How many of you remember the rush for the iOS SDK, when it was released? Every developer wanted to took advantage of that gold rush and they had good reasons for that. Some of them really succeeded, especially from a financial point of view, mainly because of their new, innovating ideas, concepts that nobody thought of before. If you think those times are gone forever, you’re actually wrong. That opportunity has returned, now under the name of “Apple Watch” and believe it or not it’s way much of a bigger deal that the iPhone was at it launch. Reports confirm that!
Now, Apple obviously couldn’t release a brand new product line without one of the biggest reasons why it’s so successful at the moment. And that’s its developers and their apps, that keep their ecosystem running. Okay, more specific, the much awaited WatchKit SDK. Let’s take a look at it’s advantages and drawbacks and how are these going to influence you, the dev.
Expectations vs Reality
It’s pretty obvious that we were profoundly disappointed by the overall limitations of the SDK. In terms of UI, everything is limited to Interfaces and not UIKit as expected. While Interfaces are safe, well-defined design patterns, it does not offer the possibility of extending your app’s idea beyond Apple’s guidelines. That’s a huge drawback as it’s clearly limiting your app’s potential as well. On the bright side, Apple has announced that full apps support is coming later this year, so things may drastically change then.
Similar to 3rd-Party Keyboards and Today Widgets, Watch Apps are currently an extension, separated in different targets. Those extensions are running in the iOS application, so there’s where all the hard work is done. This extension is transmitting data to the Apple Watch from the iPhone to the Apple Watch via Wireless. Then, the watch updates the UI accordingly. Anything related to the Interface resides in the Watch App, so animations, interactions, and events should be fast, smooth and responsive.
We’ll be able to use Taps and Swipes as primary interaction methods. Here comes to help the much-praised Digital Crown, which will replace actions such as Pinch-To-Zoom or multi-touch gestures. There is also a new long-press tap, called a Force Touch, that activates the menu of an app, which consists of maximum 4 options or any other contextual buttons.
As for text input, the most rational option would be dictation. There already is a text input controller that lets you dictate text that’s then sent to Apple’s servers and returned as string. This may not be the only text input option though. If we take a look at Microsoft they have some pretty interesting options.
Notifications & Glances
As expected, the Apple Watch solves the problem of regularly checking your phone for new notifications. In fact, similar to iOS 8 notifications, WatchKit notifications can also be interactive. There are 2 types of notifications available: the Short Look and the Long Look notifications. The first one consists of a big app icon alongside its name and a very short message, such as “New message”. Tapping the Short Look notification or raising your wrist will reveal the Long Look notification. Here you’ll be able to see a more detailed experience with custom designed views and buttons. You’ll be able to interact with this type of notification through the provided buttons.
Glances on the other side are static and they provide short and relevant information in a timely manner. The only possible interaction with a Glance is when you tap it. That will launch the specific app. Users will be able to access their glances from the home screen of the watch by sliding from the bottom of the screen to the top. Just like Notifications, Glances are considered extensions. They’re optional and added to the app as a separate target. It’s an interesting addition to the Apple Watch and a good way to synthesize and filter important and relevant data for the user.
At the moment, the Apple Watch has a huge, main dependency. And that’s the iPhone. We’re not talking about supporting other phones as well, but more about its technical power. In this first release, the Apple Watch would be basically useless without an iPhone to paired with. Any more complex job resides in the extension found in the iOS App. The watch itself has no independence when it comes to things like networking. In WatchKit, we also have Map support that can be added to our apps. Map objects can only display snapshots of given coordinates, which are generated in the background and then displayed, as an image, basically. The watch lacks GPS (we hope so, at least!), which is an immense drawback for the Sports line-up and especially for runners. You will still have to carry your iPhone with you when running, but on the bright side, we’re (almost) sure, we’re not going to be tracked.
The Apple Watch is a big step forward in the smartwatch industry. It was proven that whenever Apple introduced new concepts it set a standard in the industry that other manufacturers adopted, sooner or later. I am sure that this first version of the Apple Watch will set standards again and will create a foundation for future releases. Once WatchKit will allow developers to create full applications we will surely see an important improvement (I mean, come on! We gotta have Snake at least! :D). While the watch OS is still in the development process (and the weekly Xcode releases prove that), let’s wait and see the final product so we can get a better idea of it.
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