The first run of Apple Watch smartwatches will be strapped on to early adopters’ wrists today, complete with an app store showcasing more than 3,000 apps for the wearable gadget.
By definition, Apple Watch buyers will also be iPhone owners, so will already have a number of apps on their smartphone with watch extensions ready to install. But what else is worth investigating to understand the capabilities of the device?
I’ve been asking dozens of developers about their smartwatch apps this week in advance of the launch. Here’s a selection of the ones worth trying, with their explanations of what they’re doing and why.
Note, I haven’t included the Guardian’s own Moments Apple Watch app in this feature as I didn’t want to nab a slot from another developer. But you can read about it in more detail here.
This public transport app is a firm favourite already on iPhone for urban travellers, showing journeys, departures and status alerts.
“Citymapper is all about navigating cities, and the ability to quickly glance at information based on where you are is great for a transport app like us,” says mobile lead Joe Hughes.
“On the Watch, you can unobtrusively dip in and check live bus times, remind yourself which tube to catch, and get notified when it’s time to get off your train, even if you have your hands full.”
On iPhone this is an app for recipes and shopping, but its Apple Watch extension is very focused: an “intelligent kitchen timer” that reminds you when to flip or stop cooking various foods.
“These aren’t always-on devices. Not with these batteries. So, I think it all comes down to notifications and how we can use those in innovative ways,” says executive director Eric Gillin.
“As users embrace wearable, will we have to revise the concept of the recipe to be about a series of simple notifications instead of more complicated steps? How do you take the reading out of recipes?”
Note-storage service Evernote’s Apple Watch app lets users see recently created, viewed and updated notes, as well as dictating new notes and searches, and creating reminders for your to-do lists.
“The app is going to surface your most relevant notes based on calendar entries, location data and your own note access information,” says vice president of mobile products Jamie Hull.
“Since I move from meeting to meeting all day long, I can imagine a workflow where I’ll glance over the next agenda on my wrist whilst walking, and then have it immediately open and available for editing on my other devices when I sit down to take notes.”
UK train times and ticketing service TheTrainLine’s app synchronises your last three searches for live train times with the Apple Watch, and then shows you how long until the next departures. You can also tap on a train to see where it is on its route.
“Travel apps are the ultimate partner for smart watches. A smartwatch should allow me to quickly and easily find out what I need to know, when I need to know it, and ultimately help me get to my destination,” says product owner Dave Slocombe.
“We’ve all experienced carrying a bag in one hand and a ticket and mobile phone in the other, smartwatches let our customers see their ticket information and which platform they need to be on, leaving their phone in their pocket.”
Song identification app Shazam now works on the Apple Watch as you’d expect: you can fire it up to find what’s playing, read lyrics synchronised with the music, and swipe up to see your past tags, as well as launching the Auto Shazam mode to automatically tag what it hears.
“The challenge for folks with the smartphone version is that you have to get the device out of your pocket or purse, unlock it and launch the app before the song ends. So the watch makes sense: it’s so accessible,” says chief product officer Daniel Danker.
“When we first designed Auto Shazam for the Apple Watch, I had it popping up a notification every single time a new track was found. It sounded brilliant on paper, but as soon as I tried it on a watch, I realised it was lighting up and shaking your wrist every three and a half minutes! So we’ve pulled it back: it keeps track but you only see the results when you lift your wrist.”
Circa is one of the news apps that gathers breaking stories based on your interests, then makes them available on your smartphone. And now on your wrist too, with glanceable featured stories and updates.
“Easily the most exciting thing is using one’s phone less. Each time I pull my phone out of my pocket it’s a pandora’s box. Go to check just one notification and you find yourself digging through your email,” admits chief executive Matt Galligan.
“With the watch it will enable the wearer to use their phone less and less – and that’s a very good thing. We see that as a big opportunity – get people the most important news fast, and give them a chance to follow key stories to stay up to date.”
The Economist’s Apple Watch app is less about reading and more about listening to its audio reports, with basic playback controls and the ability to glance at what’s currently playing.
