What Apple needs to do with Apple Watch 2 and watchOS - the developer view

The devs behind the apps you love tell us how Apple could reinvigorate its watch
What Apple needs to do with Watch 2

Every tech product has a honeymoon period, after which initial excitement fades. For the Apple Watch, questions are already being asked about the product's usefulness, longevity and accessibility, in a manner the iPhone never had to contend with so early in its life.

"The problem is it's a first-release product," thinks OfficeTime founder Stephen Dodd. "When the iPhone arrived, we ignored the limitations because we were bowled over. But here we now have a slow, limited, fat watch, sitting next to a slim, fast, refined iPhone."

With WWDC coming up on 13 June and an Apple Watch 2 rumoured for September, we decided to ask developers for their advice to Cupertino concerning both the next device and its evolving software.

Must read hands on: Apple Watch Series 2

Developers point to two major issues that need addressing in any Apple Watch revision: battery life and responsiveness. "Users of my skiing and snowboarding app, Slopes, clamour for integration with the activity rings, but leaving the heart rate sensor on while someone snowboards for hours kills the watch," explains Curtis Herbert. And even developers working on simpler products grumble that the Apple Watch struggles to make it through the day when someone has the audacity to use it regularly.

The need for speed

Please, Apple, don't add a camera!

Speed is the bigger issue, though. "I'm not a specs guy, but a significantly faster Apple Watch would completely change the experience, especially with third-party apps," believes Jeremy Olson. He says the magic of the device is in its convenience, but that only makes sense if a task takes less time to complete than doing it using an iPhone. "Right now, tasks in my app, Hours, are more convenient to access from your wrist, but this can take as long as fishing out your iPhone, due to the Apple Watch's sluggishness."

PCalc's creator feels limited by WatchKit

Fix this, says Olson, and more people will use their Apple Watch, "unlocking its habit-forming potential". Open Planet's Gordon Murrison goes further, arguing that "without improved performance, no other hardware changes matter". The IconFactory's Troy Gaul agrees: "We don't need change for the sake of it. If the Apple Watch could be thinner without hurting battery life, sure that would be nice, but it's not necessary. And please, Apple, don't add a camera!"

Software also impacts on efficiency and speed; developers are therefore hoping for big changes to watchOS. Sleep++ creator David Smith hopes for additional capabilities in background processing: "So much of creating a good Watch app relies on providing immediate results. Being able to update in the background and have data prepared for instant viewing would make applications feel more responsive." And Reto Stuber found when working on Facebook client Littlebook that "data-transmission between iPhone and Apple Watch is unreliable to the point where you might call it broken"; naturally, he'd like this fixed.

Talk it up

Most dev talk, though, centres on Siri. "We need an API," says Olson. "Voice is a great way to accomplish multi-step tasks efficiently, rather than fumbling about on a small screen.

Opening Siri to developers would dramatically boost the number of useful things you could do with Apple Watch." Herbert agrees, noting he'd "rather build cool voice-based apps for my wrist than Amazon Echo, which sits in one spot in your house". Murrison thinks his organisation's voice memo app, Just Press Record, could be revolutionised by Siri: "Imagine how much more convenient it would be to say 'Hey, Siri, record a new voice memo', and have it start recording, rather than tapping and interacting with a little screen."

Apple must support creativity, not restrict the technology

Flexibility and openness are common themes elsewhere, too, when it comes to watchOS improvements. Doist developer Enric Enrich Rodriguez reckons Apple should give developers more access to interface components, because they are currently "really limited regarding adding and modifying elements and animations". PCalc creator James Thomson elaborates: "On iOS, UIKit is the user interface API, and Apple's own Apple Watch apps use this. But third-party developers are stuck with the more simplified WatchKit, limiting our ability to create interface elements, use hardware features, and work on custom gestures."

Jamie Maison adds that Apple should also open up full access to the microphone, Taptic Engine and Force Touch: "There's great potential in apps for wearables, but Apple must support creativity, not restrict the technology that can be harnessed. The things I mention are Apple Watch selling points, and so it's nonsensical they're not fully available for developers to utilise."

On the face of it

The watch face is also fair game for additional developer input, according to Herbert. He wonders whether complications could be more contextual: "If I'm out for a run, one could show my pace, but otherwise have the weather. Today, you have to select complications that are permanently pinned, which isn't situational." With more context, he argues, relevant app access would be faster and simpler.

This line of thinking is echoed by Murrison, who complains many existing watch face designs lack spaces for many (or any) complications. This is an issue, he thinks, because the app launcher and Glances are "hidden away and not particularly convenient". Gaul reasons the side button could also assist with such access, if users could pick what it did, rather than it only opening a contacts screen.

Complications could be more contextual

Perhaps the most galling aspect of Apple Watch for developers is app discoverability. "Apple could increase the emphasis of third-party watchOS software, including more promotional focus," reasons Martin Pittenauer.

Jeremy Vineyard goes further: "My free Apple Watch app was featured, but still only got 9,000 downloads. That's not enough scale, since freemium apps need many more downloads for in app purchase conversion to make sense. But the Apple Watch App Store is hidden in the iPhone's Watch app. It's hard to find."

He says it should be in the main store, and that developers should be able to create Apple Watch-only apps, rather than them having to have an iPhone counterpart (which may irk and confuse users, if it has no functionality of its own).


Watch the future

So there's hope from developers about the Apple Watch's future prospects, and plenty of ideas for improvements, but the fortunes of Apple's wearable remain unclear. As Wareable has noted, the device has been a success, despite Apple's best efforts, and yet we also hear dev interest is dwindling. Here, some disagreement is evident. "I don't think interest in the platform is dwindling — if anything, the community is just understanding not all types of application make sense on a watch," thinks Smith.

Maison isn't so sure: "Apple must start moving Apple Watch to be a far more standalone device, to rekindle love for the product." Right now, he reckons it still feels more like an "expensive accessory than the innovative device we hoped it would be".

Dodd wonders if part of the problem is our own expectations, in a world where we're regularly bombarded with new and shiny kit: "Apple did something remarkable, cramming so much into a tiny device. But we're spoiled. We don't appreciate these things and see only limitations. We want magic!" He wonders whether Apple will 'deliver' for everyone in version two. "Or maybe magic just takes longer these days!"

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