Make your app useful on Apple Watch…without using WatchKit

I’ve been wearing my Apple Watch for over 2 weeks now. I’ve found that the most useful feature by far is getting notifications on my wrist. I mean plain old notifications, the same ones I used to get on my iPhone lock screen with a buzz, but now I get with a silent tap on the wrist.

It’s kind of genius how all the notifications seamlessly transfer to the watch without any setup. It brings immediate utility to the watch. When I first got the watch, I was busy trying out watch apps, monitoring my heart rate, checking out the hideous animated emoji, customizing watch faces, etc, and came away a little disappointed initially.

But then I got my first text message on the watch. Huh. Messaging on the watch, even without a keyboard, was actually pretty convenient. Many times a response wasn’t even necessary, I just needed to read the message.

Turns out, a lot of the notifications I used to get on my phone I didn’t need to respond to. And getting them with a tap on the wrist and a quick glance was really convenient. I know it sounds stupid, but pulling out your phone in many situations (sitting, driving, walking, eating, wrangling a toddler) is actually kinda of a pain. I just didn’t realize how much until there was an alternative.

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Interactive notification for Pump Log, giving the user the option to start a timer right from the watch. No WatchKit needed!

So is your iPhone app using notifications? Awesome, you’re already on the Apple Watch! (Hopefully your notifications have been useful and the user hasn’t turned them off!)

Are you using interactive notifications (introduced in iOS 8)? If not, look into it! Interactive notifications are a little harder to discover by users on the iPhone lock screen (you have to swipe left to see the options). But on the watch, it’s very clear. All the options are listed immediately below the notification message. It’s actually a really easy way to add some watch functionality to your app without doing anything with WatchKit.

All I’ve been hearing from developers who did a watch app is that WatchKit is slow and unreliable. I’ve been playing with WatchKit myself and ran into the same problem. And I haven’t been able to find any decent third-party watch apps yet, and I’m not the only one.

So for me, I’m going to hold off a bit on a real watch app. Instead, I’m looking at new ways to use notifications to interact with my app. That will immediately get people using my app on the watch, without them needing to install anything.