Thus far, Apple has kept a tight grip on the Apple Watch. Third-party developers have only been able to use it as a second screen for their iPhone apps, and complications — the small tidbits of information shown on the watchface — have been off limits altogether. This has been severely restrictive, but when Apple previewed WatchOS 2 at WWDC earlier this week, we learned that third-party developers will soon get to build native Apple Watch apps.
The apps supplied by Apple, such as the movement-tracking Activity app, have been native to the timepiece from the start. They have been able to utilize the very capable hardware of the Watch, and provide great functionality. But other developers have been locked out of creating their own native offerings. In other words, the Apple Watch hasn’t really operated as a platform, and owners haven’t really experienced its full potential.
However, with the announcement at WWDC of a new Apple Watch SDK, Apple has opened up the Watch to such third-party creativity. Along with the ability to build native apps, and display information as complications, developers will be able to gather data from the microphone, speaker, and sensors. Apps will also be able to use the digital crown for their own purposes, and WatchOS is now able to play videos on its tiny screen, a feature demonstrated in the keynote using Vine’s app.
It is a seismic shift, which will change the Apple Watch from being merely a notifications screen for your iPhone, into a fully standalone device — although Apple still requires you to pair it with an iPhone. Nonetheless, apps are integral to any modern device, so their unrestricted introduction can only make Apple’s wristwear a more compelling purchase, and more satisfying to own.
Developers can start playing with the SDK right now, and the new WatchOS will be released to the public this Fall.