Reviewers have had two common criticisms of Apple Watch since it launched in April: apps are slow and don’t always perform very well, and it’s a bit expensive for a watch that still requires you to keep your phone nearby.
In June, Apple announced that it’s addressing those two points among other things with its watchOS 2 software update for the Apple Watch, which is launching next month in September.
Apps will have native access to the watch, which means they will be able to run on the watch itself rather than constantly communicating with your phone. This means apps are likely to load a lot faster since they won’t have to ping your phone as often for data.
Second, your watch will be able to remember Wi-Fi connections that you’ve connected to previously with your iPhone.
So, even if you leave your iPhone at home, you’ll be able to access certain functions on the watch such as sending iMessages (if your contacts are synced to the watch) and asking Siri questions. Developers will be able to tap into this too so that their apps will work when your iPhone isn’t nearby.
That doesn’t mean you’ll be able to use the watch completely independently of your iPhone — you’ll still need to have your phone nearby to do a lot of things with the Apple Watch. Apple is just expanding on what you can do when your phone is out of range.
Since June, app makers have been working on ways to improve their apps for the Apple Watch now that they will have many more tools at their disposal.
Apple Watch apps are about to get new features
Dark Sky, the popular weather app that delivers the temperature and outdoor conditions straight down to the minute, is revamping its Apple Watch app for when watchOS 2 launches.
“I think the big thing we’re going to do is we’re going to add Complications,” Adam Grossman, one of the two creators behind the app, told Business Insider. (Complications are small icons that appear on the main screen to add a little extra information — the word is common in the watch industry.) “I think [the app] really lends itself to Complications. You have the app open for maybe a second or two before putting it away, and so being able to have that just by raising your wrist is really big.”
Strava plans to integrate the Apple Watch’s heart rate sensor into its app when the update rolls out, Jay Harris, a software engineer and product manager at Strava, told Business Insider. The company is also considering adding some functionality that works with the Apple Watch’s taptic engine, which sends a gentle vibration to your wrist when you get a notification.
“We haven’t settled on what that will be specifically yet, but it just offers another way to provide feedback to the user,” Harris said.
Getting rid of the ‘pain point’
It’s not just about expanding what apps can do, however — it’s about actually fixing the way they work so that the overall experience is smoother and more like an iPhone.
In its current state, the Apple Watch doesn’t really run apps the way your smartphone does. The apps that run on the Apple Watch are powered by your phone, which means they need to constantly retrieve information from your phone to update and function.
Michael Fey, a developer for the company AgileBits which makes 1Password, explained how this makes the app a bit laggy.
“If you have a PIN code set, the PIN code entry is just horribly delayed because of the fact that every time you tap a button, it goes to the phone and goes back,” Fey said.
It’s not just a problem for watch users, though. Grossman said the way apps currently work on the watch also makes it more difficult for developers to make them.
“Always having to communicate with the phone is a pain point when it comes to developing,” Grossman said. “How do you think about the problem? What data do you want the phone to download and push over to the watch? What happens if that communication fails? That’s definitely a bit tricky.”
The software update is Apple’s first major step in the process of making the watch more useful. Apple hasn’t spoken publicly on how many watches the company has sold so far, but Apple’s Jeff Williams told Walt Mossberg of Re/code that they have sold “a lot.”
Grossman thinks that the Apple Watch has the potential to be a hit product just like the company’s previous products, and an update like this is the first move in that direction.
“I keep thinking the Apple Watch is going to be a lot like the original iPod,” Grossman said. “It starts out kind of expensive, it doesn’t have a whole lot of features that people want. But slowly over the years as they improve and iterate, more people get excited and sign on…I think it’s going to be a long process to convince people to get an Apple Watch, but I’m definitely excited about this.”