5 Things Developers Should Focus On in the Apple WatchKit

If Apple intended to leave us wanting more during its announcement of the iPhone 6 devices, it succeeded. The "one more thing" at the end of the presentation was none other than the widely talked about, long-anticipated Apple Watch (not "iWatch," as you might have expected). Alas, the device itself will not be available until early next year. But that gives developers plenty of time to cook up cool applications and integrations for the device using the forthcoming Apple WatchKit. Indeed,the device's greatest features and a true presentation of its capabilities will come from the imaginative and creative minds of the Platform's third-party developers — similar to when Apple released the iOS SDK, allowing the community to organically create apps that Apple itself was not even able to predict and imagine.

Here's what we do know. Apple will deliver a smart watch with the promise of the following features:

  • A touch screen with gesture and tap capabilities
  • Haptic feedback for vibration notifications
  • Siri Integration
  • Physical sensors to track heart rate
  • The ability to touch/share mini-messages and emoticons with other Apple Watch users
  • Built-in Apple apps such as Apple Maps, Photos and Health
  • The ability to navigate the UI using what's called the Digital Crown, for scrolling/zooming in/out

So, with that in mind, here are five things developers should be focusing on as they imagine the currently unimaginable:

1. The Digital Crown
One of the most prominent physical features of the glitzy watch is the Digital Crown, a skeuomorphic feature that, in the analog world, would be used to set the time and date. Apple put a digital twist (pun intended) on the Apple Watch crown, a tool for interacting with the device itself. The Digital Crown will likely be most important (and widely used) for zooming in and out — without obstructing the small watch interface. Indeed, with the screen size so small on the Apple Watch, developers will need to be very thoughtful when developing apps that are both useful and usable. The Digital Crown will be key to finding this balance.

What potential Digital Crown uses can you think of?  Tweet it to us.

2. iBeacon
Apple showcased iBeacon last year as a low-powered indoor proximity system, and, while the uptake has been a bit slow, the potential is huge. Apple is using iBeacon in its retail stores, as a way of getting notifications to iPhones based on where users are in the store. Extending iBeacon access to the wrist may help the iBeacon movement to become more widespread.

Through iBeacon-on-wrist access, developers could harness the proximity of the Apple Watch. For example, by installing an iBeacon device in an Uber car, customers could get information about the driver, and the driver could get information on route, traffic and so on. Having direct access to the wrist device’s digital signature presents great potential for companies looking to develop apps for the Apple Watch.

3. Widgets/Glance Notifications and Siri

One of the great features of the Apple Watch is contextual glancing, where users are presented with essential and relevant information triggered by time (such as calendar or flight boarding alerts) and location (such as when you are near a particular store or restaurant).

Glance notifications, according to Apple, are "scannable summaries of the information you seek out most frequently. To see them, you simply swipe up from your watch face. In an instant, you can glimpse the weather forecast, check out what’s next on your calendar, or find your current location on a map."

Apple will certainly provide a form of Glance notification API interaction capability, but the level and types of interactions have not been disclosed. Developers are hoping the widget capabilities will be programmatically open, allowing the ability to respond to the widget in multiple ways. For example, this would enable developers to create apps that would display different contextual detailed information, depending on where users tap specific regions or parts of the widget.

Once again, a delegate in the SDK could indicate whether the user tapped on the avatar part of the Glance notification or message, which would then present the profile avatar view of the associated watch app.

Siri, in limited form, will also be on the Apple Watch. While Siri may be disparaged on the iPhone and iPad, it will be more important as an input option on the relatively small Apple Watch device. Developers can create apps that would let users leverage Siri to, for example, dictate messages, get directions from maps or query a calendar agenda for the day. With that said, developers are still waiting for Apple to release a Siri SDK for iOS, so it's unlikely that Apple will open up Siri on the watch. It may be that Apple will open up Siri to both the iOS and Apple Watch platforms concurrently. We can dream, can't we?

What potential Glance notifications uses can you think of?  Tweet it to us.

4. Handoff/Continuity

To better align its iOS and OS X platforms, Apple has launched several Continuity features. These include Handoff, which enables users to start a task on one Apple device and seamlessly switch to another. For example, you could be reading or composing an email on your phone and then switch to your desktop, handing off the same view and content. Apple demonstrated the same kind of thing during the Apple Watch introduction, showing how users can get a message on the watch and then transfer the activity to either iMessage on a MacBook or an iOS device — picking up right where they left off.

While the Continuity Handoff is already publicly available for third-party apps, the presumption is that we would be able to get access to allow third-party Apple Watch apps to hand off interaction to an iPhone, and vice versa. This kind of back-and-forth is probably more important (or would be at least more widely used) mobile to watch. For example, if you open up an AMC cinema ticket app, you could theoretically transfer attention/intent to a Glance widget on your watch, which would present a ticket when you enter the theater. While there may be some more sophisticated uses for the Apple Watch out there, this is the kind of time-saving application that gets users' attention and appreciation (and gets your apps used and promoted).

5. NFC and Vibration Hardware Access

Apple also introduced another exciting initiative, worthy of its own separate discussion: The Apple Pay digital wallet ecosystem, along with associated near field communication chips in the latest iPhones, allows users to tap their phones to pay for products and services. The Apple Watch will also have NFC capabilities and can be used similarly, Apple has said.


Double-click to pay and go. You can pay with Apple Watch — just double-click the button next to the Digital Crown and hold the face of your Apple Watch near the contactless reader. A gentle pulse and beep confirm that your payment information was sent. (source: Apple)

Access to the watch’s NFC chip would allow third-party providers like PayPal to also participate in NFC payment transactions. Unfortunately, there are indications that Apple will not open up NFC access to third-party use, at least for the next year. Again, developers can dream, and they should not stop imagining the ways in which the feature could be leveraged for customer use and competitive gain.

Another interesting feature of the Apple Watch is its intuitive ability to emit different types of vibrations, complementing the visual contextual information. For example, you get one type of vibration for turning left in the navigation app or two vibrations for turning right. Opening up hardware access to the types of vibrations, perhaps through an enum list of sequence and duration of vibrations, could allow for a unique vibration signature synonymous with audible ring tones on your iPhone.

What potential hardware API access/use-cases can you think of?  Tweet it to us.

In addition to the five features noted in this post, there are other things we would like to see integrated tightly into the Apple Watch. These include the CarPlay feature, which allows interaction with a user's in-car display system, as well as HomeKit, for home automation. At any rate, these are exciting times for both consumers and developers as we see innovative opportunities emerge.

Be sure to read the next Wearable article: Vuzix Eyewear Wearables Compatible With DOCOMO APIs