As the Apple Watch prepares to turn three, Apple’s preeminent wearable has hit an interesting inflection point. It’s neither the raw, “does everything and the kitchen sink” device that it was when the company first announced it, but neither is its path forward obvious. Apple’s added low-hanging fruit like GPS and LTE, and attempted to make the Watch more self-sufficient, but it’s hardly about to supplant an iPhone for most people. At best it’s a device you don’t mind carrying if you’re going some place that you can’t take your phone.
But Apple has shown that it still views wearables as an important category. Tim Cook has drawn attention to its performance in the last few quarterly financial results, grouping together sales not only of the Watch but also of AirPods and Beats headphones.
With an Apple Watch Series 4 probably on the horizon, what is there left to expect? What’s going to keep the Apple Watch ticking away—if you’ll pardon the expression—into the next decade.
No apps, no problem
Overcast developer Marco Arment made waves recently by pointing out that Apple’s WatchKit framework simply isn’t getting the job done for third-party Apple Watch apps. As Arment points out, Apple itself doesn’t have to build apps with WatchKit, leaving it to stagnate as developers try to make do with watered-down tools. This has led more than a few people to wonder if the writing should be on the wall for Apple Watch apps period.
And, as it stands, I’m with those people.
The number of third-party Watch apps I actually use are pretty few and far between. Interactions of more than a second or two are often unwieldy, and finding apps that aren’t in your Dock is an exercise in frustration. (Thank heavens for watchOS 4’s List Mode, which makes it at least plausible.) In general, I want to get information from my Apple Watch at a glance, for which complications are usually the perfect solution. Occasionally I want more information—say, the day’s weather forecast rather than just the current conditions—and I’ll tap through a complication to get it, but those instances are fairly rare.
In this, I echo John Gruber’s sentiments that custom watch faces are perhaps what Apple should be focusing on rather than the app model. It sometimes feels as though Apple had an amazing hit with the App Store on iOS and is determined to try and replicate that across its other platforms, even when it doesn’t really make sense.
In the three years since the Apple Watch’s initial release, we’ve had four models (including the Series 1, which was a revamped version of the original). In that time, the Apple Watch’s form factor has undergone only very minor changes. Given Apple’s general drive to constantly make its devices smaller and thinner, it’s impressive that the Watch has stayed the same for this long. Apple has instead focused on squeezing more and more power into the existing chassis. (A philosophy that many users of Apple’s laptop line would be happy to see the company embrace there as well.)