The Apple Watch is steadily moving toward full independence from the iPhone. Making cellular an option, adding new apps at a healthy pace, and enabling apps to be downloaded and run independent of an iPhone are all crucial steps toward the device becoming entirely untethered. I have a cellular Apple Watch and go running with it each week without bringing my iPhone along, and it works great. I’ve even gone to a couple of doctor’s appointments with only my Watch, and the list of things I miss my phone for in those cases is now minimal.
One time the device still falls flat, however, is when I need to send a message. Scribble is too slow for more than a word or two, dictation is hit-or-miss, and canned responses aren’t good enough for most situations. FlickType Keyboard sets out to solve this problem, and entirely succeeds.
Matt Birchler has made a tradition of publishing a watchOS wish list every year at BirchTree that is accompanied by concept art, showing how his ideas might be implemented. This year for watchOS 7, Birchler has a long list of excellent ideas that focus on virtually every aspect of the OS, including fitness tracking, communications, and battery life.
Like Birchler, I’d love to see more flexibility built into the Activity app. For example, he expects more ring options in watchOS 7:
I think this year not only will Apple let you customize these rings more than before, but they’ll also add more rings. Want to add sleep or mindfulness: go right ahead.
As he suggests, the ability to set custom metrics for each ring and edit workouts in the Activity app on the iPhone would be fantastic additions as well.
It’s also a little hard to believe that autocomplete hasn’t been added to the scribble keyboard on the Apple Watch. Perhaps that’s a technical limitation, but like Birchler, I think it would go a long way to making text input more tolerable on the Watch.
Those are just a couple of my favorite ideas from Birchler’s story this year. Be sure to check out the full post. There are some terrific ideas here, and the concept art looks wonderful as always.
NapBot debuted last fall as a Swift UI-powered app that makes sleep tracking easy thanks to CoreML and a clean, simple design. The app recently received a variety of improvements via a 1.3 update that enhances both the watchOS and iOS components of NapBot.
On the watchOS side, NapBot now features a fully independent Watch app, meaning it can be downloaded from the Watch’s App Store and run without needing the iOS app installed. The current Watch app only shows sleep data for the previous day, rather than the full history that’s available on the iPhone, so I hope this release is just the first step toward offering full feature parity between watchOS and iOS apps.
Timed with its upgrade to independence, NapBot’s Watch app also now has complications available for every type of watch face and every complication size, so no matter which face is your go-to, you can find a fit for your sleep data.
The iPhone app now tracks a new trend, accessed from inside the Trends tab: Awake minutes. This enables keeping a pulse on how much time you spend awake during a normal night, and if the number doesn’t look good, NapBot will recommend you try reducing caffeine consumption during the latter parts of your day. If your Awake minutes trend shows just limited awake time, you’ll receive reassurance that brief waking periods can be perfectly normal.
Finally, NapBot has added a Today widget that documents your sleep data from the previous evening, and a notification in the morning to let you know sleep has been tracked. Using one or both of these options can reduce the need to open the full NapBot app as often and enable passive use instead, which I find ideal for a sleep tracking app.
The appeal of NapBot is in combining an easy-to-understand interface and effortless sleep tracking with data analysis powered by CoreML. Version 1.3 doesn’t change anything fundamental about the app, but it brings system feature integrations that make a meaningful difference in everyday use.
Satechi began selling a new MFi-certified Apple Watch charger today with a clever design that looks perfect for iPad Pro users.
The charger, which is made of space gray aluminum and retails for $44.99 in the US, has a USB-C connector that plugs directly into devices with USB-C ports. Attached to an iPad Pro while using a Smart Keyboard Folio, you can charge your Watch and conveniently see the time thanks to the Watch’s Nightstand Mode. Satechi includes a short USB-C male to female cable in the box for situations where you don’t want the charger connected directly to a device, such as a MacBook Pro where it would block other USB-C ports.
I haven’t had a chance to try it yet, but this charger looks like it would have been perfect when I was traveling last week, so I ordered one immediately. During that trip, I worked on my iPad Pro on and off throughout the day, and Satechi’s charger would have been an excellent way to charge my Watch and had a minimal impact on the iPad Pro’s large battery.
For a limited time you can use the coupon code GIFTSATECHI to get Satechi’s USB-C Magnetic Charging Dock for Apple Watch for 20% off.
It’s time for Apple Watch apps to grow up, and Chirp for Twitter is leading the charge.
Chirp 2.0 debuted today, offering a full-featured Twitter experience on the Apple Watch. Chirp was already the prime Twitter client on watchOS, but with version 2 the app becomes something truly special: an iPhone-quality app on the Watch. Thanks to SwiftUI and other new developer tools Apple has built for watchOS, Chirp can do all the things you would expect from a full-featured iOS app, such as load your whole timeline, with liking and retweeting functionality, display videos and open links embedded in tweets, offer tweet composition, full user profiles, DMs, and much, much more.
