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Posts tagged with "apple watch"

The Limitations of watchOS Development

Benjamin Mayo recently built his first watchOS app, a companion to his iOS app for scanning and creating QR codes, Visual Codes. On his blog he outlines his experiences developing for the Apple Watch, focusing particularly on how limited third-party developers are with their apps.

Apple engineers are using a completely different technology stack to create the system apps. They get to real write real iOS apps with a watchOS appearance theme, essentially. Third-party developers have to use WatchKit — a completely separate abstracted framework that exposes only high-level interface objects (whilst creating UIKit components under the covers).

The current WatchKit API leaves no room for invention. iOS innovations like pull-to-refresh came about because the iPhone OS UI frameworks were flexible enough to let developers and designers run wild with their own ideas, if they wanted to. Some of these custom controls worked so well Apple later incorporated them as standard components in UIKit. That free reign creativity simply can’t happen on the watch at the moment. Apple defines what is possible.

Apple has clearly invested a lot into advancing the Apple Watch from a hardware perspective, and even in the native OS experience – both key areas to grow. But Mayo puts the spotlight on an area that’s clearly lagging behind.

In past years the lack of tools available to make third-party watchOS apps was less important, as the Watch itself still bore several key limitations – slow hardware, a confused OS, and being tethered to the iPhone. Few developers cared about being creative with Watch apps because everyone knew the Watch could barely handle the vanilla apps of the time anyways. It’s a testament to the recent evolution of the Watch as a product that WatchKit’s shortcomings now appear so disappointing.

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Shazam Launches Redesigned, Faster Apple Watch App

iOS 11 apps have been receiving the most attention in recent weeks, and for good reason – drag and drop, ARKit, and more make it an exciting time for the platform. But watchOS is also seeing significant improvement of late. With watchOS 4 and the Apple Watch Series 3, the Watch feels like it’s beginning to truly mature in several key ways. There’s still a long way to go, but developers are now able to build the most capable, refined Watch apps ever seen. Shazam is a great example of that.

Shazam’s new Watch app is extremely simple, and as I like to say, that’s the way all good Watch apps should be. Launching it presents the familiar blue Shazam button, which upon a tap will begin listening to whatever music is currently playing. After you hit the button, you can turn your wrist away and the app will notify you through a haptic tap when the song’s been identified. In testing on a Series 3 Watch, songs were identified very quickly, taking only 2-3 seconds on every try.

After songs have been identified, they’re stored below the Shazam button in the main app interface. By scrolling with the Digital Crown, you’ll see the last five songs presented in a style similar to watchOS’s revamped Music app: large album covers resembling cards that slide in over each other as you keep scrolling. Tapping an album cover plays a short preview of the song using the Watch’s built-in speaker.

One final thing worth noting is that unlike many other third-party watchOS apps, Shazam is built to take full advantage of the iPhone independence made possible by the new Series 3 LTE Watch. According to an official support document:

Do I need my phone to use Apple Watch Shazam features?

If you have the Watch Series 3 LTE, you can shazam phone-free! If you have an older Apple Watch device you’ll need to have your iPhone connected in order to name that song.

It will likely be a while before we see a significant number of third-party apps updated to support independence from the iPhone, but Shazam is a good start.


Why There Are No Standalone Apple Watch Podcast Players

With watchOS 4 and the Series 3 Apple Watch, Apple has made several improvements to how the Watch handles music, untethering listeners from their iPhones. Apple Music subscribers can sync their My Favorites Mix, My Chill Mix, My New Music Mix and the Heavy Rotation section of Music to their watches, for example. In October, Apple will expand users' options on the Watch by adding Apple Music streaming for subscribers. However, there’s a glaring omission in Apple’s iPhone-free audio strategy: podcasts.

There is no good way to listen to podcasts on an Apple Watch without bringing along an iPhone. As Marco Arment, the maker of Overcast, details on Marco.org,

The Apple Watch desperately needs standalone podcast playback, especially with the LTE-equipped Series 3, which was designed specifically for exercising without an iPhone.

