WatchKit tools pave the way for Apple Watch app developers

Key developer says Apple Watch will be important in Apple ecosystem, but Watch-only apps won't likely be big hits

Apple with its WatchKit collection of development tools and APIs intends to make its upcoming Apple Watch device a new platform for developers, enabling them to build apps with capabilities like swiping and actionable notifications.

Introduced this week and due in early 2015, Apple Watch is the company's first wearable technology. Developers can start building fully native apps specifically designed for the device next year. "Using a new set of tools called WatchKit, developers will be able to easily create experiences designed specifically for Apple Watch," Apple said on an Apple Watch website.

WatchKit will allow developers to incorporate a Glances capability into apps, meaning users can swipe the watch face to check news, travel, and other information. Actionable notifications can enable third-party app notifications to turn up on the watch, and notifications built with WatchKit can let users take action or respond from their wrist. "Soon, your favorite apps will feature controls and interactions unique to Apple Watch" via WatchKit, the company said.

WatchKit APIs for iOS 8 are to be featured in Apple's Xcode IDE. A prominent Apple iOS application developer and blogger, Christopher Allen, anticipates developers will get their hands on WatchKit in due time. "As of today I do not see any support for WatchKit in Xcode 6, but I'm sure we will see documentation and [an] SDK beta before end of the year," he said in an email. "This will probably roll out like other major announcements where some major developers will get early access under strict NDA and the rest of us will have to scramble in the weeks before release."

But Allen sees limited opportunities for Apple Watch apps. "If you are already part of the Apple developer ecosystem, it will be important to supplement your other iOS apps with Apple Watch apps. However, will there be significant 'watch-only' hits? Maybe some, but not many. If there are, it will be fashion or fad and have limited utility. It is the integration with the overall Apple ecosystem that will be where the money is."

Nonetheless, Allen is planning a developer event for Apple Watch -- a one-time Apple Watch developer camp, similar to what his group did with the iPad tablet launch, that will held about a month after Apple Watch goes on sale. Building for a small device like a watch already was the subject of discussion at an IOSDevCamp hackathon last month, Allen noted, but 90 percent of what developers need to know to get started building with WatchKit came with iOS 8, he contended. The latest version of Apple's mobile OS is due to be available on Sept. 17.

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