Apple knows that the success of the Apple Watch, like the iPhone, depends on a healthy ecosystem of useful and entertaining apps.
That stands to change with Monday’s release of watchOS 2, the Apple Watch’s first big software update. Apps can run natively on the Watch, meaning that they won’t have to rely on a paired iPhone for loading and communicating with internet.
Developers Tech Insider spoke to praised Apple for giving their apps access to more features of the Watch, like its heart rate sensor and microphone.
But they were even more excited for their apps to run faster.
“The killer feature of watchOS 2 is speed, a result of transitioning to native apps,” said Jeremy Olson of Tapity, which makes the time tracking app Hours. “The Apple Watch value proposition is all about convenience. Waiting even a few seconds for an app to open all but kills that value proposition because at that point, I could take those few seconds to pull out my phone, where the app loads almost instantly.”
Airbnb recently released an Apple Watch app that lets hosts message their visitors with answers to common questions, like an apartment’s WiFi password. Isaac Lim, a software engineer at Airbnb, told Tech Insider that with watchOS 2, the biggest change for apps will occur when developers update them to run directly on the Watch itself.
“To the user this means fewer spinners, much snappier load times, and just more reliable performance overall,” said Lim. “Also, because this untethers watchOS 2 apps from the iPhone, if the user’s iPhone runs out of battery or is out of range, the watch app would still continue to work.”
Another benefit of watchOS 2 is that apps can communicate with WiFi networks even when the Watch is not paired to an iPhone over Bluetooth. This added functionality could benefit an app like Lark, which bills itself as a personal fitness coach.
“It doesn’t make sense to text with your Watch,” explained Julia Hu, the CEO of Lark. “So what we try to do is make it as dictation based as possible.”
Here’s how that would work: You’re eating breakfast in your kitchen, and your iPhone is in your bedroom, outside of range of the Apple Watch on your wrist. After eating, you dictate what you ate to the Lark app on your watch.
Lark also plans to use the Apple Watch’s heart rate sensor for tracking physical activity “eventually,” according to Hu.
Will speed improvements and watchOS 2’s other new features be enough to sell apps on the Apple Watch? Ben Bajarin, a principal analyst at Creative Strategies and close Apple observer, isn’t sure.
“I still believe apps will play a role on the Apple Watch, but I still believe it will take a bit more time for this part to get worked out,” said Bajarin, who is also part of an independent research group called Wristly that studies Apple Watch usage. “While I do think we will see more apps, it is likely the apps that people use most on the iPhone which get re-made for the Watch, like Facebook and Snapchat for example, will be the ones that help drive the interest around this platform.”
It’s perhaps telling that both Facebook and Snapchat haven’t made Apple Watch versions of their apps yet. Popular apps like Twitter and Instagram are on the Watch, but for every well-known app that is supported, there seems to be two more that aren’t.
Slack, a popular communication app for businesses, declined to discuss the development of its app on watchOS 2 with Tech Insider, noting that “it’s still early days” and it didn’t “have any substantial feedback on the changes yet.”
Barjarin is still “optimistic” about apps being useful on the Apple Watch, even if it takes time. “I just think this app question won’t get answered for perhaps another year,” he said.
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