Apple last night released WatchKit, its developer tools for making apps for Apple Watch. In the process they also revealed some brand new specs for Apple’s first wearable. Here’s what we know.
What Is WatchKit?
WatchKit is the name of Apple’s developer tools for Apple Watch. In this way WatchKit is no different than Xcode for OS X, which are the tools OS X devs use to make Mac apps. With the release of WatchKit developers now have all they need to start cranking out the apps that you’re going to be wearing on your wrist come Spring 2015. WatchKit is available as a free download now, though you need to be a registered developer to access it.
Apple Watch Will Require iOS 8.2
In addition to WatchKit Apple released the first beta of the next major update to iOS 8. Just as iOS 8.1 introduced a major new feature –– Apple Pay –– iOS 8.2 adds another doozy: iPhone and Apple Watch capability.
The release of iOS 8.2 beta 1 also reveals that the first batch of apps for the Apple Watch will require an iPhone to work. That’s right; apps will not run native (e.g. by themselves) on the Apple Watch. Instead they’ll act as companion apps to apps on the iPhone. The iPhone apps will do most of the hardcore processing and will then send only the relevant bits of data to the light app on the Apple Watch, which will display that data in a UI tailored to the Apple Watch’s screen.
Here’s how Apple officially describes it: “WatchKit apps have two parts: A WatchKit extension that runs on iPhone and a set of user interface resources that are installed on Apple Watch. When your app is launched on Apple Watch, the WatchKit extension on iPhone runs in the background to update the user interface and respond to user interactions.”
Further, on the company’s Apple Watch Human Interface Guidelines page, Apple says this: “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.”
This isn’t too much of a shock, but it is disappointing. It solidifies the Apple Watch as an iPhone accessory for now instead of being its own dedicated device. However, Apple does state that native apps will be coming to the Apple Watch later in 2015, so the second-hand “accessory” status won’t last forever.
Apple Watch Gets Official Screen Specs
Perhaps the biggest reveal from WatchKit was that the Apple Watch now has official screen specs. We’ve known since its unveiling that the Apple Watch will come in two different sized screens, but no one knew what those screen resolutions were...until now.
The smaller 38mm-diagonal Apple Watch screen will have a resolution of 272 x 340 pixels (WxH) while the larger 42mm-diagonal Apple Watch screen will have a resolution of 312 x 390 pixels (WxH).
Apple Watch Software Focuses On Three Things: WatchKit apps, Glances, and Actionable Notifications
Above I mentioned, for now, the Apple Watch is only an accessory for the iPhone. Well, with that in mind there are three specific things Apple feels developers can do with their apps to “extend” their iPhone app to the Apple Watch:
WatchKit Apps: Your app on Apple Watch contains a full user interface. Users can launch, control, and interact with your app in ways unique to Apple Watch.
Glances: You can provide users with timely read-only information that they care about with a Glance — a quick and lightweight view of your app.
Actionable Notifications: Actionable notifications built and designed with WatchKit let users take action right from their wrists.
Apple says developers should use the above elements combined with the Apple Watch’s new technologies like Force Touch, the Digital Crown and the Taptic Engine to create a new lightweight extension of their iPhone apps. How will it all work out? We won’t know until we start seeing some of the third-party apps, which should be released at the same time the Apple Watch launches.
Apple Doesn't Want Developers Going Crazy
The Apple Watch is meant to be at the forefront of the next big technology trend: wearables. Everyone thinks this market is going to absolutely explode over the next several years. Apparently, people are about to nuts for these things, or so the pundits say.
But the WatchKit documentation reveals Apple wants developers to keep their $#!+ in check, for now. Specifically the company lays out three “themes” the Apple Watch is embodied with:
Personal: Because Apple Watch is designed to be worn, its UI is attuned to the wearer’s presence...No other Apple device has ever been so connected to the wearer. It’s important to be mindful of this connection as you design apps for Apple Watch.
Holistic: Apple Watch was designed to blur the boundaries between physical object and software....Thoughtful app design should contribute to this experience of hardware and software feeling indistinguishable.
Lightweight: Apps on Apple Watch are designed for quick, lightweight interactions that make the most of the display size and its position on the wrist... Apps designed for Apple Watch should respect the context in which the wearer experiences them: briefly, frequently, and on a small display.
Seem a bit Zen? Perhaps. But it sure will be interesting to see the apps that come out of WatchKit next year.