Apps to watch out for

Let’s face it, the Ap­ple Watch ticks all the iOS boxes

Mac Format - - WATCH -

Lots of de­vel­op­ers have been hard at work mak­ing ver­sions of their apps for Watch. Among them is Real­mac Soft­ware, which is build­ing a Watch ver­sion of Clear, the popular re­minders app. Real­mac’s Nik Fletcher told us about the com­pany’s vi­sion for it. “Clear will show your to-dos, and no­tify you with Re­minders, as you’d ex­pect. We’re also bring­ing in­ter­ac­tive no­ti­fi­ca­tions to Clear for the first time”, he ex­plained. “We’ve built the most-used parts of Clear into Clear for Ap­ple Watch, right the way down to us­ing a de­sign based on whichever theme you’ve cho­sen in Clear for iPhone”. On themes, he added, “In ad­di­tion to Ap­ple Watch sup­port, a new theme will be un­locked when you use Clear on Ap­ple Watch for the first time”.

Of­ficeTime is an­other iOS app that will make the tran­si­tion to Ap­ple Watch. De­vel­oper Stephen Dodd told us, “We’re re­ally ex­cited about Of­ficeTime for the Ap­ple Watch. I want to be able to walk into a meet­ing, tap a but­ton on my wrist, walk out, tap it again and at the end of the week have a break­down of where my time went. I think it will re­ally make track­ing your time eas­ier and more im­me­di­ate”.

Home au­to­ma­tion

Gary Riches is work­ing on two apps for Watch. The first is a ver­sion of his own app, Home Re­mote. “The Ap­ple Watch ver­sion of Home Re­mote will act like the To­day view ex­ten­sion, it will al­low the user to un­lock doors, turn on lights and even put the ket­tle on if they have the right equip­ment. The set up is all done in the iOS app and then the Ap­ple Watch and the To­day view ex­ten­sion pro­vide a way to trig­ger the ac­tions you’ve set up”, he ex­plained.

Riches be­lieves that Ap­ple Watch is hugely im­por­tant for the fu­ture of his app, and that “peo­ple that use Home Re­mote and an Ap­ple Watch will al­most ex­clu­sively use Home Re­mote from their Watch and not their phone”. Riches’ view is in­formed by the suc­cess of Home Re­mote for Pebble’s smart­watch, and the way that it re­moves the bar­rier of hav­ing to re­trieve a smart­phone from your pocket to use the app. “Home Re­mote also sup­ports the Pebble smart­watch, and the ex­pe­ri­ence of us­ing it to con­trol your home is great. Be­ing able to of­fer that func­tion­al­ity with a bet­ter dis­play, touch in­put and even­tu­ally voice con­trol from your watch has me in­cred­i­bly ex­cited”, Riches told us.

Riches is also part of a team work­ing on an­other Watch app, Prompt, a tool de­signed to help with de­liv­er­ing pre­sen­ta­tions. “You use the iOS app to set up the pre­sen­ta­tion, write what each sec­tion will be about and the run time of that sec­tion. When you start your pre­sen­ta­tion

you start

Prompt and it will let you see how much longer you have to talk as well a guide on what you should be talk­ing about”, he ex­plained.

The idea for Prompt had been kick­ing around for a while, Riches told us, but hadn’t been taken fur­ther, in part be­cause of hard­ware lim­i­ta­tions. “Tak­ing your phone out of your pocket whilst do­ing a pre­sen­ta­tion wasn’t re­ally fea­si­ble, but when the Ap­ple Watch was an­nounced it was a no brainer. This is just what Prompt needed. The Ap­ple Watch isn’t just im­por­tant to Prompt… It’s es­sen­tial to it”.

Hav­ing quick and easy ac­cess to the Watch, rather than con­stantly pulling an iPhone from your pocket, is some­thing that all the de­vel­op­ers we spoke to be­lieve will help their apps. Stephen Dodd ex­plained, “The big­gest chal­lenge with track­ing your time is re­mem­ber­ing to do it. Hav­ing the abil­ity on your wrist and the re­ports on your phone will take one piece of in­er­tia away… Ev­ery bar­rier you re­move to track­ing your time im­me­di­ately, the bet­ter pic­ture of your life and projects you’re go­ing to get”.

In sync

De­spite the ex­cite­ment over the po­ten­tial for Watch apps, there are lim­i­ta­tions. The most widely pub­li­cised is that apps won’t run on the Watch it­self. They must be down­loaded on an iPhone and then synced with the Watch. Apps will be dis­played on Watch, but the com­pu­ta­tion will all be done on an iPhone. De­vel­op­ers can’t cre­ate na­tive apps un­til later in 2015.

“As ex­cit­ing as it’s been to de­velop this, it’s also been frus­trat­ing. We have all th­ese fab­u­lous ideas of what we want to do but with the cur­rent ver­sion of WatchKit, but it’s not pos­si­ble. We’re hop­ing when the na­tive ver­sion comes out later we can put some of our dreams into fruition”, ex­plained Of­ficeTime’s Stephen Dodd.

Ap­ple Watch’s in­abil­ity to ren­der an­i­ma­tions on the fly is an­other sig­nif­i­cant lim­i­ta­tion for de­vel­op­ers. In­stead, an­i­ma­tion has to be pro­duced as a se­ries of pre-ren­dered images to achieve high frame rates.

