Apple Watch apps are going to get a lot more powerful. During its WWDC 2015 keynote, Apple said that it plans to let developers begin building apps that run directly on the Apple Watch, giving them the ability to make much faster apps that can do a lot more than they can now. The new apps will be able to access the Watch's hardware, including its microphone, speaker, and accelerometer, and they'll even be able to have the digital crown control custom UI elements, rather than scrolling. Currently, third-party Watch apps can't do any of those things — they actually run on the iPhone and are beamed over to the Watch.
"It'll be a great new frontier for your Watch."
"Performance will be great. Responsiveness will be great. It'll be a great new frontier for your Watch," Apple's Kevin Lynch said on stage today.
Apple is also going to let developers start creating custom Watch complications. That's a huge addition: complications live right on the watch face and show tiny bits of information. So while they may not do much, they're the most prominent and helpful element of the Watch. Letting developers take advantage of that should make the Watch much more useful — whereas apps at the moment are a bit obfuscated.
There are a number of other elements of the Watch that Apple is opening up to developers. That includes the ability to play back video, which Apple demonstrates on stage by showing an app for Vine. Most of the new features being opened up to developers were glossed over on a single large slide, but it shows just how much more Apple is giving access to: contacts, the Taptic Engine, and HomeKit, among many other tools for developers. Developers will be able to start working with these tools as part of watchOS 2 today, and it'll be ready for the public this fall.
Apple has been promising the ability to build native third-party apps since before the Watch was even released, but this is the first time that it's elaborated on what they'll be able to do or honed in on when they'll arrive. The actual release of this toolkit will be a major milestone. Right now, apps on the Apple Watch are, quite frankly, awful. There's almost no reason to open them; they take way too long to load and, by and large, aren't made very well. Native apps won't solve all of those problems — developers still need to figure out how best to design for the Watch — but it's likely that these tools will start to make Watch apps much faster, much more responsive, and much more interesting.