary, but they happen ahead of time and invisibly, not while you wait and watch.

I think these changes are going to make apps more compelling to use. When users like to use apps, they look for more. And it’s much more exciting to build apps when users want them.

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