Michael Behan

Follow @mbehan on Micro.blog.

The Apple Watch Platform

I’ve a phone in my pocket most of the time, Alexa is always waiting for me in the kitchen and I spend hours every day in front of an old fashioned PC but my watch is with me all day long wherever I go. Sometimes it’s the only computation available and almost always it’s the least intrusive.

Apple Watch, The Computer That’s Always There

As good as Apple Watch is though, it has so far failed as an app platform. Apple Watch is built on the same technology that runs iPhone, and the same tools that developers use to make iPhone apps are used to make Apple Watch apps, so why are there so few Apple Watch apps, and why are so many really bad?

The original watch hardware was very limited, and app support even more so. Apps actually ran on your phone and were sort of beamed onto the watch’s screen. If you managed to find the apps on the terrible honeycomb grid they loaded really slowly and performed terribly. A lot of developers and users were instantly turned off of third party apps, but the watch got by with the excellent built in notifications and fitness tracking functionality.

Each release of watchOS and every hardware revision has seen incremental improvements to third party app support: apps actually running natively on the watch, custom watch face complications, new capabilities, better performance, and a better way of launching apps (a list!). But the great new app platform imagined when the watch was first announced has still to arrive and many apps on your Apple Watch today likely still date back to the original release.

I don’t know what it will take for the Apple Watch platform to become as successful as the Apple Watch but I don’t think the capability of the device or the OS is holding it back at this stage (though WatchKit does leave a lot to be desired.) I’d like to see watch apps completely decoupled from iPhone apps (they run on the watch now, but are still delivered as extensions of iPhone apps) and they need to have more ways to integrate with or at least appear on the watch face. At least then we might finally be able to rule out finding, installing and launching watch apps as the reason for there not being very many good ones.