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watchOS 2: What’s in it for app developers?

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Apple had made ripples in the wearable industry when it first announced the Apple Watch and the watchOS, last spring.  But if the announcement of its updates to watchOS (a.k.a watchOS 2) during WWDC 2015 earlier this month is anything to go by, we have not seen the best of Apple Watch yet!

Unlike earlier, the all new watchOS 2 will allow the Watch to function autonomously, without having to pair it with an iPhone. The watchOS 2 has introduced plenty of great features, which not only enhances the user experience and make it more meaningful to the end-user, but it also provides a glimpse into the multitude of opportunities available for businesses, across industries.

In this post, we highlight how businesses can improve their support for the Apple Watch, using which it can also derive more meaningful data, augment app features and significantly enhance the user experience, to make it more appealing to the new /existing users.

Here’s a look at some of the key features which 3rd party app developers can look to leverage:

  • User experience:
    • The Watch acts as an extension of the iPhone, owing to the focused data from the apps available to the user. With watchOS 2, the Apple Watch now supports animations and other user elements as well.
    • Using the digital crown is now even more fun and interactive than before, with functions ranging from scrolling and picking, to incremental data selection, all without obscuring the screen with the user’s fingers.
    • Apps can now grab the user’s immediate attention with alerts/notifications delivered right to the Watch, using haptic feedback, and along with quick actions and test reply options – this includes Short look, Long look and other custom notifications.
  • Availability/usability: Quite obviously, having your app on the Watch ensures that it is present on the user’s wrist at all times and is always within reach. Duh!
    • Glances – Before, this feature allowed quick access to the app’s snapshot with the relevant details, available right from the home screen. On watchOS 2, users can search the app’s glances with Siri to enhance their user experience.
    • Watch Complications – The Apple Watch comes with 10 different Watch faces, and a nifty little feature called ‘Complications’, that allows the user to customize the Watch faces to provide a completely personalized experience.
  • Sensor data
    • With the custom heart rate sensor baked into the Watch, watchOS 2 now facilitates 3rd party apps to capture the heart rate trends.
    • With the accelerometer present on the Watch, apps can track generated events and access historical data. The CoreMotion framework also provides access to user activities like walking, running and cycling etc. With this raw data, health and fitness apps can tabulate the number of steps taken, distance covered etc.
    • Recording workout sessions has also been made possible with watchOS 2, which allows 3rd party apps to mark the beginning/end of a workout session, during which time the app can collect data for distance covered, calories burned etc.
  • Other features – 
    • Data collection in various forms (text with dictation, emojis, recorded audio, and action controls)
    • Data presentation in different forms (text, images, audio, video etc.)
    • Initiate network connection to remote server to retrieve /update user data
    • Along with ancillary features like Maps, navigation, GPS region monitoring, add passes to wallet, access contacts and access to iPhone native features like Call, SMS etc.
  • Security – With watchOS 2, sensitive data can be made available to the app/user only when the Watch is on the wrist and is in an unlocked state. The Keychain extension on the Apple Watch has the ability to make the sensitive data available only to the rightful owner.
  • Watch Connectivity – This feature can enable seamless connectivity/messaging with the paired iPhone to enable data exchange and achieve capabilities like accessing historical app data, ranging beacons, access data from HealthKit, perform long running tasks and store huge data sets etc.
  • Home Automation – Automation for homes can now be controlled and managed right from the wrist, with HomeKit on the Apple Watch. This capability would enable Watch apps to view homes, control accessories, execute scenes by directly communicating with connected HomeKit enabled devices, from the Watch (without being paired to an iPhone). All the HomeKit data added from the iPhone is automatically synced with the Watch, and Siri can execute scenes on the Watch as well. Sample use cases could be – the ability to unlock the door after returning from your run, the ability to alter the thermostat settings from the garden etc.

A symbiotic relationship between Apple Watch and the iPhone App

While all these new capabilities allow developers to achieve almost everything independently on the Watch (without the paired iPhone in the vicinity), it is important to note that a Watch app is certainly not a replacement for corresponding the iPhone app.

  • Both the iPhone and the Apple Watch have different objectives and are designed to meet the unique user experience needs; hence, it might not really be a good idea to develop miniature versions of the iPhone app and duplicate all of its capabilities for the Watch. Although the autonomous Watch app can run on its own, it is still meant for accessing key features/more relevant data without the dependency on the phone itself.
  • This could mean that only key data (subset of the large data set available on the phone) would be available on the Watch, triggering the primary actions/commands, quick responses /minimal reply through dictation etc.
  • The long running operations active in the background, viewing/editing huge data sets, accessing and downloading data from the remote server, are all better suited for running on the iPhone app. In this regard, watchOS 2 has such design considerations already taken care of, like – quick media playback (not for movies), capability to track sensor data while running in foreground mode, seamless data sync between Watch and the iPhone etc.

These considerations would not only deliver the best app performance, but concise data access and allow precise actions on the Watch, which would make the app more meaningful for a wrist app. It also means that the Watch app can deliver better user experience, remain focused, and it does not make the iPhone counterpart redundant.


 It is evident from the aforementioned points that Apple has offered a range of opportunities for app developers with the watchOS 2, to achieve greater possibilities with their apps. The growing popularity of the Watch has also made it a logical next step for app developers to develop native apps for the Watch, in order to stay relevant in the market place. Also, Apple has hinted that there are more updates to the Watch in store, to make it a more ‘capable’ wearable device. It’s too soon to tell whether the watchOS 2 is the answer to the prayers of all the Watch app developers, and it will be a while before we can know for sure; until then enjoy your Watch!

Dwarak LN

Dwarak LN

Dwarak heads the Technology Competency Group (TCG) at Endeavour. He is passionate about mobile and he splits his time, working with Endeavour’s customers to help them build their enterprise mobility strategy and researching emerging mobility trends.Dwarak plays an instrumental role in developing technical competency within the organization and also consults with various cross-functional teams at Endeavour to ensure successful execution of projects. In his spare time, Dwarak likes to give the 38inch willow a whirl (cricket) and take long drives through the scenic countryside.
Dwarak LN
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