 Apple Watch & WatchKit⌚︎

Designing and devloping within the limitations of the current Watchkit

Designing Apple Watch apps, and developing them with the current WatchKit, for the initial release of the watch is both extremely exciting and frustrating. On one hand (pun!) we have a new piece of hardware with fun sensors and possibilities and on the other, we are limited to what we can do with it.

Like many designers and enthusiastic people, I’ve seen a number of great looking interface mock ups and potential apps for the watch. However, the current state of WatchKit and what third party developers have access to is very limited.

Hold on!

If you’ve got a good app idea in the work, just hold on and think about the current state of watchkit and the limitations you will run into when trying to build your app. Here is a shortlist of things currently not available* to third-party developers

A little more on the limitations

While the watch has a lot of capabilities that core apps and preferred developers can work with, the rest of us developers are stuck waiting for when the next level of access is granted to the watch—which would hopefully be soon!

The three major blocks/ hurdles right now for me, and a lot of other designers & developers is the chaining to an iPhone, the lack of animation support, and lack of custom gestures. I would love to be able to have dragging, and other types of dynamic animations.


Right at the time where iOS 8 is really getting good at meaningful motion design, we’re stuck cycling through static images to mimic animation, e.g., using 45 different images to immitate a filling, loading circle. Not only that, but the current state of WatchKit doesn’t allow for small, localized animations e.g., a button.


One of the highlights of the Apple watch in presentations has been the drawing app in which one can doodle on their watch and send it to a friend. Unfortunately, we don’t have access to customize gestures yet, but once we do, things will start to become interesting.

Chained to the iPhone

We’ve been told that at some point this year, third-party developers will be able to create native watch apps that are independent of the phone, but at launch, everything is tied to the phone. This makes for awkward situations when an app doesn’t need a “main phone app” (which is required for the app to even run on the watch).

This image from the Apple Watch Programming Guide says a lot!
Watckit app flowchart from Apple


Well…sort of. There are a number of cases where a view only, non-interactive map is helpful. but in some cases we may want to drag and drop pins around our current location (similar to Lyft’s interface) At this point, the watch map is limited to showing your location or other locations—which are served from the iPhone.

“A WKInterfaceMap object displays a noninteractive map for the location you specify…Tapping the map launches the Maps app on the user’s Apple Watch and displays the corresponding location.”

Other notes:

Apple is encouraging existing iPhone apps to develop extensions for the watch to enhance the current apps experience, rather than making stand alone apps at this time. It won’t be long (hopefully) before we can be making native apps with access to all the watch hardware and software features. The current limitations feed into the “samey-ness” of app UI that we will undoubtedly see within the first months of launch. One idea which seems reasonable, is that Apple wants to limit developers and users on functionality to help create an understanding for the use and development of watch–best practices.