Watch developer Will Bishop has been shipping impressive apps for a while, but Chirp 2.0 undoubtedly represents his best work yet.
Today Apple announced the next phase of its efforts in medical research studies. Following the Heart Study which debuted in late 2017 and shared its first results earlier this year, Apple now has three new studies it’s launching at once, which users can sign up for through a brand new Apple Research app.
“Today marks an important moment as we embark on research initiatives that may offer incredible learnings in areas long sought after by the medical community,” said Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer. “Participants on the Research app have the opportunity to make a tremendous impact that could lead to new discoveries and help millions lead healthier lives.”
Users can enroll in one or more of the new studies: the Women’s Health Study, Heart and Movement Study, and Hearing Study. Each of these uses an iPhone and Apple Watch to collect certain data for the purpose of aiding medical advancements.
Anything health-related can come with plenty of privacy concerns, so the Research app’s on-boarding flow includes a very clear privacy commitment, stated in four points:
- Your data will not be sold.
- You decide which studies you join, and you can leave the study at any time.
- You control which types of data you share, and you can stop sharing your data at anytime.
- Studies must tell you how your data supports their research.
Tim Cook on multiple occasions has sought to emphasize how important the issue of health is to Apple. Far from a mere hobby, he’s said he believes health will end up being Apple’s most significant area of contribution to mankind. Studies like these are one way to help push the needle on that goal.
Customization options have never hurt an app, and in many cases they make apps far more functional and endearing. Today HomeRun, the Apple Watch app for running HomeKit scenes, has expanded its customization options immensely by adding over 4,400 new icons that can be used for configuring the app’s grid of HomeKit scenes, and also for adorning your watch face via HomeRun’s complications.
HomeRun debuted last November as the best option for running HomeKit scenes from your Apple Watch. Unlike Apple’s own Home app, which only displays two scene triggers on-screen at once, with HomeRun you can fit up to 12 on-screen with a 44mm Watch, plus create complications for those scenes that run on a user-set schedule, so the right scene complication is always present at the right time.
Previous releases enabled customizing HomeRun’s scene grid, which makes up the app’s main UI, by choosing from different colors and glyphs for each of your HomeKit scenes. The number of options was fine before, but now it’s much more than fine. Developer Aaron Pearce has added thousands of new icons by including the full set of Apple’s SF Symbols, the full set of Simpaticons, plus emoji options. The over 4,400 icons can be browsed inside HomeRun’s companion iPhone app, where a search option has thankfully been included.
I love that these new options work not only inside HomeRun’s grid, but also for configured complications. The sole exception is emoji, since they don’t fit watchOS’ design standards for complications. That slight drawback aside, this is a fantastic release for HomeRun that ensures I have no reason to ever look elsewhere for HomeKit scene control on the Apple Watch.
HomeRun 1.3 is available now on the App Store.
Sleep tracking is an area of health that Apple hasn’t yet formally moved into, but all signs point to that changing soon. iOS 13 saw the company build more advanced wellness tracking features into the Health app, Beddit was acquired by Apple a couple years ago, and very recently the App Store leaked evidence of a Sleep app that is (or was) in development for Apple Watch. But for the time being, anyone interested in sleep tracking with a Watch or iPhone needs a third-party app.
NapBot is one such app, a new debut from the maker of CardioBot that launched in recent weeks. NapBot applies CoreML to perform automatic sleep tracking when you’re wearing an Apple Watch to bed, the results of which you can then view in either the iPhone or Watch apps.
Developer David Smith has often expressed a desire to design third-party faces for the Apple Watch, a feature that many users wish Apple offered. But recently, after launching his latest Watch app Geneva Moon (formerly known as Moon++), Smith realized he could take a different view of face customization, inspired by his newest app.
Geneva Moon exists mainly to provide a complication which displays an astronomically accurate representation of the moon. It takes advantage of the new ability in watchOS 6 for Watch apps to be offered independently of iOS counterparts, so you can download Geneva Moon directly from the Watch’s App Store and then install its complication on your watch face. Smith’s experience with this app inspired him to shift his focus from the aspects of watch faces that Apple doesn’t let developers customize, to the extensive areas that they can. He writes:
I have extensive control over what is shown here and for many of the watch faces, this area makes up the vast majority of the screen. Other than the design of the watch hands or appearance of the digital time numerals, I can do a whole lot with the complication tools I already have.
To that end, I’m starting a journey I’m calling Project Geneva, in which I’m going to see just how far I can push customizability and design of complications for the Apple Watch.
Though Apple doesn’t permit the distribution of third-party watch faces, by focusing on creating new complications that can be used across a variety of different first-party faces, Smith will provide users more flexibility in crafting each existing face to their own preferences and needs.
To a degree, third-party faces are already here. An entire watch face can’t be customized, but for those faces which are largely populated by complications – which many are – there exists enormous freedom for developers and users alike to craft their ideal watch face.
I can’t wait to see what new complications are spawned by Project Geneva, and hope other developers may take inspiration from Smith’s new initiative themselves.