9 killer apps for the Apple Watch

13th November 2014

In September Apple announced the launch of its new Apple Watch to a great fanfare at their headquarters in Cupertino. Whether you’re an Apple fan or not, the new device marks a significant moment for wearable tech, as the way Apple does things tends to have a big impact on the success of a new device format. Just think how the iPhone affected smartphone sales, or what the iPad did for tablets. When Apple gets involved, it often jump-starts the category.

Design is obviously important, but whether or not you like the aesthetics of the Apple Watch (with its black body design and curved chrome edges reminiscent of the original 2007 iPhone), we believe this new launch will live and die on functionality rather than looks. Will wearing some tech on your wrist genuinely be a useful addition to the smartphones people already carry in their pockets? If not, then all Apple’s design innovations will be irrelevant. Who needs a ‘digital crown’, force-sensitive touch screen or a new UI designed for such a small screen if there aren’t any killer apps that really makes the device useful?

The functionality unveiled for the smart watch so far is quite limited. You can make calls on it (but not yet video calls – meaning we’ll all have to wait for a future version with FaceTime to mimic Penny from 1980s cartoon Inspector Gadget, who was clearly a major inspiration for much of Apple’s recent output). You can also use Apple Watch to send and read messages and emails, play music, and browse photos and maps. So far, so what – your smartphone does all of that, and on a much more user–friendly larger screen.

At the moment, the ever-so-slightly new stuff appears to be limited to Apple Pay (which Tim Cook wants you to believe will replace your wallet entirely, and which we’ll be writing about separately) and the fitness tracking capabilities. Apple Watch has four sapphire lenses on the reverse of the watch which use infrared and LEDs to measure your heart rate while you exercise. The Maps app also makes use of haptic feedback so you can be walking or cycling on a set route and it will alert you when you need to turn left or right, but on their own, these don’t seem enough of a reason to invest £215 in a fancy watch.

Just as with the iPhone and iPad however, Apple is opening up to developers to create apps that will unleash its true potential. Over the coming months, developers large and small will be getting to grips with the Apple Watch and thinking up new ways that wearing a digitally connected device on your wrist, with a gyroscope and accelerometer inside, could turn into real world applications. Here’s a list of the 9 apps Seymourpowell would like to see:

1. Voice control calling app. We’ve all seen drivers making calls or texting while driving. With a smart watch is could be a thing of the past. This app would recognise your voice command to ‘Call John’ or get Siri to read you a message that has just come in, all without taking your hands off the wheel or your eyes off the road.
2. Newsflash app. Apple Watch uses haptic feedback to alert you with a vibration when an email or message comes in. But how about a specific type or length of vibration when something urgent happens – like news reports of an explosion, a stock market crash, your partner going into labour, or just your team scoring a last minute winner? You set the parameters of what is important to you, and Apple Watch senses social media, messages and news for stuff that meets the criteria and alerts you instantly in a way that you’ll really notice.
3. Augmented reality app. Back in 2012, Google submitted a patent for their own smart watch that included an intriguing augmented reality possibility. The face on the watch would open up using a hinge, giving a clear lens the user can look through, and onto which classic augmented reality could be displayed. Aim the bezel at your surroundings and you could get information about nearby shops and cafes, what products they have on sale that day – the options are endless (and with a watch, you wouldn’t look as foolish as someone wearing Google Glass).
4. Home sensor app. Using Bluetooth and a geo-fence, Apple Watch should be able to interact with smart devices in the home to turn them on or off. If you’re the last person leaving the house, the smart watch could automatically set your home alarm, or turn off your thermostats and music, and when you return home after work, it could tell your garage door to open or turn on the lights.

5. Crash sensor app. Sudden movement sensors are common in all types of devices from on-board crash cams in cars, to the fantastic Hovding bicycle crash helmet from Sweden that inflates instantly as an airbag when it detects an impact using its sensitive accelerometer. If the smart watch’s accelerometer is sensitive enough it could do the same thing – tell you instantly if your granny falls over at home, or contact someone if it detects you having a bicycle crash.
6. Security alarm app. One of the problems with rape and personal security alarms is they tend to live in people’s bags and aren’t in their hand at the precise moment they need them. A smart watch would be on your wrist – and this app emits a loud alarm, and communicates precisely where you are. We’re not saying it would work in every scenario, but occasionally it might be a lifesaver.
7. Sleep apps. A few years ago SleepCycle was all the rage. If smart watches can sort out their recharging so they can be worn 24 hours a day, they could use the accelerometer to provide even more accurate, useful sleep diagnostics. You could even put one on a baby in a cot to check on its movements and alert you to anything unusual.
8. Hands-free cooking app. Download a recipe online, and as you start to cook the smart watch will read out the instructions to you and show photos of the steps. The app recognises different gestures that use the accelerometer and gyroscope: moving your hand in a clockwise circle means go on to the next step, and moving it anti-clockwise means repeat the previous step or go back.
9. Healthcare app. A big feature of the Apple Watch launch was its fitness tracking capabilities, which make use of the accelerometer and gyroscope which can track movements and speed, and cross reference them with your heart rate reading. We’d like to see an app that uses this data to communicate with your healthcare provider, and give you a more accurate health insurance premium based on your level of activity. Kind of like the black box put inside cars by insurance companies that gives lower premiums to those who drive safer.
 
What other apps or features would you like to see in the next generation of smart watches? Let us know in the comments below.

Seymourpowell has worked on UI and telecommunications design projects for companies including Samsung, LG, Korea Telecom and Nokia amongst others.