The demand on the Apple Watch is huge. Based on a CNET article, analysts predict Apple Watch sales are going to hit 1 million units in the first weekend of launch, and will hit up to 75 million units by the end of 2015. Compared to the iPhone, the Apple Watch is an even more personal device. It is on the wrist, which can allow for monitoring your heartrate, tapping you when you get a notification, or tracking how many steps you have walked today. The Apple Watch is a new, cool device launched by Apple, so of course it will catch all of the iOS app developers’ attention.

What Can Apple WatchKit Do?

In order to develop apps on the Apple Watch, you have to leverage Apple WatchKit SDK. Apple WatchKit is a framework that allows your app to communicate between your iPhone and Apple Watch. WatchKit provides three different user interfaces: Normal Interaction, Glances, and Notifications.

Normal Interaction:

This is your main watch app UI. You can create multiple screens in Storyboard and users will interact with it through basic UI controls provided in WatchKit.

Glances:

This is a non-interactive, single-page UI intended to provide a summary or crucial data. Each app can only provide one glance, and this is an optional feature to be enabled.

Notifications:

Notifications on the Apple Watch are actionable. The user can interact with the notification by using the custom button your app provided. Both local and remote notifications are supported.

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What Can’t Apple WatchKit Do?

There are many limitations on the current version of WatchKit provided by Apple. Here is the list of restrictions of WatchKit:

  • Mainly acts as an external display
  • Requires pairing with your phone to work and must have active connection to run your app
  • Not currently supporting standalone app development
  • No access to the sensors on the Apple Watch (no heartrate monitoring)
  • Notifications will not appear on a disconnected Watch device
  • 20MB image cache size limit
  • No third-party custom watch faces support
  • No background processing on the watch
  • No sound playing on the watch through your app
  • No access to Taptic (vibration) API
  • ITunes control through the Apple Watch is a private API, meaning you can’t use this feature
  • No way to specific target iPhone-only or Apple-Watch-only notification from your app.

Should I Develop Apple Watch Apps?

Due to all of the limitations of Apple WatchKit above, here is my advice for you:

  • Think through the use cases of how your users can interact between your app and your watch app
  • Pick only one or two features that make sense to be on your user apple watch; keep your watch app simple and light, treating it more like an external display
  • Rethink the workflow on your watch app. Don’t just clone/copy exact workflow as your phone app
  • Think about data transmitting to the Apple Watch and your watch app performance. Many apps run too slowly, which makes it unusable
  • Ask yourself twice – why do I need to make my app support the Apple Watch?

Even though there are many restrictions on developing Apple Watch apps, the watch will open up new dimensions for developers to build their apps and interact with your customers.

Last, but not least, from my favorite quote by Itamar Lesuisse, chief executive of the brain-training apps firm Peak: “The watch is all about context. Notification and glances can become a key component of user interaction on the watch as long as they fit into the user context. Make them relevant at the right time and right place and they won’t be intrusive.”

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