Why 2020 will be amazing for the Apple Watch

2020 is the year you should start building that Apple Watch app you’ve been thinking about making.

At the time of writing, the Apple Watch is coming up on its 5th birthday. The technology has come a long way since it was first released. With the release of its latest operating system, watchOS 6, I believe this is the year the Apple Watch will come into its own. 2020 is when it moves from being a curiosity and a status object to a useful device for everyone.

If you’re thinking about building an app for the Watch, read on: this article is for you. 

I’ll be covering:

Hearts & Minds: What the Apple Watch is good for.

There are two core areas where the Watch can excel: health and location.

With so many of us using our personal data to become fitter and healthier, the Watch represents an opportunity. watchOS 6 makes things a lot easier when creating watch apps that help you measure data about your body: everything from...

It’s relatively straightforward to design an app that allows you to input the data via the Watch, as well as have the watch passively record information while you’re active.

Secondly, there is potential to incorporate location-based tools that could be useful for business. It's now easy to imagine your watch tracking shipments and deliveries, or letting your customer know how far away their delivery is on their watch. What if your watch could help you navigate a building you're unfamiliar with, so you know you'll arrive on time for a meeting? In another situation, a nurse could find out where a doctor is in the hospital. It would mean not having to page them because they could see they're seeing a patient or doing surgery.

It’s come a long way, but Apple Watch still has a ways to go.

All that said, there are some things the Watch needs work on before it can flex its complete potential: battery and sensor improvements.

While the battery of Series 3 or later Apple Watches is magnitudes better than what Apple started with, it still runs down faster than I feel most people will find convenient. The always-on display introduced in the last couple of releases, while improving usability, also doesn’t seem to have helped battery usage like Apple hoped it would. With so many apps needing direct connections to the internet – a relatively energy-intensive task – the battery will need to be improved if it’s going to succeed in the long term.

At the same time, while the sensor capabilities the current Watch series are powerful, they can still be less than reliable, notably when it comes to movement and speed. That said, we are still very much in the infancy of wearable technology, so it is reasonable to expect these to improve and new sensors to be added: as an example, for the last few years we’ve seen demos of watches that can help you monitor your blood sugar levels – a boon for diabetics.

Finally, while I’m expecting this to change very soon at the time of writing, Apple has not yet deployed StoreKit to the Watch – the framework we use for functions related to the App Store. This will be necessary if Apple wants to develop the Watch ‘app ecosystem’ and make it easy to deploy, buy, and install apps on the Watch itself.

Building an Apple Watch app in Xcode

So you want to build a Watch app?

Businesses and organizations related to areas I’ve covered above, especially health & fitness, are most likely to benefit from the Apple Watch and its new operating system. There are a few considerations I think everyone should take into account before committing to a new app:

Battery usage... again

The first consideration is, what kind of resources will your app need, specifically related to the limitations of the current battery? If your app needs frequent or constant connectivity to the cloud or a server, you may find the results a little disappointing. Your users will likely love the performance of a Watch app but will struggle with how quickly the Watch runs out of juice.

If this is a critical need to serve your customers, my recommendation is to wait perhaps another year for Apple to tackle this challenge and see what hardware improvements they deliver.

Is it going to take a long time to build?

Another thing to think about is how long it will take to build and deploy your new app. With the release of independent Watch apps and (hopefully) the imminent release of StoreKit for the Watch, the Apple development community is expecting a number of important changes and improvements. This may alter the needs or requirements of your app.

To SwiftUI or not to SwiftUI

I recently covered the significance of SwiftUI and how it’s going to change the way we build user interfaces on Apple platforms, which I recommend you skim if you’re unfamiliar. The key takeaway is if you’re able to work within the restrictions of SwiftUI, it will make it easier (and probably cheaper) to create and deliver an app to your customers where they will find the same quality experience on their Macs, iPhones, iPads, and Watches. 

Think about your customer’s wallet

Finally, a new Apple Watch isn’t cheap, so it’s not going to be for everyone. A brand-new small size Series 5 Watch will set you back around $400; an even older Series 3 costs around $200. Now, for a lot of the benefits I’ve covered above, this is less important than the release of the latest operating system, but you will want to consider factors like screen size and whether your app will need the latest hardware. I recommend, before you build the app, carefully considering your own user base and their device usage: Do they already mostly own Watches, and will they really get a lot out of having your app on them?

Want to keep track of the latest Apple Watch developments?

If you’re interested in keeping up to date with what happens with the Watch, and Apple-based app development, I invite you to sign up for my newsletter or check out our latest posts on developing for the Apple Watch. I will let you know when I put out new content and if there are important things you should know when it comes to creating or updating your apps.