“I’m really excited about being able to control audio so easily. It’s like having the most convenient remote control ever – there whenever you need it,” says VP of product management Robin Raven.
“For us specifically the opportunity to have a far more personal relationship with someone – you hold a phone but you wear a watch – is both exciting and perplexing … We want to keep being a trusted antidote to information overload so getting this right is critical for us.”
TuneIn aggregates the streams of traditional radio stations and podcasts, making them available in its apps. On Apple Watch, that means a remote control for changing stations, playing, pausing and skipping, and seeing what’s playing.
“You can easily see what station, program and artist is playing at any moment and then pause, rewind or fast forward. If you feel like you want to listen to something new, you just hit the “jump” button to play something related,” says director of mobile product Boone Spooner.
“All without ever having to take your phone out of your pocket. Additionally, the watch makes it fast and simple to access the stations and shows that you love through your following list, right there on the first view of the app.”
Pacemaker started as a DJ app for iPad, but over time has become as much about smart “personal mixes” with its tools for automatically choosing suitable songs and mixing them into one another. Its Apple Watch app promises “one-tap” mixing, linking with its newly-launched iPhone app.
“A lot of our users are college kids using Pacemaker for college dorm-room parties. And those people want to participate in the party: if a boy or girl flirts with them, they want to go and say hello rather than being tethered to a DJ system,” says chief executive Jonas Norberg.
“With the Apple Watch app, they can tap on the screen to keep serving up tracks and mixing them together, then after they’ve had a chat they can come back and resume their DJing. Being able to be on the dancefloor while still mixing from your watch? I think people will be blown away!”
Fitness apps firm Runtastic actually has four Apple Watch apps available at launch, including this flagship app for tracking runs, walks and other activity. The watch version functions as a control for the main iPhone app.
“Users can view their primary activity statistics, without having to slow down or pull out their smartphone,” says head of marketing Johannes Kroll. “Users can also review their weekly Runtastic app activities, such as number of activities, distance covered, number of calories burned and more, in a stylish, easy-to-read notification directly on their wrist.”
The company’s separate Runtastic Six Pack app features avatars guiding people through workout routines. “The Glances feature allows users to view the avatar directly on their wrist, making it easy to follow each exercise demonstration
Vegetarian cookery app Green Kitchen has made “smart timers” the focus for its Apple Watch app, with the ability to check timers when cooking a meal, as well as adding extra minutes if necessary through notifications.
“Cooking is usually split into different blocks. First you have an active block where you are actively cooking the food, followed by a passive block where you put the food in the oven or let it simmer for a while. Then it’s time to activate again, add the final touches and serve the dish,” says mobile and backend developer Marthin Freij.
“We realized that our app works great in the active blocks, but we were lacking support for the passive blocks. That’s why we added smart, context aware timers to Apple Watch. When you cook something and are about to enter a passive block, the iPhone app will allow you to start a timer on your Apple Watch.”
To-do list app Wunderlist is an obvious candidate for the smartwatch treatment, with a new “home view” showing your most important tasks, while using the watch’s digital crown to scroll through them.
Chief design officer Benedikt Lehnert is enthusiastic about the potential for “discreet and personal” interactions “whether it’s taking a glimpse at a reminder while you’re in a meeting, or checking things off your grocery list while pushing the shopping cart”.
He also sees scope for more contextual alerts in the future. “All of us want to be reminded of the groceries when we walk past the supermarket, or see our project to-dos the moment we enter the office. With smart wearables devices such scenarios become a reality.”
People won’t be playing games on their Apple Watches for lengthy periods at a time, but there is plenty of scope for wrist-sized spin-offs. Puzzle game Best Fiends’ is one of the most interesting example: a mini-game to send one character off battling slugs and looking for treasure to transfer back to the iPhone game.
“The games we are building are experiences that can “exist in your peripheral vision”. We saw games go from high-intensity and highly demanding console experiences into much more accessible and ‘always available’ mobile games, and saw games finally break into mainstream,” says chief creative officer Petri Järvilehto.
