New iOS extensions stand to benefit Apple Watch

By opening up its core iOS services to third-party developers, Apple is paving the way for some major innovation in watchOS 3.

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Once upon a time, all Apple wanted to talk about was apps. Then it wanted to talk about services. Now it wants to talk about apps... inside services... inside apps.

I’ve gotta say: it’s been a confusing progression. 

Let’s back up. One of the most significant announcements to come out of this year’s Worldwide Developers Conference was that Apple was opening up several of its core services—iMessage, Maps, and Siri—to third-party developers. While each of those systems have strategic applications, they also all happen to be services that work particularly well with one of the company’s other burgeoning platforms: watchOS.

Talk it out 

Apple’s voice-based intelligent assistant has now expanded to all four of the company’s platforms, and it’s a model that scales well to each of them in turn—but particularly on the Watch. During WWDC, Apple executives noted that the key interaction time for the Watch is about two seconds, and urged developers to bring more functionality to the surface of their apps, rather than burying them behind multiple taps.

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That’s why Siri has the potential to be so useful on the Watch: It provides a way to carry out more complex tasks without having to spend a lot of time swiping and tapping at one’s wrist.

To date, I’ve often found myself more frustrated than anything with Siri on the Watch: I often run into trouble with its listening capabilities—rare is the occasion where I don’t have to say “Hey Siri” more than once, or give up and hold the Digital Crown. But I do see the promise in it, and often find it a useful way to, say, add things to my shopping list when I’m not in the same room as my phone.

The addition of SiriKit for tasks like ride-hailing, messaging, smart home controls, and workouts extend Siri’s utility even further. And while the initial available actions are limited, many of them are things one might want to do without resorting to one’s phone, which could potentially make Siri on the Watch a much stronger proposition—especially if its listening was improved.

Message for you, sir! 

While the Friends interface in watchOS 1 and 2 was dreadfully ill-conceived, communication has definitely been a core feature of the Apple Watch. Receiving notifications for email and messages are probably the most frequent interactions I have with the device throughout the day, and in the latter case, I even end up using the reply feature with some regularity.

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So it makes sense that watchOS 3 will get bolstered support for iMessage, given the many new features for the messaging platform introduced in iOS 10. While not everything available in Messages on your iPhone or iPad is available in watchOS 3, stickers, screen effects, larger emoji, and sketching quick messages will be on both platforms. Not only will that likely help the adoption of Apple’s new messaging features, but it makes the Watch an even more compelling place to send a quick reply.

It’s unclear if apps for iMessage will be available in watchOS 3, but given the amount of energy Apple seems to be devoting to iMessage as a platform, it’d surprise me if it’s not in the offing—if not in this revision, then perhaps the next version of the software. Being able to quickly send someone a payment from your wrist, for example, would be a handy feature. 

One hand and a map

Finally, there’s Maps. Apple’s mapping system has gotten a bad rap—some of which was well deserved in its earliest days, when incorrect data and mistaken routes seemed to be the norm. But Maps has actually improved leaps and bounds since then, and with the addition of Maps extensions in iOS 10, the service stands to get even more useful. Apple gave examples of ridebooking apps and restaurant reservations as two ways to extend the functionality of Maps, but it seems like other features will be available as well.

Maps has been, for me, another bright spot on the Apple Watch. A large part of that is the harnessing of the Taptic Engine to provide haptic feedback, indicating when a turn is coming up. (I admit, I have trouble remembering which tap pattern is left and which is right, and that’s only made worse by living in Boston, a city which tends to eschew simple intersections.)

Expanding Maps’ abilities via extensions should trickle down nicely to the Apple Watch, providing ways to access routing-related functions without having to use an iPhone. But at the end of the day, the biggest advantage, as with Siri and Messages, is that improvements on any one platform should help the service get better across all of Apple’s devices.

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