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The Apple Watch’s watchOS 2 operating system will allow third-party apps to run natively on the device and use more of its components. Watch developers cheered as Apple made the announcement at its Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco this morning.
Specifically, when watchOS 2 launches this fall, Watch apps will be able to access the speaker, microphone, digital crown, heartbeat monitor, and other sensors in the Watch. The Watch will also be able to connect directly with Wi-Fi so that the apps can reach directly out to the Internet with no need of the phone to connect.
These changes are important steps, and Apple should be applauded for making it happen just weeks after the Watch began reaching consumers. Apple Watch apps will get faster and become more functional — but these apps might tax the Watch’s battery.
Apps will be doing more battery-sucking things like playing video onscreen and running sound through the Watch’s speaker. Apple demonstrated playing the video playback function by playing a Vine video onstage this morning.
Apple is mindful of how much battery third-party apps can use.
“I think they are being very careful about what [Watch components] they open up to developers,” Brian Tan, senior product manager for mobile at Mint.com, told VentureBeat in an interview today.
Apple limits the length of video that apps can play on the Watch, Tan pointed out. But Apple hasn’t yet specified the actual limit in minutes or seconds.
Tan believes it’s up to app developers to be cognizant of the battery consumption of their apps. “We have to be mindful about how we access all the different sensors,” he said. “We want to be good citizens.”
But the problem may be broader than individual app developers.
Right now, the Watch’s capacity to last a whole day on one charge depends a lot on the screen being dark for much of the day, as IDC analyst Tom Mainelli told VentureBeat in an interview today.
Better, faster apps might cause Watch wearers to use apps more. The Watch might spend a greater portion of the day lit up with apps, in other words.
The same thing happened when apps first became available on the iPhone, Mainelli said. Developers didn’t originally have access to all the features in the phone, but once they did, their apps improved. Then, the App Store took off, and app usage on the iPhone exploded.
“This is really just the beginning of the ecosystem,” said Ari Roisman, chief executive of Glide, an audio and video messaging app that runs on the phone and the Watch. “In the coming months you’re going to see a lot of developers jump in, and you’re going to see a lot of really interesting and compelling apps.
“For us, this is going to enable real time messaging on your wrist. You’re going to be able to have full-on chat from your wrist, through audio messaging and through video clips.”
Lots of developers like Glide are happy at the news from Apple today. We’ll have to wait until fall to see the new wave of better, faster Apple Watch apps — and the toll they take on battery.
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