Apple is getting ready to release its first big update for the Apple Watch later this year with watchOS 2. This update is expected to bring a ton of new features for the user, but the most important thing is that it takes the handcuffs off developers building third-party apps for the device.
Whereas the original operating system gave little access to the smartwatch, forcing apps to run on the iPhone, this next version of the OS opens the platform up to allow the developer community to do what it does best — build software that can truly show what the hardware is capable of. In fact, the changes in watchOS 2 are so critical that you could argue that its release should be considered the real launch of Apple’s first wearable.
First, let's start with the fun stuff. watchOS 2 will bring A ton of new watch faces, including, for the first time, the ability for users to personalize their watch faces using photos or complete photo albums. With the latter, every time the user raises a wrist, the watch will grab a new image from the selected album. Apple is also releasing what it calls the “Time Lapse” watch face, which will allow the user to select some of the major cities from around the world as the face and see the cityscape change as the time goes by.
MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: 5 Killer Reasons the Apple Watch Is Just Getting Started
But the real changes on the watch face come with the ability to customize the complications. Complications are the important pieces of information you can add to the watch face outside of the time. Right now on Apple Watch, you can use the complications to view the current temperature, the time in another city, the device's battery life, or your upcoming appointment. With the watchOS 2 update, Apple is giving developers access to complications for their App Store apps. This means that users will be able to show important pieces of information from their favorite apps without having to open the app or even access the app’s Glance. A good example of this could be keeping up with your flight status right on the face of the watch.
What is interesting about the changes to complications in watchOS 2 is that Apple will also be adding a “Time Travel” feature, which will let you see what’s happening or what has happened via the complications -- all with the twist of the Digital Crown. On its website, Apple gives some examples of how this can be used. “Time Travel is particularly handy on watch faces with complications. You can see what the weather will be like for your lunch date tomorrow. Check your schedule for later today. Or go back in time to catch up on news headlines you may have missed." It is clear from Apple’s focus on complications, notifications, and glances that it expects most Apple Watch app usage to not be in the app itself but outside of it.
Of course, the biggest change for developers is the ability to build native watchOS apps. This is a significant change, seeing that the original Apple Watch operating system launched with only the ability to create apps that ran on the iPhone and could be viewed on the wearable. Building native applications will not only solve one of the biggest complaints about Apple Watch apps today -- how slow they run -- but it also opens up a ton of greater opportunities for developers to use some of the unique capabilities of the watch that set it apart from the smartphone.
MORE FROM DESIGN NEWS: It's Time for the Apple Watch Teardown
With watchOS 2, developers will now be able to create apps that use the Taptic Engine, Digital Crown, accelerometer, heart rate sensor, speaker, and microphone. Imagine being able to distinguish which of your friends is messaging just by the vibration on your wrist. Or your favorite game on your iPhone using the heart rate gathered from the Apple Watch to speed things up or slow things down. Or a sports app to use the accelerometer on your wrist to be able to track your performance. All of these types of app experiences will become possible once the operating system is updated.
There has been much debate over the usefulness of Apple Watch, which isn’t a surprise, seeing that the original launch came with a limiting operating system. With the release of watchOS 2, it is go-time for Apple’s first wearable, and the hunt will be on to see what really is the “killer app” for Apple’s first wearable.
Tom Emrich writes about emerging technology including wearable tech, 3D printing, and the Internet of Things for many technology, lifestyle, and news publications. He is currently the Editor-in-Chief for Designers of Things, Senior Editor at BetaKit, and the wearables writer for MobileSyrup. Tom’s writing covers launch announcements, funding news, hands-on device reviews, industry analysis, and editorial.