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