Edge Cases had an episode on “Apps for iWatch and Apple TV”, which got me to thinking how Apple might really make use of a wearable device and how it might work.
Here’s my prediction:
The iWatch, or whatever Apple will call it, will be an accessory to an iOS device. It may have limited functionality without a paired iOS device (a watch!), but when paired with an iOS device, it will become a a miniature input device. Software will be written for iWatch in the form of iOS 8 Extensions. If one accepts the premise that the iWatch will be an accessory to the iOS device, then it logically follows that programmability will be an accessory function to an iOS app.
As an example, consider how the “today” extension works: As part of an iOS app, a Today extension allows that app to present very limited content in the Today view of Notification Center. I predict that iWatch programmability will take the form of an iWatch extension that allows an iOS 8 app to present some limited information in the iWatch display. The watch won’t need to be very smart — all the CPU power will live on the iOS device — and the iWatch display needn’t be very power-hungry: even a monochrome LCD will be sufficient for this functionality.
iWatch will also allow the same sort of user input that apps can show on the locked home screen — the best example I can think of is the play/pause / skip forward/skip back control for a podcast app or for iTunes. This will allow you to use the iWatch as your controller for playing audio without getting the iPhone / iPod / iPad out of your purse or pocket.The sensors required don’t need to be very smart — I imagine the functionality being limited to swipe up / down/ left / right tap once / twice / thrice — maybe a few different tap zones on the watch for different functions. it could also be used as a way for a user to trigger text-to-speech on an incoming text or email, again so that one doesn’t need to take the iOS device out to accomplish this. I could see this being useful while driving, or walking / jogging, or doing yard work or housework — exactly the occasions where I’m usually listening to a podcast.
The advantages I see of this approach are: A) the cost of the iWatch can be lower than if there’s any CPU or power-hungry components. B) Apple leverages the strength of the existing iOS app store and iOS app ecosystem as a way to get functionality on the iWatch.