Pig on a Hill Productions

Apple Watch - A Passive App Platform

I first started writing this article before WWDC 2016, then I stopped. For starters watchOS 3 was announced and I wondered if a lot of my initial points would be resolved by the speed increase it sounded like we’d get there. And then I just got busy and didn’t manage to update my post. Such is life. But we’ve had watchOS 3 for a while now, and we’ve gotten the new Apple Watches, Series 1 & 2, with the improved S2 SoC. While we did get the speed increases from watchOS 3 we were promised (in the new and old hardware) looking back, I think a lot of my points still stand. So here we go, take 2 of this post.

So let’s face it watchOS 1 & 2 were a good start for the platform, but they were way too slow. watchOS 1 had limitations due to the fact that the main part of each Watch app was still running on our iPhones, and where watchOS 2 fixed that point the limitations that Apple had in the OS on the amount of available memory and resources was too stringent 1. With watchOS 3, Apple fixed that though, with the addition of the dock and keeping more apps in memory, apps became a LOT more responsive when opening (if they’re in your dock), but in my mind they’re still not fast enough.

Apple have said to developers since the watch first came out, interaction on the watch should be kept to a minimum. So much so as to be only a few seconds 2. In that respect, opening an app and waiting for it to update is still too slow. I know with watchOS 3, the majority of that lies on the shoulders of us developers 3, but it still stands that it’s still too slow for the types of interactions we generally have with the watch. That is to say, trying to have an interaction with an app, like it’s an app on our iPhone or iPad.

Where I feel the Apple Watch excels is in passive activities. When I say passive activities, I mean things that the watch just does, without input from the user. In my mind such activities range from counting steps and taking heart rate readings over the course of the day to receiving notifications and viewing complications on the Watch face.

A little bit of self smartness would be really great when it comes to this type passive activities. When I go out for a run, my watch should be able to tell that I’ve started exercising and when I’ve stopped, so it can then ask me “Do you want to save this workout?” without me even having to tell it I started one. This is exactly the type of passive activities that Apple needs to improve upon, and in turn, allow us developers more ways to give our users this type of functionality.

But I think this could be taken even further, when it comes to Apple (and developers) looking at all 4 of its OSes together. Apple have made great improvements with watchOS 3, iOS 10 and macOS 10.12 in regards to continuity 4. You can now have your Mac login automatically if you have your watch on (and unlocked), you can use Apple Pay on your Mac via Safari using your iPhone’s Touch ID sensor, handoff is still something I use constantly with Safari and supporting apps across all my devices, and even though it’s not perfect the shared clipboard is really handy. But why can I not walk away from my Mac and continue listening to my music on my phone? What about raising my watch, and it knowing I’m listening to music, so presenting me with the “Now Playing” screen? And if I leave home without my phone, why can’t my watch tap me on the wrist to let me know that I should go back and grab it? 5

I think we’ve seen the beginning of some of this smartness already. For example features like proactive Siri, be it with app suggestions, smart calendar reminders or simply working out the best time to backup our device when it’s most likely to be plugged in and not being used. Also, more notably lately, with the (now delayed, but hopefully still coming soon) AirPods, which not only sync their pairing between devices (via iCloud), but will smartly change how they work depending on how you use them and what device you’re currently using.

All these things are promising and it’s also extremely possible that these things, or similar, are already in the pipeline, but it surely would be great to see improvements coming in the next OS updates. I know it’s still 2016, but bring on WWDC 2017.

  1. Apple even said so on the live episode of The Talk Show with John Gruber and his special guests of Phil Schiller and Craig Federighi (relevant timecode 01:04:05): http://daringfireball.net/thetalkshow/2016/06/17/ep-158/ 

  2. See the WWDC session here (relevant timecode 01:23): https://developer.apple.com/videos/play/wwdc2016/227/ 

  3. Background updates on watchOS 3: https://developer.apple.com/videos/play/wwdc2016/218/ 

  4. I deliberately left tvOS 10 out of this list, as I feel there’s still no really good continuity features with tvOS and the other OSes. 

  5. I could go on and on here. There’s so much that could be done with all Apple’s devices and OSes, including the Apple TV and Siri.