Even before having used an Apple Watch, Daniel Breslan is pretty sure how people will use his app, Departure Board, on one. “When you’re waiting in a station cafe, pub, lounge, you have you own personal departure board and you do not have to move to keep checking the screens on the platform,” he explains. His new app, which is in the final stages of testing, is a simple concept: it finds the nearest rail station to you, and tells you the destination and time of the next 20 trains - though on a watchface, you’ll probably only see three or four without scrolling.
Breslan is one of the many iPhone app developers who are hoping for a new bonanza when the Apple Watch hits the stores, and shortly afterwards the streets, in April. When Apple introduced the iPhone App Store in July 2008, it created an explosion of sales; even though Apple wasn’t first with an app store (Nokia and Palm had notably preceded it), the rapid growth of the smartphone market and the visibility of the iPhone guaranteed eager buyers – and, for some developers, sudden wealth.
Now the impending arrival of the Apple Watch has driven a whole new round of app development, of which Breslan’s is only one. It’s effective on an iPhone (I’ve been testing it since January) but Breslan sees its potential being even greater on a smartwatch, because you wouldn’t have to unlock your phone and navigate to the app to get the information.
As a user of the Pebble smartwatch, which still holds the record for the biggest Kickstarter at over $10m in 2012 and has so far sold a million, Breslan reckons that “the ideal use case for apps on a watch are small utilities that facilitate your daily life”. He uses his Pebble to control podcast playback, read messages, screen calls, check train times “and time my Aeropress brews”. All, he points out, are “little tasks that I can complete without having to pull out and hold my phone.” He thinks the Apple Watch will magnify those benefits through its extra experience in interface design.
David Smith, another iPhone developer based in Herndon, Virginia who has written recipe and audiobook apps, reckons that by shifting interactions from your phone to your wrist, the Apple Watch will “create a much more fluid daily experience, with dozens of micro-interactions rather than the longer ones we have today”.
For what, though? “Sending a text message, checking your next appointment, adding a reminder [to a list], suddenly [creating] a much lower barrier to action,” Smith says. “I think I’ll grow to rely on my watch for keeping me on track throughout my day.”