“It’s not sur­pris­ing per­haps, given the power con­straints, but the rigid na­ture of canned an­i­ma­tions (a se­ries of pre-ren­dered images) means that the ini­tial Ap­ple Watch ex­pe­ri­ence may be a lit­tle less fluid”, ex­plained Real­mac’s Nik Fletcher. “I sus­pect that folks in Cu­per­tino would want a richer ex­pe­ri­ence too, and this is al­most cer­tainly an area we’ll see a lot of move­ment in as we get to­wards na­tive apps”.

Ac­cess to the Watch’s vi­bra­tions and Dig­i­tal Crown is re­stricted too, as Gary Riches ex­plained: “The fact we don’t have ac­cess to Ap­ple’s Tap­tic En­gine (a vi­bra­tion mo­tor to us lay folk) meant we weren’t able to have vi­bra­tions as you are ap­proach­ing the end of your sec­tion or pre­sen­ta­tion (in Prompt)”.

The re­stric­tions aren’t all bad news, though. The de­vel­op­ers we spoke to agreed that the con­straints forced them to think more cre­atively, and to be more strict about fea­tures in­cluded in their apps. “We’ve gone through dozens (and dozens!) of de­signs for track­ing your time on your wrist. The more we de­sign, the more we de­cide to cull and sim­plify”, Dodd told us. “We’ll de­velop some­thing sim­ple, in­tu­itive and use­ful and add bells and whis­tles when we know we’re do­ing the right thing”.

With that sen­tence, Dodd hit on an­other key re­stric­tion. No one knows just what the longterm ex­pe­ri­ence of us­ing an Ap­ple Watch will be like – will it be­come in­dis­pens­able or is it just an ex­pen­sive toy? Can we put up with the bat­tery life? Is the need to have an iPhone close by too much of a bind? How easy is it op­er­ate the Dig­i­tal Crown? What about the screen? Ap­ple’s re­cent his­tory sug­gests the an­swers to th­ese user is­sues will be largely pos­i­tive. Bat­tery life isn’t as good as we’d all like it to be (not quite all day), and there are, of course, some teething prob­lems. But given the time and ef­fort that’s gone into the prod­uct, it’s cer­tainly no turkey. Nev­er­the­less, some de­vel­op­ers re­main cau­tious, like Fan­tas­ti­cal’s Michael Sim­mons, who said, “Un­til we ac­tu­ally get to use it, un­der­stand the fea­tures and over­all user ex­pe­ri­ence, and like­wise, the lim­i­ta­tions, we wouldn’t want to just make some­thing that ‘fits the mold’”.

Watch­ing from afar

The de­vel­op­ers who are al­ready mak­ing apps are more pos­i­tive, but still cau­tious about the prospects of Watch app devel­op­ment.

“It’s hard to get a feel­ing for what it’s go­ing to feel like us­ing an Ap­ple Watch and how it’s go­ing to af­fect your day. It’s one of those prod­ucts that won’t re­ally shine un­til you see your friend us­ing it”, said Dodd.

As for Ap­ple’s prom­ise of na­tive apps later this year, the de­vel­op­ers we spoke to are re­laxed about it and won’t re­gard it as dis­as­trous if that time scale slips. “I think you’re go­ing to be sur­prised with how far de­vel­op­ers will be able to push the APIs they have been given ac­cess to. Ap­ple has a great set of in­de­pen­dent app de­vel­op­ers be­hind them and they’ll be able to push the Ap­ple Watch far be­yond any­thing An­droid Wear has been able to of­fer”, ex­plained Riches. “I would like to see na­tive apps avail­able an­nounced at WWDC this year, but if we had to wait un­til early next year then, whilst dis­ap­point­ing, I don’t think it would be par­tic­u­larly dam­ag­ing”.

Jeremy Olson, of Hours’ de­vel­oper Tapity, agreed: “I don’t think it is es­sen­tial to the suc­cess of the plat­form for it to hap­pen this year. I think the tools Ap­ple has given us, while limited, are a great start and I ex­pect Ap­ple to dramatically im­prove them in the next cou­ple years”. And Real­mac’s Nik Fletcher re­minded us, “The iPhone launched with­out apps at all, but the pace and scale of it­er­a­tion since the iPhone SDK launch in 2008 has shown it’s only a mat­ter of time for the Ap­ple Watch SDK to truly hit its stride”. Just look at how far the App Store has come in just seven years since then.

The mes­sage is clear: while we may end up hav­ing to wait un­til next year for Ap­ple Watch apps to reach their full po­ten­tial, there’s still plenty to get ex­cited about right now! And Ap­ple won’t al­low launch day to be a damp squib. Ex­pect some se­ri­ously good apps from some big names, with a flurry to fol­low through­out the sum­mer as de­vel­op­ers re­alise the po­ten­tial mar­ket and fol­low the trends that oth­ers will lead.

Much like Real­mac Soft­ware has with Clear, the best Watch apps are re­think­ing and par­ing back their in­ter­faces for a whole new kind of de­vice.

As an iPhone app, Of­ficeTime is use­ful, but as a Watch app it could be es­sen­tial for track­ing time spent in meet­ings with just a tap.

With apps like Of­ficeTime, you can add and ac­cess data with just a quick lift of your wrist and a tap of a but­ton. Now that’s how ‘at a glance’ is sup­posed to be!

Menelao takes the fric­tion out of record­ing your ex­penses, so you never for­get any­thing be­cause you’ll no longer need to pull out your iPhone to record items.

Re­mote light­ing is all well and good, if you can lo­cate your iPhone. Now just tap your wrist to turn the lights on and off. Home au­to­ma­tion may find its ‘home’ in Watch apps.

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