The new OS version for Apple Watch – watchOS 2 – was launched at this year’s September event (call it the ‘iPhone 6S event’ if you will). A survey conducted by iMore had already revealed that well over 90% of all Watch buyers used the Watch for more than 8 hours in a day, and on at least five days in a week. Such figures are pretty convincing evidence of the bludgeoning popularity of Apple Watch – and watchOS 2 is expected to make it all the more attractive to users, as well as serve as a more developer-friendly platform. Here are some features of the new platform that Apple App developers and prospective Watch buyers need to be aware of:
- Customized faces – With iOS 8 and iOS 9 (which, incidentally, has already become the iOS version with the quickest adoption figures), Apple has been moving towards greater personalization of iDevices. The revamped Apple Watch with watchOS 2 is further proof of that. Apart from using a static photo from your gallery as the Watch face, users will be able to create curated libraries – from which pictures will be displayed every time they lift their wrist to glance at the smartwatch. The best new feature regarding this is ‘Time Lapse’ though – with it people get the option to create 24-hour time-lapsed skyline views of as many as 5 different cities (Shanghai, Hong Kong, London, New York and Michigan). Not a game-changer, but this additional customization option will certainly find favour among buyers.
- Support for native apps – watchOS 2 opens up greater possibilities for Apple app developers to create more native apps for Watch. While apps still cannot be installed directly on the smartwatch (put in another way, apps are not fully native yet), their logic can now reside in the wearable. That, in turn, makes app launches on Apple Watch faster, and less prone to crashes. Third-party mobile app companies can also come up with applications that directly collect information from user-activities (say, heart rate data). It will take some time for developers to get a hang of the greater access to Watch’s Taptic Engine that watchOS 2 now provides – but over time, they will start churning out newer, better, and more intuitive apps for Apple Watch.
- Revamped Complications – Another piece of good news for WatchKit app development experts. Applications downloaded from the App Store can also be viewed as ‘Complications’ on the Watch face now, with information from them (like the time or weather at another city, or flight arrival/departure times) more easily viewable. If you have set any Activity goals, the new ‘Complications’ also help you keep track of your status in reference to that.
- Traveling through Time – watchOS 2 does not promise quite as exotic as that – but the ‘Time Travel’ feature is definitely an interesting addition. When the Digital Crown on a new Apple Watch model is spun, users will be treated to glimpses of the past or future 48 hours. Things like deadlines to be met, time required for the charging of Watch to be complete, daily schedules and itineraries, and even the weather forecasts will be viewable via ‘Time Travel’. All watch faces with third-party ‘Complications’ will support ‘Time Travel’, allowing mobile app developers to come up with more customized and engaging app ideas.
- Replying to emails – watchOS 1 had already brought the capability of receiving emails on Apple Watch. Its successor has gone a step further, by giving users the option to reply to emails directly from the wearable device too. What’s more, there is a fairly good set of preset replies and emojis that can be selected from. Email replies can be dictated by the wearers, adding to the convenience factor.
- Tetherless Wifi Connectivity – Professionals from the domain of iOS app development highlight this as another proof of Apple Watch becoming less reliant on its paired iPhone. With watchOS 2, Watch wearers will be able to seamlessly connect to open wifi networks – even when the paired iPhone is not exactly close (for instance, the phone is in another room). It should be noted in this context that most Android Wear models already have this feature, and Apple is simply playing the catch-up game here.
- Using Watch While Not Wearing It – And here, let’s say ‘welcome’ to the smartly-planned ‘Nightstand Mode’ on watchOS 2. The mode can be activated by placing an Apple Watch model on its side, and plugging in the charger to it. The Watch face lights up every time the screen or the Digital Crown is touched, there are changes in the functionality of certain buttons, and the side button has to be hit to send Digital Crown into snooze (or to stop a preset alarm).
- Siri on Apple Watch gets a lift – Apple’s mobile digital assistant, Siri, has been given greater functionality on watchOS 2. Apart from accessing more user-requested information, Siri can now open Glances as well. However, tests have shown that manually opening Glances and Notifications is still a quicker option than performing the same task via Siri.
- Circles of 12 – A bone of concern with the introductory version of watchOS was the single screen of 12 friends that it supported (after all, most, if not all, Apple Watch users have more than twelve friends!). With watchOS 2, such concerns can take a backseat – since multiple screens of 12 Friends can be added to the smartwatch. There is no need to use the app on iPhone to add friends either, since this can be done directly from Watch. The enhanced Digital Touch sketching is a nice feature too, letting users sketch with several different colours.
- More ‘wake’ time for the Watch screen – General Apple fans and iOS app developers agree that this was a much-needed feature on the new Apple Watch platform. The default time for which the Watch screen remains ‘awake’ (after it is lifted to the wrist) is still the measly 15 seconds – but users can extend that to a more-than-satisfactory 70 seconds, by tweaking the settings of the device (My Watch → General → Watch Screen). In effect, you get some additional seconds to view the Watch screen.
- Greater support for Apple Pay – Unlike its chief competitor Google Wallet, Apple Pay has become popular within a relatively short span of time. watchOS 2 lays the ground for Apple Pay to become more user-friendly than before. Loyalty points and reward points (along with all other loyalty program details) will be usable from Watch. Cards (including Discover Cards) can be stored on the latest Apple Watch models as well. All that users have to do is double-tap the button on the side and select the card that is to be added. It’s payment through the wrist!
- More secure – Of late, Apple has been emphasizing on the security standards on its flagship devices, and Watch has not been glossed over by the developers. watchOS 2 comes with a built-in Activation Lock – which rules out unauthorized access of any data stored on the cloud, even when the handset gets misplaced, or worse, stolen. The Lock allows only the person with the valid Apple iCloud credentials to access the stored data.
- Mass transit on Apple Watch – Apple Maps have been rather ho-hum at best, prior to the release of iOS 9. The latest mobile platform has certainly made Maps several notches better, thanks to the inclusion of mass transit information. watchOS 2 has been given the same functionality too, with people being able to simply glance at their wrists to find out transit information. Mass Transit Maps are still not available at all locations – but at least users from most big metro cities will be able to access them.
- New APIs for developers – ClockKit – the framework that allows WatchKit developers to add app extensions to the face of Apple Watch – has already generated a buzz among the worldwide Apple app developers community. Slipping slightly under the radar are the several other new APIs that WatchKit for watchOS 2 comes with. Right from adding haptic feedback options and customizing the ways for audio/video playback, to CoreMotion and HealthKit enhancements and accessing the Digital Crown programmatically – there are plenty of opportunities for third-party developers to up their game and make useful and user-friendly applications. It can safely be expected that the next couple of quarters will see a clutch of new apps for Apple Watch at the store.
Those who have the iPhone 6S and/or iPhone 6S Plus can also set those 3-second (total) ‘Live Photos’ as the custom face of Apple Watch. The Cupertino company’s collaboration with Vine is evident in the video quality (320/180 letter boxed; 208/260 fullscreen) and audio quality (32 Kbps AAC) that watchOS 2 supports. There remains a question mark over the battery life of Apple Watch – especially now that it has a series of new features and enhancements. For the time being though, Apple has given more than enough reasons for users to upgrade to watchOS 2, and for developers to get excited about making apps for the platform.