Believe me, I’ve tried. But limitations in watchOS 4 make it impossible to deliver standalone podcast playback with the basic functionality and quality that people expect.

Arment’s article walks through each of several technical challenges in detail, the biggest being syncing progress between a Watch and an iPhone. The post outlines the minimum changes to the watchOS APIs that Arment believes are necessary to build a viable standalone podcast player for the Watch as well as detailing more ambitious changes to Apple’s APIs that would be nice to have.

During the watchOS 4 beta period, I began running without my iPhone. I enjoyed listening to the music synced overnight to my Watch, but it was a taste of untethered freedom that only made me want a standalone podcast player more. Audio playback and syncing undoubtedly pose battery life issues and other challenges, but with the advancements in the Series 3 hardware, I hope we see corresponding API changes that will allow Arment and others to build iPhone-free podcast players.

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watchOS 4: The MacStories Review

It is difficult to reconcile a critical appraisal of the Apple Watch with the product’s commercial success. To examine the most popular watch in the world1 and find it wanting seems wrong; yet as Apple’s bombastic smartwatch kicks off its third year, its history implores ignominy.

The integration of hardware and software is a keystone in Apple’s foundation. Every game-changing product they’ve released over the years has used this as a core advantage over the competition. Yet despite the Cupertino company’s proven track record, the last three years of Apple Watch have demonstrated a consistent struggle to get this right.

Apple has certainly iterated on unsuccessful hardware and software ideas in the past, but never quite so publicly. The Apple Watch feels like a device that was rushed a little too early to market. Apple knew that it had something good, but it didn’t yet know which areas the device would really excel in.

One of the most interesting pieces of this product’s story is that all signs point to Apple having gotten the hardware of the Apple Watch exactly right, at least in terms of its direction. The original Apple Watch was underpowered and lacking some technology that Apple simply couldn’t fit into it at the time, but the idea was there. In subsequent hardware iterations Apple has significantly increased the processing power, added vital new sensors, improved battery life, and shipped LTE. In this time the case design has remained unchanged (other than growing slightly thicker), and the input methods have persisted exactly. It may have taken until the latest Series 3 release for Apple to fulfill its initial vision for the Apple Watch hardware, but that vision has remained unshaken since the beginning.

The same cannot be said for the Apple Watch software.

Apple’s smartwatch operating system has had a rocky first few years. watchOS 1 was fundamentally broken in several ways, and probably should never have shipped. watchOS 2 was an attempt to shore up and replace the poor foundations under the hood, but it left the substandard user interface to fester in production for over a year. With last year’s release of watchOS 3, Apple took its best shot at rethinking cardinal pieces of that interface.

watchOS 3 was a huge improvement over the blunders that came before it. As I wrote in my watchOS 3 review last year, Apple did great work with the update to cut away the excess and hone the OS to something simpler and more straightforward. It was a significant course correction which set a far better trajectory, but it didn’t get us all the way there.

In a lot of ways it feels like watchOS 3 was the true watchOS 1. Where Apple left off with the smartwatch operating system last year was really the point where it should have started. Nothing was complete, but almost every piece felt primed for improvement rather than necessitating reinvention. In the wake of that update, Apple has been at a crossroads. With the foundations of watchOS finally feeling solid, Apple could either continue to drive the platform forward, or leave it on a slow-moving autopilot.

Yesterday marked the release of watchOS 4 — our first opportunity to see the hope kindled by watchOS 3 borne out — and I’m pleased to report that Apple has succeeded in maintaining the platform’s momentum. Every area that this year’s update focuses on has seen fantastic improvements, and I’ve found myself interacting with my Apple Watch more than ever before. My only disappointment is that the scope of watchOS 4 isn’t quite as far-reaching as last year’s update.

