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.
HomeRun is a simple, elegant utility for triggering HomeKit scenes from your Apple Watch. Through a combination of color and iconography, HomeRun developer Aaron Pearce, who is the creator of other excellent HomeKit apps like HomeCam and HomePass, creates an effective solution for accessing HomeKit scenes from your wrist. It’s a user-friendly approach that’s a fantastic alternative for HomeKit device users frustrated by Apple’s Home app.
Apple’s Home app is hard to use on the Apple Watch. First, when you open Home on the Watch, it’s not clear what you’re seeing. Home presents a series of card-like, monochrome scene and accessory buttons that you scroll through one or two at a time. Although the app doesn’t say so, these are the favorite scenes and accessories from the Home tab of the iOS app. That makes the list customizable, which is nice, but the app should do a better job identifying where the user is in relationship to the iOS app.
Second, although you can rearrange your Home favorites to reorder them on the Watch too, you can only see two scenes or one accessory at a time. Depending on how many favorites you have, that limits the Watch app’s utility because a long list of scenes and accessories requires a lot of swiping or scrolling with the Digital Crown.
HomeRun avoids this by eliminating text and relying on color and iconography to distinguish between scenes. The app is also limited to triggering scenes, reducing potential clutter further. The approach allows HomeRun to display up to 12 scenes on a single screen of a 44mm Apple Watch compared to the two scene buttons that Home can display. If you set up more than 12 scenes, they are accessible by scrolling.
As tweeted by Mike Stern, Apple’s Platform Experience and Design Evangelism Manager, Apple has updated its AppKit design resources with a comprehensive set of UI elements for making Mac apps. The UI elements come in both Aqua and the Dark Aqua variants for designing Dark Mode Mac apps.
The update, also announced on Apple’s developer news website, includes new watchOS UI elements too, including ‘dozens of new UI elements for watchOS apps, watch face templates for designing complications, a color guide, and new text styles.’
The design assets are available to download in both Photoshop and Sketch formats from the Resources section of Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines website. A full list of all the changes is available here.
Following iOS 11.3, Apple also released watchOS 4.3 to the public today. The updated Apple Watch software, first released as a developer beta in January, brings a variety of improvements for music playback, a smarter Siri watch face, and bug fixes.
In watchOS 4.3, Apple has restored the ability to browse the entire iPhone music library and control iPhone music playback from the Watch. The lack of full iPhone playback control was one of the most criticized aspects of the Music app refresh on watchOS 4, and it’s nice to see Apple rectify this feature with today’s update.
Also on the music front, watchOS 4.3 allows HomePod owners to control playback and adjust volume of the speaker directly from the Watch. In the Now Playing screen, you can tap on the AirPlay icon (in the bottom left corner) to instantly connect to a HomePod on the same WiFi network, after which you’ll be able to spin the Digital Crown to adjust its volume – all without having to connect to the HomePod through the iPhone first. As someone who routinely listens to Music via the kitchen HomePod while doing something else around the house, I’ve greatly enjoyed the ability to connect and change volume from my wrist.
There are a couple of noteworthy additions to the Siri watch face in watchOS 4.3. First, a new Activity card provides you with a handy summary of the progress you’re making toward closing your rings. The card is updated in real-time during the day, so you can glance at it without opening the main Activity app. Furthermore, on days when one of your Apple Music mixes gets an update, the Siri watch face will bring up a card with a thumbnail preview of the playlist and a message that tells you an updated version of the mix is available.
Lastly, in addition to various bug fixes, watchOS 4.3 brings support for portrait orientation in Nightstand mode (likely in preparation for the company’s AirPower charging mat) along with a refreshed charging animation. I’ve long charged my Watch using a portrait-oriented Belkin Valet charger that sits on my desk, and I like how Nightstand mode is now an option for me.
As I wrote earlier this month, the changes introduced in watchOS 4.3 have helped me enjoy the benefits of Apple’s ecosystem as they integrate the Watch more deeply with my iPhone and HomePods. The update is available now, and you can read our original review of watchOS 4 here.
I’ve been keeping an eye on the adoption of the Apple Watch Series 3 since its introduction last fall. From a development perspective the Series 3 is a delight to work with. It is fast, capable and LTE allows a wide variety of new applications (for example, the podcast support I added to Workouts++).
This stands in contrast to the challenges of working with the Series 0 (or Apple Watch (1st generation) as Apple would call it). It is just slow and honestly a bit painful to develop for. Even basic things like deploying your application to the watch can take uncomfortably long amounts of time. In daily use the Series 0 is probably “good enough” for many customers, especially with the speed/stability improvements added in watchOS 4, but as a developer I can’t wait until I no longer have to support it.
