AILW: WatchCon 2

watchOS series

I’ve done a lot of thinking this week about the question of “How ready for launching my watch apps on Day One should I be?”

This line of thinking was prompted by the closing remarks of Rene Richie’s article outlining five important design objectives for WatchKit apps. Towards the end of it he said,

…when it comes to the Apple Watch, shipping great experiences is going to be far, far more important than shipping on launch day.

His assertion is certainly correct but the situation app developers face is surprisingly nuanced. Working on an app is always a question of tradeoffs between different opportunities. Any time I spend on my watch update is time I’m not spending on bugfixes or iPhone features.

After a bit of thought I came up with the following structure trying to segment a developer’s level of readiness. I modeled it after the DEFCON system used by the US Armed Forces.

  • WatchCon 1: You are on the stage with Tim Cook during an Apple Keynote. You were invited to Cupertino for early access to the Watch hardware. Your apps are included in marketing material on You are fully committed.

  • WatchCon 2: You have working, nearly finished versions of your WatchKit apps. You’ve been following along with every beta, making sure your app is keeping up. You have a comprehensive understanding about how WatchKit apps function, their limitations and capabilities. You are a GM seed away from a finished product. You are eagerly committed.

  • WatchCon 3: You have solid second drafts of your apps. You’ve spent a reasonable amount of time reading documentation and blog posts. Give you a week or two with actual hardware and you’re confident you’ll be ready to go. You are committed.

  • WatchCon 4: You downloaded a few betas. You watched a few videos. You read a few blog posts. You have a couple of vague prototypes or design sketches. You generally know how WatchKit apps work at a high level. You have a plan for how you’ll build your WatchKit apps at some point. You are waiting and seeing.

  • WatchCon 5: You have a passing interest in WatchKit. You watched the Apple Watch keynote. You have it on your calendar to investigate it properly when it ships. You are just plain waiting.

I’ve been striving to be at WatchCon 2 since the SDK was announced in November. As far as I reasonably can I’ve invested into understanding WatchKit and the Apple Watch. In some ways this may be an extreme position and perhaps even a little outside of the typically brutally pragmatic approach I take to my business.

The reason why I’m this committed though is somewhat straightforward. I want to be an expert on the platform. I think the Apple Watch is really compelling as a device, and think that in the long run it will be a significant market for application developers.

There is unfortunately no shortcut to gaining expertise in a subject. You can only truly understand something by working on it, by immersing yourself in it, by building terrible prototypes and throwing them away. You cannot throw away what you haven’t made.

Once I decided that the Watch was going to be a significant part of my future, my level of commitment to mastering it became clear.

I do not yet know if I will ship my WatchKit apps the moment Apple opens up the doors for submission. Rene is right, it is more important to ship something compelling than just shipping first.

However, whether or not I actually ship on launch day, I want to be ready to ship on launch day. I don’t want to be sitting in the locker room when the race starts. I want to be on the line ready to go—to be able to make the choice about whether I am ready.

What about you?

My personal recommendation is that any developer who is committed to the iOS ecosystem for the next few years should be at least at WatchCon 3 right now. You should have at least built a few app drafts and be getting comfortable with it. I don’t imagine a world where becoming competent with this platform isn’t going to be useful and productive.

I’ve talked with a lot of developers who are sitting at WatchCon 4, waiting and seeing. They’ll really dig into it when all the details get sorted out and they can play with real hardware. That is of course their choice, but I think it will come back to bite them later.

I want to make the best iOS apps I can and I believe that very soon a significant part of being able to achieve that will be pairing the on-phone parts of my apps with compelling Watch counterparts. The longer you wait the longer it will be until you can deliver that experience to your customers.

David Smith