Apple has revealed what the future holds for its smartwatch in 2019 – and that future includes an App Store that lives on the wrist. It’s taken five years, but Apple has finally decided that, with watchOS 6, now is the time to make it easier to find, download and install apps straight from its Watch.
However, we can’t help feeling like it’s odd timing, and there’s an argument to suggest that Apple needn’t have bothered altogether. You only have to look at the high profile names that have already decided the Apple Watch is not worth the building time: Instagram, Google Maps, eBay, Amazon and Slack are among the companies that decided to drop their dedicated Apple Watch apps over the couple of years.
Essential reading: Best Apple Watch faces and complicationsWill the arrival of a dedicated App Store for the Apple Watch all of sudden see those companies drift back and pick up where they left off? It seems… doubtful. That said, Apple did make some moves during its WWDC keynote that it’ll hope entices other developers to invest their time in apps for its smartwatch again. Developers, for example, will now be able to build and design apps for the Apple Watch that work completely independently, and that means without an iPhone.
It’s also giving developers the tools to create more intelligent apps, like offering streaming audio from third-party media apps and apps that can access sensors, like heart rate and motion, even if the screen turns off.
Apps just don’t feel all that vital on a smartwatch
But a quick straw poll of the Wareable office tells you what we’ve been saying for some time: apps just don’t feel all that vital on a smartwatch. We wear Apple, Garmin, Fitbit and Samsung smartwatches, but apps sit pretty low on the list of things we use day-to-day, in comparison to things like notifications, music controls and tinkering with watch faces. Does Apple really have the ability to change that behaviour?There’s no doubt that it can do a better job of implementing a store front on its smartwatch than Google, Fitbit and Samsung have managed to come up with so far, but it’s likely these examples are more deeply rooted failures.
It’s a pretty clunky experience using the Google Play Store on Wear OS smartwatches, while Samsung has seemingly struggled from the start to entice developers to get on board with Tizen. Fitbit decided it needed to have an app store (or Gallery, as it calls it) to make its entry into the smartwatch space, but we’d be intrigued to know how many Ionic and Versa users are making use of the small pool of apps on offer.
Apple decided to dedicate a lot of time in its developer keynote to the arrival of its on-device App Store, but perhaps it should have focused more on the core smartwatch feature that it’s already doing a great job with.
It still refrains from opening the door to third-party developers to ramp up the watch faces on offer for Apple Watch owners, which is a shame, but it is improving them. Complications will now live more elegantly, and are also becoming richer, in terms of the information it can deliver.Perhaps the arrival of the on-device App Store could be the starting point for Apple to show the love to watch face developers and let them build on the great work it’s already done on this staple smartwatch feature. The idea of being able to quickly download a watch face from the Watch, as opposed to going to your iPhone to do it, definitely has more appeal.
Maybe Apple will prove us wrong and the changes it’s making for developers in watchOS 6 will change the way we use its smartwatch, and what we expect from rival smartwatches, but right now we’re sceptical.
It’s still offers the most compelling argument that you need one, but it’s a big ‘if’ it can really change our opinions on smartwatch apps needing to be a focal point.
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