Hong Kong app developers see big benefits from Apple Watch software upgrade

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 June, 2015, 10:13am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 June, 2015, 10:46am

Mobile application developers in Hong Kong expect to tap into new market opportunities after Apple unveiled the first major software upgrade for its smartwatch operating system.

The new watchOS 2 was introduced at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference on Monday in San Francisco, giving developers the tools to build faster and more powerful apps that run on the Apple Watch.

"The big benefit is that now developers can write applications that will function natively on the Apple Watch, independently from the iPhone," said Nick Murray, the co-founder and chief technology officer at Hong Kong-based mobile apps developer Passkit.

READ MORE: Apple announces music streaming service, iOS 9, OS X El Capitan, and upgraded Siri

Developers can take advantage of Apple Watch hardware features including the Digital Crown navigation tool, the Taptic Engine, heart rate sensor, accelerometer and microphone to build new apps, while there will be a new software application programming interface to enable audio and video playback and animation.

"Apple Watch users today need the iPhone [which is connected via Bluetooth] for everything. You need the iPhone for the camera, messages and answering calls. It was nice, but it wasn't great," Murray said. "Now with the ability to access all of those hardware features, I think we'll see a lot more growth in local developer innovation, particularly in fitness or outdoor activity apps so smartwatch users don't need to also carry a smartphone."

Available for free to Apple Watch users this autumn, watchOS 2 includes new watch faces, third-party app information and new communication capabilities in the Mail, Friends and Digital Touch functions. 

“We think Apple Watch users will love being able to see information from their favourite apps right on the watch face, and enjoy the many new experiences developers will dream up now that they have access to even more innovative features of Apple Watch,"  said Kevin Lynch, Apple’s vice-president of technology. 

According to Apple, the new developer tools for watchOS 2 will enable popular mobile apps to be more robust when used on the watch.

Chinese internet giant Tencent's WeChat mobile messaging app, for example, will have an enhanced communication capability by enabling the microphone on the watch, while California-based home automation technology provider Insteon will be able to give its users more precise means to dim their lights at home or control room temperature, according to Apple.

Murray suggested that Apple's watchOS 2 may have shown "the potential of opening the Apple Watch to non-iPhone users further down the line". 

"With the watchOS 2, developers will have much more flexibility and capability to create apps for the Apple Watch than they would ever get for, say, the smartwatch from Samsung Electronics, which uses a lot of technology that is proprietary," Murray said.

He said Passkit, which develops mobile wallet apps, is keen to look into the new watchOS 2's ability to use merchant rewards and store-issued credit and debit cards with Apple Pay.

Charlotte Chen, the co-founder and chief marketing officer at Spottly, said her company would look into the opportunity presented by the programming interface. Hong Kong-based Spottly provides a travel app for users to find, collect and share their favourite places in the world.

"We see watchOS 2 making it even easier for users to discover and share these travel hot spots," Chen said. "We find Apple very supportive in helping developers."

Apple said there are already thousands of apps available for the Apple Watch, which was released in Hong Kong and eight selected countries on April 24. Chen said more local developers could be encouraged to develop apps via watchOS 2.

The new software also allows mail users to respond quickly using dictation, so-called Smart Replies or emoji. Users can create contact information for multiple Friends screens, each of which can hold up to 12 friends, and new friends can be added directly on to the Apple Watch. Digital Touch lets users draw and send sketches with multiple colours on the watch display.

A user's favourite photo can be turned into a new watch face. The Time-Lapse watch face allows users to choose from a selection of time-lapse videos shot over 24 hours in iconic locations, including Shanghai, New York and London.

Other features include a bedside alarm clock and having digital assistant Siri start specific workout programmes and reply to e-mail. The watch also supports the Transit function in Maps, which will give users maps and transport schedules for more than 300 cities in mainland China, including Beijing, Chengdu and Shanghai by this autumn.

The service already covers Baltimore, Berlin, Chicago, London, Mexico City, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Toronto and Washington D.C.

Technology research firm IDC has forecast annual mobile app downloads on smartphones, tablets and other smart mobile devices to reach 187 billion by 2017 and generate revenue of US$25.2 billion, up from 87.8 billion downloads and sales of US$10.3 billion in 2013.