Which is why I’ve been watching the Apple Watch adoption curve within my apps (specifically Pedometer++ for this analysis) quite carefully. My personal hope is that this summer when we get watchOS 5 it will drop support for the Series 0 and free Apple to really push forward on what is possible for developers. But in order for that wish to be realistic I imagine Apple will need the daily use of those first watches to have died down significantly.
These are fascinating numbers about the adoption of different Apple Watch models by David Smith, who makes some of the best apps for the platform.
I’ve been wondering about when Apple could drop support for the original Apple Watch in new versions of watchOS. For context, the original iPhone, launched in 2007, couldn’t be updated to iOS 4 in 2010, three years later. The Apple Watch will have its official third anniversary next month. I suppose that Apple Watch owners hold onto their devices for longer, but if old hardware is stifling innovation for the developer community who wants to push Watch apps forward (as much as that is possible with the current tools), then maybe it is time for Apple to move on.
Apple released watchOS 4.2 in December with new workout APIs for skiing and snowboarding workouts. Those additions have allowed third-party developers to offer an enhanced workout experience to Apple Watch Series 3 users when they hit the slopes. In a press release today, which was timed with the release of updates to several popular skiing apps, Apple said:
Developers are taking advantage of the built-in GPS and altimeter in Apple Watch Series 3 as well as custom workout APIs released in watchOS 4.2 to enable tracking of specialized metrics. App updates for snoww, Slopes, Squaw Alpine, Snocru and Ski Tracks now track new metrics on the slopes including:
- Total vertical descent and horizontal distance
- Number of runs
- Average and maximum speeds
- Total time spent
- Calories burned
The new workout features include other benefits for skiers and snowboarders too:
Apps can auto pause and resume and users will get credit towards their Activity rings; workout information will also be recorded to the Health app on iPhone with user permission. Using Siri, users can start Slopes and snoww to track their runs using just their voice.
Apps that take advantage of the new watchOS 4.2 features are also spotlighted in the App Store’s Today section and include:
There’s more Apple could do to improve the overall experience of developing for watchOS, but it’s good to see the workout APIs continue to expand and third-party developers take advantage of them.
Marco Arment (who’s been struggling with Watch app development for a while now) makes the case for WatchKit to be either discontinued or substantially expanded as, in its current form, it hinders the creation of more powerful apps.
Developing Apple Watch apps is extremely frustrating and limited for one big reason: unlike on iOS, Apple doesn’t give app developers access to the same watchOS frameworks that they use on Apple Watch.
Instead, we’re only allowed to use WatchKit, a baby UI framework that would’ve seemed rudimentary to developers even in the 1990s. But unlike the iPhone’s web apps, WatchKit doesn’t appear to be a stopgap — it seems to be Apple’s long-term solution to third-party app development on the Apple Watch.
When I first read his post, I thought that asking Apple to discontinue and replace WatchKit was perhaps too much. But after spending some time reorganizing my Watch favorites and complications last night and this morning, I agree with Marco. My favorite apps on the Watch are all made by Apple and are not based on WatchKit. The only exception is Workouts++ (which, as a workout app, has specific privileges). The only third-party Watch apps I regularly use besides Smith’s app are Things and Shazam (which is somewhat ironic) and they’re both accessed via complications; they’re okay, but I don’t love them because they’re often slow to sync data with their iPhone counterparts or take too long to launch and be in a usable state. When I’m out and about, I still don’t trust Watch apps to be as reliable as iPhone apps.
Despite three years of watchOS updates and more powerful hardware (I use a Series 3), the Apple Watch still doesn’t feel like the rich, diverse, and vibrant app platform that the iPhone is. Some might say that’s precisely the point – it doesn’t have to be because the Watch works best through notifications and complications. However, I often ask myself if such argument is the wearable equivalent of Aesop’s sour grapes – real Watch apps wouldn’t make sense anyway. Like Marco, I wonder what would happen if only Apple exposed real watchOS development tools to app makers.
Matt Birchler has published his list of requests for watchOS 5, and I wholeheartedly agree with all of his major feature ideas. His top request is identical to my own: letting third-party apps populate the Siri Watch face introduced last year.
Essentially, Apple should be making the Siri watch face the smartest, most useful watch face someone can choose. It already is the smartest, but to be useful to everyone, they need to make the apps people are actually using work with it.
I’ve been using the Siri face nearly non-stop since installing the watchOS 4 beta. Because I use a lot of first-party apps, it still offers me enough value to be the best Watch face for me. Once third-party apps can tap in though, it could end up becoming the best face for everyone.
Pair Siri face improvements with Birchler’s other major requests – always-on Watch faces, an Apple Podcasts app, and further updates to Activity and Workout – and watchOS 5 would stack up to address all my outstanding issues with the platform.