“Now, I believe that next we’ll see a similar delta from mobile games to ultra-casual games that anyone can enjoy in short glances. While a lot of the smartwatch gaming discussion focuses around short sessions, this can go even further and translate into the game being present on some level through your entire day.”
Airline BA’s Apple Watch app shows details on next flights, departure times and weather at your destination, as well as notifying you about flight gates and any other sudden changes.
“We’re really pleased with the ‘glance’ screen in particular. If you’re juggling luggage and negotiating the airport, it’s so easy to take a quick look at the screen and get all the pertinent information about the flight you’re heading to,” says head of marketing, retail and direct Sara Dunham.
“When you have a bit more time, a simple swipe of the screen delivers more in-depth useful information like the weather at the destination.”
This is only available in the US for now, but it’s a fun glimpse of how the Apple Watch could become useful for parents. Nickelodeon’s Nick Jr. app’s Apple Watch extension helps parents see what their children are watching in the main app, and set timers for their use of it.
“The Watch’s ability to set and manage a viewing timer, adjust volume, and pause/play video without needing to interrupt the child’s viewing experience in the Nick Jr. app is exciting,” says Matthew Evans, SVP of digital at Viacom’s Kids and Family group.
“We are excited about the Apple Watch’s glances feature where parents can simply glance at their watch to see what show and episode or video their child is watching.”
CNN’s Apple Watch app is all about the breaking news: 12 categories that you can personalise, with the ability to quickly see headlines, and tap on them to read – including transferring back to the iPhone app for live video.
“Making CNN personal is at the heart of our digital strategy, so we pay that off with a clean, quick, simple way to select the CNN topics and number of stories that you want to follow,” says chief product officer Alex Wellen.
“The conventional wisdom is wearers will dip in to the Apple Watch for six second sessions and our editorial programming strategy is built around offering content built around those ‘watch moments.”
Accommodation service Booking.com has launched an app that aims to make the process of booking a hotel even faster, promising one-touch bookings from the Apple Watch, although the company is also looking at other features.
“Those small points of frustration you often encounter during a trip are a big focus for us; knowing at a glance when you can check-in, or how long you have before you need to check out, and finding your way back to your hotel after a day exploring a new city,” says principal designer Stuart Frisby.
“We think these light interactions are perfect for the watch, and we’re really excited to finally have a platform which is appropriate for solving exactly these types of problems for our customers.”
A lot of iPhone games are getting Apple Watch extensions this week, but Cupcake Dungeon is intriguing: a game designed from the start to be played across both devices, from wearable gaming startup WearGa. It involves battling evil cakes and candies, looting and upgrading as you go.
“Apple Watch features like fully customisable long-look notifications can be incredibly powerful for games. The difference between a simple text-based notification and a full-screen animated notification, which looks and feels like the game, is huge,” says chief executive Paul Virapen.
“We built Cupcake Dungeon with super simple controls, so you tap to attack and then make decisions through the menus. That’s it. We utilise lots of common Apple Watch UI paradigms, so there is intuitive navigation using the digital crown and force touch.”
This fitness app tracks your eating and activity on iPhone, with its Apple Watch app providing a quick way to log meals, water and exercises, as well as notifying you with reminders and activity suggestions.
“One of the best features of the Apple Watch for Lifesum is how notifications can be used to prompt quick interactions throughout the day,” says chief executive Henrik Torstensson.
“By being able to provide reminders about personalised details like snacks and water-tracking, we can create an experience that is extremely focused and accessible.”
War Dragons is a mobile game from publisher Pocket Gems with a mix of empire-building and dragon-breeding. Where does the Apple Watch come in? A blend of guild battles and in-game economics.
“In War Dragons, you can challenge another guild to a 24-hour war. We will use the Apple Watch to let players know actionable updates like when their guild has declared war on an opposing guild so they can join the fray,” says chief technology officer Harlan Crystal.
“For games that have ever-changing economies, Apple Watches can also let players see current in-game values of resources and help inform their spending decisions. The way we think about the Apple Watch currently is that it’s a powerful secondary screen for your iPhone. It’s very useful for showing important events and giving a method to react to them.”
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