The big themes of watchOS 4 are fitness and music, and Apple has done some excellent work in these departments. New activity goals, completely overhauled Workout and Music apps, auto-launch of audio apps, a Now Playing Complication, and more are all excellent upgrades. As always there is still room for improvement, but many of these features are making the leap for the first time from options on my Apple Watch which I mostly ignore to real features which I find consistently useful in my daily life.

There’s a lot to dig into here with the choices made and the new features added. Let’s dive in and find out what Apple has in store for the next year of Apple Watch.

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  1. That’s watch, not smartwatch. ↩︎

AT&T and Verizon Announce Apple Watch Wireless Plan Pricing

The Street reports that AT&T and Verizon will charge $10 per month to add an LTE-enabled Apple Watch to an existing US data plan. Of the two carriers, Verizon’s offer is a little more generous because the first three months of service are free. According to The Street, Sprint and T-Mobile will also carry the Series 3 Watch in the US, but have not disclosed pricing yet.

You can also follow all of our Apple event coverage through our September 12 hub, or subscribe to the dedicated September 12 RSS feed.

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Apple Watch Series 3: Our Complete Overview

Today at a press event held at the Steve Jobs Theater in Apple’s Cupertino headquarters, the company unveiled the Apple Watch Series 3. The latest iteration of Apple Watch adds a new option to its lineup. Now the Apple Watch is available with an optional LTE radio that provides a network connection when out of range of its paired iPhone. The Series 3 is distinguished from its non-LTE siblings by a bright red dot on its Digital Crown. The Series 3 also features a new barometric altimeter that measures relative elevation, which Apple touted as perfect for skiers and snowboarders.

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Apple Posts September 12, 2017 Keynote and New Product Videos

If you didn't follow the live stream or announcements as they unfolded at the Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino today, Apple has posted the video of the event along with the product videos debuted on stage.

The keynote video can be streamed in Safari here and on the Apple TV using the Apple Events app. A higher quality version should be made available in a few hours through iTunes on the Apple Keynotes podcast.

Apple also posted new commercials and product-reveal videos for the iPhone 8, iPhone X, and Apple Watch Series 3 on its YouTube channel. You can find all those videos below after the break.


You can also follow all of our Apple event coverage through our September 12 hub, or subscribe to the dedicated September 12 RSS feed.

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A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Apple’s Fitness Lab

Men’s Health got a behind the scenes look at the fitness lab where Apple fine-tunes the Apple Watch algorithms that track your health and fitness. Like so many things Apple does, the numbers are staggering. According to Jay Blahnik, Apple’s director of fitness for health technologies:

‘Our lab has collected more data on activity and exercise than any other human performance study in history…. Over the past five years, we’ve logged 33,000 sessions with over 66,000 hours of data, involving more than 10,000 unique participants.’ A typical clinical trial enrolls fewer than a hundred participants.

Men’s Health also takes a look at the motivational messages coming to watchOS 4 and talked to Blahnik about the thinking behind the feature:

“We wanted to really make it easier for people to encourage each other, as well as smack-talk when the moment calls for it,” says Blahnik. “That’s why we have phrases like ‘Shazam’ and ‘You’re on fire.’ I share my activity with about 20 people, and whenever I see what someone else has done, it spurs me to train a little harder. It’s also a fun way to stay in touch.”

The refinements that Apple has made to watchOS 4 seem minor in print, but having tried the beta for about a month, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the impact they’ve had, especially with respect to the fitness features of the Watch. Now more than ever, it feels like Apple has figured out what the Watch does best and is putting all its wood behind those arrows.

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watchOS 4 Introduces Proactive Watch Face, Streamlined Navigation, and Fresh Refinements

Yesterday at Apple's WWDC keynote, watchOS 4 was introduced alongside updates to iOS and macOS. The latest version of the Apple Watch's operating system features few major improvements, instead focusing on a variety of smaller updates that, taken together, add up to a solid release.

watchOS 4 takes the tasks that the Apple Watch already does well and makes them better. It features new ways to receive proactive information, to track health and fitness data, and more. It also streamlines navigation in a number of subtle ways to require less user interaction, such as fewer button presses and app switches.

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