The Apple Watch App Store Is Coming: Is It Worth Building a Smartwatch App Now?

Together with the Apple Watch 6 release, Apple will launch a standalone app store solely for smartwatches. Manufacturers like Pebble, Fitbit, and Garmin have been providing apps for their fitness wearables, Google’s Wear OS 2.0 presented an in-watch store with standalone apps that don’t need to be synchronised with a smartphone, and now Apple joins the trend.

The company will introduce the Apple Watch App Store at the same time it releases other updates in autumn 2019. What does it mean for wearable app developers and smartwatch owners? Is it a radical change or just a small improvement?

How Apple Watch Apps Work at the Moment

Currently, any app on an Apple Watch needs to be installed on a smartphone first. Even though it’s useful to have the data automatically synchronised between an iPhone and a smartwatch, having a smartwatch fully reliant on a phone is not ideal.

With the Apple Watch App Store launch, users can easily search for and install smartwatch-only apps directly on their devices. Those who don’t own an iPhone will be able to enjoy the functionality of Apple Watch along with other dedicated Apple users.

Smartwatch app development

How Will the Apple Watch App Store Work?

The App Store on Apple Watch will be where all other basic programs are presented, on the home screen, which appears after pressing the digital crown. Users can browse wearable apps using Scribble, Dictation, or with the help of Siri. Curated app collections, just like in the ordinary App Store, will be featured. The store’s home screen will offer new apps, previously installed ones, and current updates. There will be both free and paid applications − in a nutshell, it will work pretty much the same as it does on smartphones.

We predict that these changes will make a bigger impact on entertainment applications than on other app genres. Health and fitness programs, which are the core of the wearable ecosystem, don’t suffer from a lack of independence and benefit from a companion phone app where users can see performance statistics. But when it comes to features such as Apple Watch’s ability to stream music, we can easily imagine that users will appreciate their smartwatch’s ability to stream tracks directly, without the need for a corresponding iPhone app.

The new wireless standard plays a crucial role in making the wearable less dependent on a phone. The switch to 5G will guarantee low latency and make services, such as streaming audio, work smoother on Apple Watch.

While the Apple Watch App Store will give wearables a certain independence, some wearable applications will still be bundled with iPhone versions. These programs need to be downloaded on both devices.

Other Benefits of the Update

Apple COO Jeff Williams claims that watchOS 6 will give users powerful new tools to manage their health. Apple Watch has already been heavily involved in medical research, for example, heart studies were held using Apple smartwatches. The previous model already provided an EKG feature and the new update includes some new health apps as well as advancements in the way health data is analysed.

There’s no end to the health-related improvements wearables enable. Apple’s technological partners, AliveCor and One Drop, who make EKG devices and diabetes management tools which are integrated into smartwatches, are developing AI-powered solutions to enhance health insights. Meanwhile, an updated version of the Health app will use machine learning to deliver further valuable insights.

Cycle Tracking

Apple will introduce a period-tracking app in watchOS 6. It won’t be the first-ever wearable app for that − Garmin made a cycle app for its fitness trackers in May 2019, jumping ahead of its competitors.

For female users, it’s a valuable feature. Plus, since smartwatches are focused on collecting and analysing health data, these tools are incomplete without period tracking functionality. Due to escalated concerns around period-tracking apps selling personal data, Apple addressed the security issue, assuring users it would not share anything without permission.

Noise App

Apple also developed a new application, called Noise, to combat the potential for hearing damage. It detects high noise levels and sends notifications. The app works for both external and internal volumes, with the latter being of greater importance because people often listen to something at volume levels that aren’t safe.

However, medical professionals are already criticising the Noise app because notifications can be easily dismissed and there won’t be a foreseeable impact. The psychologist Larry Rosen claims that Apple proposes a simplistic solution and it should address the public health concerns related to their devices.

Activity Trends

Activity Trends will offer users a broader perspective when it comes to their health data. With yearly progress reports and comparison features, users get recommendations based on their personal activity trends.

