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Posts tagged with "apple watch"

Workouts++ Adds Podcast Playback, Mapping, New Workout Types, Siri and More

Almost a year ago, David Smith released Workouts++, an alternative to watchOS’ built-in Workout app that adds an iOS component to leverage the data collected during workouts. Today, Smith released version 2.0 of Workouts++ with a host of new features enabled by advances in the Apple Watch and Apple’s health and fitness APIs, including podcast playback, location tracking and mapping, support for new workout types, Siri integration, and more. On top of that, Workouts++ is now free with no In-App Purchases, advertising, or subscription.

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Apple Launches Heart Study App in the US in Partnership with Stanford Medicine

Today, Apple launched the Apple Heart Study app. The app lets users contribute heart rate data to a study being conducted in partnership with Stanford Medicine regarding irregular heart rhythms. The app uses the Apple Watch to monitor the user’s heart rate and alert them when they may be experiences atrial fibrillation, a leading cause of stroke. Apple COO Jeff Williams commented that:

“Every week we receive incredible customer letters about how Apple Watch has affected their lives, including learning that they have AFib. These stories inspire us and we're determined to do more to help people understand their health,” said Jeff Williams, Apple’s COO. “Working alongside the medical community, not only can we inform people of certain health conditions, we also hope to advance discoveries in heart science.”

If the app detects an irregular heart rhythm, the user receives an alert on their iPhone and Apple Watch, a free consultation with a study doctor, and an electrocardiogram patch for further monitoring. The app is available in the US only on the App Store and users must be 22 or older to participate in the study.


Apple Encourages Developers to Update to watchOS 4

In a short note to developers on its Developer News and Updates site, Apple is encouraging developers to:

Take advantage of increased performance, new background modes for navigation and audio recording, built-in altimeter capabilities, direct connections to accessories with Core Bluetooth, and more. In addition, the size limit of a watchOS app bundle has increased from 50 MB to 75 MB.

The carrot of new functionality comes with something of a stick as well. After April 1, 2018, watchOS 1 app updates will no longer be accepted and all updates must be native apps built with the watchOS 2 SDK or later. New app submissions must be built with the watchOS 4 SDK.


Stranded Kitesurfer Used His Apple Watch to Call for Help

John Zilles, a 49-year-old who has been kiteboarding for 20 years, recently found himself stuck at sea after crashing about a mile off the coast of Ventura, California, an area known for great white sharks. Zilles told his story to the Daily Mail:

’I started thinking about all the great white shark sightings in our area, and although I realised I could probably swim in, I couldn't stop thinking about sharks - it was a real mind bender.

’I realized I had my watch - so called the Ventura Harbor Patrol, explained my situation and asked for help.'

The harbor patrol sent a boat, and Zilles spotted it, but the boat was heading in the wrong direction. Another quick call on his Apple Watch and Zilles was in the boat heading back to safety.

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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.

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