Watch Apps Worth Making

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and working on Apple Watch apps over the last year. I’ve shipped eleven of them so far, ranging from games to utilities to fitness trackers.

The result of all this work (and nearly a year wearing [at least] one Apple Watch every day) is that I think I have a good sense of what actually works with Apple Watch apps.

What doesn’t work is easiest to say. Apps that try to re-create the functionality of an iPhone app simply don’t work. If you can perform a particular operation on an iPhone, then it is better to do it there. The promise of never having to take your iPhone out of your pocket just isn’t quite here yet. The Apple Watch may advance (in hardware and software) to a point where this is no longer true but the platform has a ways to grow first.

There seems to be only three kinds of apps that make sense given the current hardware and software on the Apple Watch.

  1. Notifications — Not really an ‘app’ in the traditional sense but getting real-time alerts of things that are important to me is great. Any iOS app that sends notifications should do the basic work to make sure they look and perform well on the Apple Watch.
  2. Complications — Showing timely information at the raise of the wrist. These are probably the most practically useful apps on my watch. I typically have my watch show me the current temperature, my current step count, and battery percent. All of which present me with timely information that is useful to know now.
  3. Sensors — The last kind of app that has actually stuck for me on the Apple Watch are apps that make use of the sensors on the watch. These apps are essentially impossible to re-create on an iPhone. The Apple Watch includes a heart rate monitor, accelerometer and microphone. I don’t think the range and variety of uses for these has been fully explored yet. Having these sensors persistently attached to your body is very different than any use you might come up with on an iPhone.

I’m still very interested in developing apps for the Apple Watch. I really enjoy the platform and think it has a strong future. But I’m only going to do work on apps that fall squarely into one of these three categories. My next watch app (my twelfth) is built around improving the health data I can see on my complications.

David Smith

Introducing Sleep++ 2.0

Last Fall’s release of watchOS 2.0 brought a variety of interesting new capabilities. The most obvious of which were the changes to how apps can now run directly on the Apple Watch, but there were a variety of lower level changes that got me even more excited. We were finally given a mechanism for directly accessing the motion and activity data that the Watch collects. When I first saw these, my first thought was to build a sleep tracker for the Apple Watch. A few weeks later that is what I did.

Sleep++ 1.0 was a relatively simple affair. As with all new technologies I’m always a bit tentative about how deep I go with the app at first. I never know how the market will react or how they will fare in App Review. Sleep++’s initial reception rather blew me away. The app has been downloaded around 170,000 times, which given that it requires an Apple Watch to function seems like a very solid initial adoption. What’s more, I’ve heard countless stories about how useful it has been amongst my users to help them sleep better.

That is probably the best part of making health and fitness apps. There is something really special about hearing that the work you do is positively impacting the lives of your customers. All this has made me want to make Sleep++ better and better.

Today I’m delighted to announce Sleep++ 2.0 which makes the app both more capable and easier to use.

The basic operation remains the same:

  1. Wear your Apple Watch while you sleep (It’s easier than you’d think to keep it charged)
  2. Tell Sleep++ when you go to sleep
  3. Tell Sleep++ when you wake up

What’s New

What version 2.0 does is build out the depth of the data I collect during that process and make a few things easier to manage:

  • Better Sleep Analysis — The sleep analysis algorithm has been completely overhauled to allow for more fine grained sleep-type characterization. It can now differentiate between deep sleep, light sleep, restlessness and wakefulness.

  • Better Health Integration — The HealthKit support for the app has been greatly improved beyond the basic data previously collected. A more detailed analysis of your night is performed and saved to your Health database.

  • Night Detail View — A night detail screen now provides for more clear explanation of the quality of each night, telling you when you slept well and when you were restless.

  • Night Trimming — You can now trim nights from the detail screen, useful for when you forget to stop the sleep analysis when you wake up in the morning.

  • Timezone Support — The app now more fully supports time zone changes letting you get a more consistent view of your sleep as you travel.

Sleep++ is free in the App Store.

If you have an Apple Watch I hope you’ll give it a try.

David Smith

» Under the Radar #12: Apps With Personality

This week Marco and I discuss the pros and cons of giving your business (or apps) a strong personality. Why you might want to appear to be bigger than you are, or why you might want to be yourself.

David Smith