8 Apple Watch Questions To Ask Before Developing An App

Apple Watch Development Header

The Apple Watch is the new kid on the block, which means that developers are still trying to figure out exactly how everything works.

For one thing, Watch OS looks a whole lot different than iOS. Plus, it brings a ton of new features to the table with Glances, Force Touch, and the Taptic Engine.

Taptic… what?

All these new terms can give you a bad case of brain freeze. But they're easy to learn and important to maximizing your app's functionality.

We recently touched on some of the early Apple Watch development challenges. Now it’s time to really dig in and find out what’s what.

How do you create a killer Apple Watch app? Here are 8 questions you should ask.

1.  What is Watch OS?

Apple Watch OS

The Apple Watch runs a modified version of iOS called Watch OS.

Watch OS is different than your iPhone because it uses a Carousel-based navigation system.

What the heck does all that mean?

When swapping between apps, Watch OS basically works like a carousel. It helps users take advantage of the limited screen space.

The big takeaway is, the Apple Watch has a COMPLETELY different functionality than the iPhone.  What's possible on one isn't necessarily possible on the other.

2.  What is WatchKit?

Watchkit header

The Apple Watch Operating System also handles interfaces differently. UIKit is the framework used to build iOS apps. Apple designed a completely new framework for the Apple Watch called WatchKit.

WatchKit lets developers create apps for the Apple Watch. If you’ve made an iOS app, the process will be pretty familiar. But there are some big differences.

As you probably know, Watch apps can’t run on their own… at least not yet.

All Watch apps have to be associated with an iOS (iPhone/iPad) app.

WatchKit works by splitting your app into two parts:

  • The iPhone. Contains all the code and executes it as an extension. That’s why the iPhone has to be around for the Watch app to work.
  • The Apple Watch. Only contains the user interface resources like the storyboard and asset catalog. It handles user input, but it doesn’t actually execute the code.

In other words, the Apple Watch doesn't have a brain of it's own yet and is forced to crutch off the iPhone.

WatchKit handles all the wireless communication between the iPhone and Apple Watch.

If you want to develop Apple Watch apps, the first thing you need to do is visit the Apple WatchKit Developer page.  See if your app vision is compatible with the Watch OS framework.

3.  How am I visually restricted with my Watch app?

Good news is the Apple Watch doesn't have a problem displaying still images.

However, you can only display animations on the Apple Watch with image sequences. Yeah. Get ready to kick it old school. Remember flip books? That’s basically what you have to do.

To make something appear animated, you can collect a series of pictures and cycle through them. Right now, you can’t manually set the animation frame rate on the Apple Watch. But you can set the animation length and the system will automatically determine the frame rate.

What's this mean for you?  The Apple Watch is visually limited.  Expect a minimalistic app UI and UX.

4.  What are Glances?

Watch Glances

Swipe up from the bottom of the Watch face and you’ll find a feature called Glances. These are small bits of information that function like Notification Center widgets in iOS.

The goal with Glances is to show users the information they’re most likely to want. Glances have limited customization options in Storyboard because they are template-based and the templates cannot be modified.

That said, there are two customizable areas for Glances: Upper and Lower. You can reveal the available templates by selecting an area.

5.  What is Force Touch?

Force Touch Apple Watch

You can swipe, tap, and press the Watch’s screen just like you do with an iPhone. But the Watch screen is too small for multitouch gestures that require more than one finger. That’s where Force Touch comes in.

The Force Touch action effectively adds a third button to the Apple Watch. It’s kinda like right clicking with a mouse on a PC. To make it work, you have to press down on the screen firmly. That’s what distinguishes it from a long press.

Developers can use Force Touch to let users access customization options. The options can’t be super important because users can easily miss them. But they should be useful, otherwise you’re just adding unneeded complexity.

6.  What is the Digital Crown?

Digital Crown Apple Watch

The Digital Crown is like the Home button on the iPhone… but not quite the same. Pressing the Crown on the Apple Watch does different things in different contexts.

From within an app, you can press it to go to the app screen. When you’re looking at a Glance, you can press it to return to the Watch face. Double tap the Crown to switch between apps. A long press activates Siri. You can also use it to scroll through lists.

For some users, it can take some time to get used to the changes. But if you’re familiar with iOS and the Home button, you can apply that knowledge to the Apple Watch.

7.  What is the Taptic Engine?

Taptic Engine Apple Watch

Apple’s Taptic Engine is what lets the Watch interact with users. “Haptic response” is a fancy way of saying physical feedback. Just like a pager from the 90s, the Taptic Engine gives you a light buzz when you get a notification. It also vibrates when you use Force Touch and Apple Pay.

There’s no dedicated notification light on the Apple Watch, so the Taptic Engine is the primary way to get a user’s attention. The Taptic Engine can generate a variety of patterns and intensities to communicate different messages.

8.  Can you make games for the Apple Watch?

Yes, you can make badass games for the Apple Watch!

You can develop games for the Apple Watch all day, but you’ll need to think from a different perspective. Apple Watch games require a unique approach. Just like when iPhone games first hit the scene.

Right now, there’s no API for hardware access on the Apple Watch. It doesn’t support gesture recognizers or allow custom drawing on the screen. Remember, you can only use native interface elements. But don’t let that stop you. Get creative and come up with something super addictive!

The Apple Watch is far more than a remote for your Apple TV, or easy way to see who is calling you.  It's a piece of technology that is going to be around for a long time.  The best part is, Apple has only scratched the surface of its functionality and the possibilities are wide open.

Where can you learn how to develop Apple Watch Apps?

Apple Watch Course

Bluecloud is known for having the best of the best when it comes to app development information and courses.  They've researched literally hundreds of courses and Watch developer courses and narrowed it down to one:

Apple Watch Pro Course – Go From Newbie to Pro by Building 15 Apps

Click here to learn more.

If you're serious about developing for the Apple Watch, get started TODAY!   Learn step by step how to make 15 different apps from scratch.  And you don't have to have a Computer Science degree to do it!

Keep living the dream!

Do you have Apple Watch development questions? Ask us in the comments.

How to Make An App


  • Jiri June 19, 2015

    Hi Melissa, i have a question about monetizing with apple watch.
    How can i monetize my apple watch app ? I know i can choose paid app, or do IAP or do both. But can i integrate ads such as chartboost, admob etc. ? Are they ready for apple watch ?
    Thanks a lot,

  • Carter Thomas Carter Thomas June 21, 2015

    Awesome question Jiri, I’m pumped you’re thinking about strategies to monetize your app. Unfortunately, Apple’s not allowing in-game advertising at launch, but this will change down the road. I’m sure once the bugs are worked out of Watch OS we’ll see a lot of ad network opportunities, especially directed towards consumer products. But it will be interesting, we have no idea of the click through rates and conversions ads will have on a device of this size. For now, test you Apple Watch apps as Paid and experiment with In-App Purchases. There are ways to make a ton of money with the Watch, developers just haven’t discovered most of them yet. Be creative and keep your eye on the Top Charts.

Leave a Comment