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The Apple WatchKit is Now Available for Devs. What Does that Mean for Mobile?

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On Tuesday, Apple announced that developers can now make apps for the Apple Watch to be released sometime in 2015.

Available on the latest beta of Xcode 6, WatchKit will allow give iOS Developer Program members immediate access to designing apps for the device. In their press statement, Apple said:

“Developers can create notifications that allow users to take action or respond right from their wrist such as turning the lights off after they've left the house, quickly accessing flight details at the airport, and rerouting their transit when a train or bus is late. Developers can incorporate Glances, which quickly show users information they care about most, such as the latest news and sports scores, alarm system status or the next step of a favorite recipe.”

So what are the key points of this announcement for mobile developers? We’ve broken down some of them here.


Apple Watch is Your Mobile App in Real Time

The Apple Watch is designed for a real-time experience in mind, one that makes even mobile apps seem slow. Says Kevin Systrom, co-founder and CEO of Instagram:

“Apple Watch allows us to make the Instagram experience even more intimate and in the moment. With actionable notifications you can see and instantly like a photo or react with an emoji. The Instagram news and watch list allows you to see your friends’ latest photos, follow new accounts and get a real-time view of your likes and comments.”


These “actionable notifications” are one of the three parts that make up a Watch app. The other two, WatchKit Apps and Glances, work seamlessly together with the notifications.



And the functions aren’t just for social networking, either. In the press release, John Gustafson, American Airlines VP of Digital, described how Watch can maximize efficiency while traveling.

“The American Airlines app on Apple Watch reminds you when it’s time to head to the airport via pre-trip notifications, and provides updates for gate changes, connecting gate info upon arrival, and will notify you when boarding begins if you’re not at the gate yet. Travelers can also ask ‘Where am I?’ in-flight and get real-time location information at 30,000 ft.”


You Must Have an iPhone - For Now, at Least

According to the WatchKit site, the apps are created to be synced with an iPhone:

  1. A WatchKit extension on your iPhone

  2. A set of “user interface resources” on Apple Watch

In their Programming Guide, Apple states:

“Apple Watch requires the presence of an iPhone to run third-party apps. Creation of a third-party app requires two separate executables: a Watch app that runs on Apple Watch and a WatchKit extension that runs on the user’s iPhone. The Watch app contains only the storyboards and resource files associated with your app’s user interface. The WatchKit extension contains the code for managing the Watch app’s user interface and responding to user interactions.”


So a Watch app on your iPhone is required in order to the apps to run properly; the Watch apps are meant only to be an “extension of your existing iOS app.” Apple didn’t give an exact date, but native apps are, according to the website, anticipated to be released in early 2015. For now though, keep your iPhone handy.

There Are Some Strict Design Rules

Because the Apple Watch’s apps aren’t independent from the iPhone quite yet, the Apple Watch programming guidelines include a section for Human Interface. Such guidelines include:

  • App Anatomy

  • Making Glances

  • Notifications

  • Modal Sheets

  • Layout

  • Color and Typography

  • Animation

  • Branding

  • UI Elements

  • Icon and Image Design


Brand New Font, Brand New You

Speaking of that Human Interface guide, Apple has a new typeface. Called “San Francisco Text,” it’s a lovely sans serif font designed to maximize legibility on the Apple Watch. The site says:

Above all, text must be legible. If users can’t read the words in your app, it doesn’t matter how beautiful the typography is.

The system font was designed specifically for legibility on Apple Watch. At large sizes, the font’s slightly condensed letters are set tight to take up less horizontal space. But at small sizes, they are spaced more loosely and have bigger apertures in glyphs like ‘a’ and ‘e’ to make these easier to read at a glance. Punctuation is also proportionally larger when the font gets smaller. And as text size changes, Apple Watch dynamically switches between fonts to maintain clarity and legibility at all times.


Check out the full press release here .

See Apple’s WatchKit site.

Read the design documentation.

Read the programming guide.

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