These are exciting times for professional app developers. With the buzz about Apple Watch at its peak (the smartwatch is slated to release in spring next year) and WatchKit already launched, many have started creating apps for Watch. We have here highlighted some limitations that the first-generation Watch apps would have to work with.
WatchKit was officially released a month back by Apple, much to the delight of iOS app developers. We had also done a piece at that time, about the types of apps for Watch that could be developed. It has to be kept in mind though that, to start off with, the degree of customization possible in third-party Watch apps would be rather limited. Wondering what are the things an app developed for Apple Watch won’t be able to do? Here’s a list:
- Use the Taptic Engine – Vibrations generated via the built-in Taptic Engine could have served great as app notifications. However, till now, only Apple’s own applications would be able to access this feature of Watch. Apps from other mobile companies would only have the option of using the regular vibration for generating push-notifications, and not the fine-tuned Taptic ones.
- Have customized audio support – The initial apps for Apple Watch are going to be a ‘silent’ lot. App developers won’t get the option of adding custom audio effects and/or notification alerts in their Watch software. This is, in fact, one of the many features that indicate that Apple is taking things really slowly with Watch. There is a silver lining though – sound files can be played via the Watch on paired iPhones.
- Operate in the absence of a paired iPhone – A point that might prove to be a roadblock in the otherwise lofty sales projections of Apple Watch. The smartwatch HAS to have an iPhone paired to it – barring which, all apps installed on it will become useless. Watch apps are going to have very short user-interaction periods (how long can a glance at a wristwatch possibly take?), and, at least for now, all third-party apps will be processed on the paired iPhone, and then displayed on Watch. In other words, Watch is not going to have its own standalone app platform – it is going to be totally dependant on iOS.
- Support apps with scrolling options – When developers are creating apps for Watch, they need to be very careful about the screen sizes. The ‘Glances’ display system of Apple Watch has been designed in a way that apps have to perfectly fit in the display area of the device. Scrolling is not supported, and it would be advisable to put in as few buttons/tabs in the app screens as possible. It’s going to be a challenge for UI/UX designers – that’s for sure!
- Use the features of Digital Crown – Although the ‘Digital Crown’ is one of the most exciting parts of the Watch hardware, it is still out-of-bounds for third party developers (which rules out the chance of implementing scrolling features with it). Watch apps will not have the API support for simple finger-scrolling either. What gets displayed on the screen of the wristwatch is all there would be about a third-party app. In-app navigation will remain rather limited.
- Display animations or videos – Unlike the popular mobile apps for kids, apps for Apple’s smartwatch won’t be able to render animation files or videos. For starters, WatchKit will let developers create apps that are based only on static images and text. The good thing is that, there is ample scope for coming up with unique and personalized app designing schemes for Watch. If rumors in mobile development forums are anything to go by, Apple will start supporting videos in third-party apps pretty soon.
- Cache iPhone information – Not only does Apple Watch have to be paired with an iPhone, but the latter has to be within reachable distance of the smartwatch. There is no way to cache information of the paired device on Watch, so that applications on it remain functional even when a user does not have his/her iPhone within reach. Apps cannot stay ‘alive’ when Watch is not able to detect the device working in sync with it.
- Access the near-field communication (NFC) feature – NFC debuted in the Apple ecosystem with iPhone 6/6 Plus, and would be present on Watch as well. While that is great news for mobile payments (read: the already popular Apple Pay), third-party mobile app developers won’t be able to create apps that would depend on NFC for their functionality. This does not come as a big surprise though – since the latest iPhone/iPad apps do not have NFC-support either.
- Support in-app purchase options – Freemium apps might be rapidly gaining in popularity in the App Store, but Watch is not yet ready to offer that feature to external developers. Third-party apps created with WatchKit cannot have any in-app purchase options. Among iOS app development experts, word is that this feature might be included in Watch applications sometime later.
- Create customized faces for Watch – Android smartwatches have them, and Apple Watch doesn’t (till now, at least). Users will have to take their pick from the set of twelve alternative Watch faces pre-built in the device. Creativity is a hallmark of this smartwatch, and developers are undoubtedly looking forward to the day when they can create apps that offer additional custom Watch faces.
- Complete use of the device mic – The full API capabilities of the Watch microphone have not been made available to third-party iPhone app developers. At present, all that the mic can do is dictate texts/queries, which have to be passed to a compatible iOS application. The response to the dictated text will be generated via API. In-flight apps for Watch have already tested and implemented this feature.
- Use data from the heart rate monitor – Like the new flagship iPhones (iPhone 6 has HealthKit), Apple Watch also has a hardware element to focus on personal health – the heart rate monitor. However, developers who are planning to make health and fitness apps cannot expect to use data from this source. The heart rate monitor would support only proprietary Apple software. It cannot be accessed in any way by third-party applications.
- Be paired with more than one iPhone – Oh well, not everyone struts about with multiple iPhones – but it is definitely within the realm of possibility. Watch-users have to pick any one iPhone to be paired with their smartwatch. While this ‘single-device-pairing’ feature is in keeping with Watch’s positioning as ‘Apple’s most personal gadget ever’, apps installed on separate iPhones (via WatchKit extension) cannot be simultaneously used on it.
- Make use of Force Touch – The developers at Apple have gone a step beyond traditional multi-touch features. Watch boasts of ‘Force Touch’, which uses small electrodes that can sense the difference between long presses and light taps (on and around the Retina Display). Sadly for iOS app developers though, their applications cannot make use of this innovative feature. All that apps other than those owned by Apple can do is pull a contextual menu via Force Touch.
There would be no custom codes for WatchKit apps, which takes up the importance of storyboarding and dynamic UI designing by several notches. It has been projected that over 40 million units of Watch would be sold by the end of 2015. Developers have already started conceptualizing apps for Apple Watch, and it remains to be seen how they can work around the limitations listed above.
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