Initial Impressions for WatchKit

watchOS series

Today Apple unveiled WatchKit. I am very pleasantly surprised by how capable it is. In my Expectations for WatchKit article I outlined that I thought we’d see a two phase roll-out of the platform. Starting with pretty limited capabilities that would then be expanded at next year’s WWDC. It turns out that I was only half correct. It is two phase but the first phase is much more capable than I was expecting.

In the first phase we will be able to build Glances, Actionable Notifications and iPhone powered apps. The last of which has me most excited.

Apple took a clever approach to handling the extremely constrained power environment of the Watch (at least initially). To start with 3rd Party apps will run in a split mode. The Watch itself handling the UI parts of the app with an iPhone based app extension doing all the heavy lifting and computation. This is architected in such a way as to enhance interactivity (it isn’t just a streamed movie) while still keeping the Watch components very lightweight.

While I’d love to jump right in and start working on native apps for the Watch I expect the result wouldn’t be great for either customers or developers. I like this conservative approach.

Rather than just saying we only get Glances and Notifications, we get to build actual, useful watch apps. Those apps, however, are architected in such a way as to make them extremely battery conscious. I suspect the biggest power draw these apps will have is the networking between the iPhone and Watch. However, optimizing the Watch OS for efficient networking is much easier than building an entire, rich SDK that is similarly respectful.

Next year will likely bring a next generation Watch and an expansion of the capabilities available to 3rd Party developers. Both of which will be informed by actual, real-life experience with the device. Apple is keeping their options open for the future rather than over committing now and then tying their hands later on.

David Smith