Apple also added a Calculator app, which, strangely, hasn’t been available on a smartwatch yet. Also new are Voice Memos, a language translator, and Audiobooks.

Apple Login

The majority of applications provide a simple SSO/social login via Facebook or Google. It’s convenient as users don’t have to remember login information for hundreds of apps. A user just pushes the ‘Log in with Facebook’ button and gets redirected to the Facebook app and then back. This is backed up by the OAuth/OIDC authentication protocols.

Since social logins should be able to redirect to Safari, which Apple Watch doesn’t have (it’s not the best device for browsing the web) there are some limitations regarding the log in procedure.

Fortunately, Apple introduced ‘Sign in with Apple,’ also based on the OpenID Connect (OIDC) protocol. It bypasses Safari because a user is already logged in with an Apple ID. Moreover, Apple ID provides an extra privacy level on top of the protocol: it hides a real ID, which is an email address, and sends a randomly generated, fake email to third-party services such as apps.

For Apple Watch apps, the best practice will be to support Apple Login, as it’s the most convenient and secure way to log into a service. If you want to provide such a feature, check out our Identifo project, it’s a universal authentication framework which is extremely easy to set up.

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Building a Smartwatch App

The popularity of smartwatches and the lack of killer apps designed specifically for wearable devices creates the perfect playground for developers. There’s even an online course devoted to making specific Apple Watch apps. The wearable apps market is not overwhelmed with solutions yet and many existing programs aren’t that user-friendly. People expect enhanced fitness tools for their Apple Watch. They are getting accustomed to texting, making notes, or even playing games on their wrist.

Make Your App Distinguishable and Engaging

If you’re up for creating a wearable app, think about how it will be different from others. You need to craft a very specific purpose and make a practical design so that users can access all the essential features within the app easily. Smartwatch design has considerable limitations so a UI/UX designer should understand those and work in close cooperation with a developer to make an energy-efficient app that’s not overloaded with unnecessary elements.

Integrating Apple Watch was among our most crucial tasks while making SmartRun, our running app. Since our program is centred around heart rate parameters, we added the ability to use a smartwatch as a heart-rate sensor. Given that the screen of a wearable is small, we made all the critical information visually accessible on just two screens, which can be swiped between while running.

SmartRun for Apple Watch

SmartRun for Apple Watch

Consider Battery Consumption

You should also take into consideration the rather poor battery life of a smartwatch. Apple advises minimising traffic and network activity, keeping media sizes small, and eliminating content updates. For more details, check their official guidelines here. Apple promises to bring new display technology to watchOS updates which will enhance battery’s capacity but it still won’t reach the level users desire. This issue points to the need for functionality with nothing in excess and the provision of efficiency-related options for users.

Plan Your Monetization Strategy

The monetization of smartwatch-only apps will probably work the same as it does now for integrated applications. There are paid products for both iPhone and Apple Watch from weather apps to various games. There are in-app purchases, for instance, personalised training plans are popular among smartwatch owners. We can expect these monetization models to work for new applications created solely for Apple Watch.

The idea of ads being part of monetization strategy has also been in the air for a while, but we don’t know yet whether some projects actually plan on disturbing small smartwatch screens with ad banners. Interestingly, there are even some thoughts on making money from restricting the glance feature, which means making the option of a quick view of an apps’ essentials paid.

We don’t know the exact release date of the Apple Watch App Store but it’s expected in October 2019, and we’ll see how much users will appreciate all the updates at that point. It’s hard to say what kind of apps will become the future of smartwatches: standalone options or those that are integrated with phones. Both developing dedicated wearable programs and adding smartwatch integration are the biggest challenges in the domain now.

Have an idea for a smartwatch app and want to get the ball rolling while the time is still ripe? Reach out to us to discuss it. We have the skills and the know-how you need to get your idea firmly planted on users’ wrists.