Apple Watch Apps Head to College

The thing I was most excited about during yesterday’s Apple Event was the addition of LTE to the Apple Watch. While the new iPhones are great, and a 4K Apple TV is useful, I see this new capability on the Apple Watch as being potentially transformative to how I use technology on a daily basis.

While I’ll have to live with it for a few weeks to see if it really pans out, imagining a future where my iPhone is no longer a ‘must carry’ device is remarkable.

The more, however, I think about this prospective future the more I think I’ll have to fundamentally change the way I consider and approach the development of my own Apple Watch apps.

Even though watchOS is only three years old we’ve already seen it grow from a hyper dependent toddler (WatchKit 1), to a slightly more independent adolescent (watchOS 2/3/4), to now suddenly a college student heading out of the home for the first time on its own. Asserting its independence while still holding on to a bit of a parental safety net.

Each evolution of the Apple Watch platform has made it less and less dependent on its parent iPhone. The addition of LTE takes all of this quite abruptly to another level.

I am now thinking about my watchOS apps as though they must be able to fully function out on their own with only minimal help and supervision from their iPhone. If they don’t, I suspect I’ll find them to be quite frustrating.

While previously there have been technical capabilities where watchOS apps could connect to external services without their iPhone present, the expectation I think has always been that this would be rare and unusual. Now it may very well be common and expected.

Practically I see this impacting my own apps in a few ways. These are mostly speculative at this point, so after living with an LTE watch for a few weeks they may change but I think these are going to be important considerations for watchOS developers moving forward.


Firstly, I’m going to need to do some management of application state and data via a web service rather than relying solely on the direct connection between the Apple Watch and iPhone.

I can imagine a situation where I configure a workout in Workouts++ and then immediately head out for a run. In this case if for some reason the new workout configuration hadn’t yet synced to the Apple Watch (via WatchConnectivity), right now the user would just be stuck. However, with LTE they would have a reasonable expectation that this new data would just be loaded over their cellular connection.

So I’m going to have to work through how to create a seamless experience for syncing application state between the Apple Watch and iPhone, where they are treated more like peers.

Application Dead-ends

Secondarily, while Apple Watch apps will still need to be simple and concise, I think I will need to make sure that there are very few ‘dead-ends’ where I’d currently punt the user to their iPhone to complete an action or do some setup.

These escape hatches were a great way to keep watchOS apps dead simple, but never really were particularly elegant. But in a world where the Apple Watch may be used for extended periods without being next to its iPhone they could become infuriating.

As an example, I’m thinking that for Workouts++ I may want to add the ability to do some very basic workout configuration on the Apple Watch, so that you aren’t stuck if you decide to do an activity you haven’t previously setup on your iPhone while you are out.

I’ll have to be extremely careful to not make the app overly complex as a result, but I’ll be on the lookout for these ‘dead-end’ spots.

New Opportunities

Lastly, I’m going to look for opportunities for what type of watchOS apps might now be possible with a persistent connection. In much the way that having an always internet connected iPhone opened a wide range of completely new use cases, I suspect a similar thing will be made possible on the Apple Watch. Some uses may be limited by the form factor of the Apple Watch but I suspect that a bit of creativity should allow many to become possible.

As someone who has been making apps for the Apple Watch from the beginning this new hardware addition has be more excited than ever for the platform.

David Smith