5 Apple Watch Revelations from Apple’s New WatchKit
Apple recently announced the availability of WatchKit for developers to begin creating third-party apps, glances, and notifications for the smartwatch before it hits the market in 2015. A 28-minute video on the WatchKit site gives details on how apps will work on the Apple Watch, and what developers need to do to “take your apps even further by extending and enhancing their functionality on Apple Watch.”
As Apple Insider reported, Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing, noted of the release:
With the iOS 8.2 beta SDK, developers can now start using WatchKit to create breakthrough new apps, Glances and actionable notifications designed for the innovative Apple Watch interface and work with new technologies such as Force Touch, Digital Crown and Taptic Engine.
The newly-launched WatchKit site includes programming guides, human interface guidelines, templates, and more resources for developers beginning to work on apps for the Apple Watch. WatchKit and the iOS 8.2 SDK are both included in the Xcode 6.2 beta, and developers who want to create apps for Apple Watch need to be members of the iOS Developer Program.
In addition to revealing some basics of the Apple Watch’s technical makeup — the 38-millimeter Apple Watch will ship with a 272-pixel-by-340-pixel display, while the 42-millimeter Apple Watch will ship with a 312-pixel-by-390-pixel unit, for example — WatchKit and the tools and guidelines released with it shed new light on what the Apple Watch and apps that accompany it will be like for consumers. Read on for four revelations about the Apple Watch and how it works.
1. Apple Watch presents information in three forms: Apps, Glances, and notifications.
The video explains that developers have “three opportunities to present information on Apple Watch.” The first is an actual app: “From the homescreen on Apple Watch, the wearer can manually launch your watch app. The watch app offers an in-depth user experience and is where you’ll focus most of your development efforts.”
The second is the Glance. The video explains to developers that “You can optionally provide a Glance, which offers the most timely and relevant data from your app in an abbreviated form.” The third is the notification. “You can also provide a custom UI for your app’s remote and local notifications. Apple Watch takes advantage of the existing, interactive notification support on iOS to allow the wearer to respond with a specific action, transition to a specific area of your watch app, or later view the notification in Notification Center on Apple Watch.”
Developers can create notifications that enable users to take action right away, directly from the notification. Alternately, they can use Glances to show users important information that they care about, but may not need to interact with on their wrist, with a quick, lightweight view of the app. Notifications will come in two varieties: the “short look,” which displays just long enough for users to raise their wrist and see it, and the “long look,” which gives developers more room for customization.
2. The Apple Watch requires an iPhone to do just about anything.
Developers begin the development of their watch app with their existing iOS app, which must support iPhone. The existing iOS app is responsible for installing and managing the watch app, and the watch app is comprised of two pieces: the WatchKit extension — which runs on iPhone and executes code in response to user interations on Apple Watch. On Apple Watch, the the watch app’s UI is loaded from “a bundle containing your storyboard and static resources, such as images.” The video explains:
As the wearer interacts with the watch app, Apple Watch and iPhone pass information back and forth. Taps and other messages from Apple Watch cause code in your WatchKit extension to execute. That code is responsible for updating the watch app UI and performing any necessary tasks related to providing data to your watch app.
While the watch app will rely on the iPhone to run, Apple makes it clear that user interactions with a watch app also won’t take the place of interactions with the iOS app. As the “Apple Watch Human Interface Guidelines” explain, “A watch app complements your iOS app; it does not replace it. If you measure interactions with your iOS app in minutes, you can expect interactions with your watch app to be measured in seconds. So interactions need to be brief and interfaces need to be simple.” Additionally, Apple notes that a user’s Apple Watch must be paired with the iPhone for an app to run.
3. But natives apps are coming next year.
According to Apple’s press release, beginning next year, developers will be able to create fully native apps for Apple Watch, which won’t require an iPhone component. (Though Apple Watch will still require users to have an iPhone 5 or later.)
4. The user interface of Apple Watch apps will be familiar to anyone used to the interface of iOS apps.
As the video on Apple’s website explains, the user interface elements available for use in apps for Apple Watch are very similar to the ones available for use in the development of iOS apps — so they’ll be familiar both to developers and to users who are familiar with iOS. “WatchKit provides an assortment of different objects for displaying information and handling user interactions. Most of these objects should already be familiar to you, because they’re similar to objects you’ve used in your iOS app. In addition to the usual buttons, images, switches, sliders, and labels, WatchKit provides a few specialized objects for you to use.”
User interface elements specific to the Apple Watch include:
- A “separator object,” which looks like a thin white line in the video, providing a visual break between UI elements
- Dates and timers, which are “special types of labels that update their values dynamically.”
The date object displays the current date and/or time, and the timer object counts up or down from a specific date in the future or past. Both objects run autonomously in the watch app, without intervention from the WatchKit extension.
Other elements that the video notes developers “should pay special attention to” include groups, which are used to automatically lay out UI elements; tables, which are single call-ups of dynamically created rows; and map objects, which display non-interactive versions of a standard map interface, rendered on iPhone and sent to the watch app for display. (Unfortunately, those map snapshots are static, and tapping on a map will open the Apple Maps app on Apple Watch.)
5. There won’t be custom gestures, because Apple has created a standard set of user interactions.
User interactions on the Apple Watch will revolve around a core set of gestures that let users interact with apps, notifications, and Glances. The first type of user interaction encompasses what Apple terms “action-based events,” where the wearer uses a singe tap to interact with the watch. Apple notes, “Table rows, buttons, switches, and other controls are all operated by tapping on them. These taps are then reported to the code in your WatchKit extension.”
The second type of user interaction is a gesture. Developers can’t add gesture recognizers to their apps, because the system handles all gestures on the developer’s behalf. The standard behaviors recognized by the Apple Watch are vertical swipes, which scroll the current screen; horizontal swipes, which display the previous or next page in a page-based interface; left-edge swipes, which navigate back to the parent interface controller; and taps, which indicate selection or interaction. Apple Watch will not support multi-touch gestures such as pinches.
A third type of user interaction is the use of Force Touch, a new type of interaction that looks to make the best use of the limited screen space of the Apple Watch. As Apple explains, “A small screen can only accommodate so many controls. That’s why Apple Watch introduces an entirely new interaction model: Force Touch. As well as sensing touch, the Retina display also senses force. Force Touch interactions display the context menu (if any) associated with the current screen. Apps use this menu to display actions relevant to the current content.” Force Touch will open a menu with one to four possible actions.
Finally, user interactions can also take advantage of the Digital Crown, which is designed for finely tuned scrolling without blocking the Apple Watch display. The Digital Crown will make it easier for users to scroll through long pages on the Apple Watch.