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Apple Watch

Smart Watch By Mark Wherry
Published January 2016

App Works

When Apple announced and subsequently released their eponymous watch, I was pretty sceptical about the device. Here was something that seemed expensive, under–powered — both computationally and in terms of battery life — and, frankly, unnecessary. Given my penchant for technology, friends were surprised when I said I wasn’t going to buy one; I had no interest in it, and, besides, I’ve never worn a watch. No, I was absolutely not going to buy an Apple Watch. So, of course, I bought an Apple Watch.

Built with the precision you’d expect from Apple, there’s something seductively attractive in the design of the Watch. It might be more computer than chronometer, but that suits me just fine. There are two physical controls: the so–called Digital Crown, and the side button that gives you quick access to your friends. The Digital Crown offers a variety of application–specific behaviours, such as scrolling and zooming, and pushing it displays the various apps installed on the Watch. The Watch’s face is, of course, a touchscreen and features a technology called Force Touch that lets you touch the screen normally to perform one action, while pressing it a little harder will perform another.

Apogee’s MetaRecorder was one of the best early apps I saw, allowing you to remote control certain features of the iPhone app.

Internally, the Watch is powered by Apple’s custom S1 SiP (System–in–Package), which features a customised ARM core along with — according to various reports — 512MB memory and 8GB of flash storage. A particularly interesting component is the so–called Taptic Engine that makes the watch pulse in such a way that it feels almost as though someone is tapping your wrist; this is primarily used for notifications. The Watch felt fairly snappy when navigating its core functionality, though performance definitely gets a little sluggish when loading third–party apps.

The Watch is supplied with a USB charger that magnetically attaches itself to the back of the device. You might be able to squeeze two days out of the battery if you use the Watch purely as a watch, but generally I found myself charging it nightly. On the plus side, the Watch does seem to charge quickly.

The three pages of Apogee’s Metarecorder running on an Apple Watch let you control the core functionality of the app running on your iPhone. The red line indicates the app is recording.The three pages of Apogee’s Metarecorder running on an Apple Watch let you control the core functionality of the app running on your iPhone. The red line indicates the app is recording.In order to use the Watch you’ll need to own at least an iPhone 5 running iOS 8.2 or later. The Watch communicates with the iPhone via Bluetooth — it has no independent Internet access of its own — and the first thing you need to do when setting up the Watch is to pair it with your iPhone. Since iOS 8.2 Apple have included a Watch app, and this is very much the command centre for configuring and updating the device, as well as deciding which apps you want to install. Watch apps live within traditional iOS apps, and any app installed on your phone that contains a Watch component will be listed in the iOS Watch app. If you tap an app entry, there’s a switch to deploy it to your Watch.

The initial batch of third–party apps were limited in terms of functionality because the first version of Apple’s watchOS didn’t allow these apps to access the native features of the Watch, such as the Taptic Engine, the speaker and microphone, or even the Digital Crown. However, this didn’t prevent developers from coming up with some interesting ideas. Apogee’s MetaRecorder was one of the best early apps I saw, allowing you to remote control certain features of the iPhone app. Launching the watch app causes MetaRecorder to automatically load on the iPhone, and then, via three pages of controls, you can play or record the current take, add markers, and even see a peak level meter with input gain adjustment. The iPhone is doing the actual recording, of course, but I thought this was a pretty neat example of turning your iPhone into a remote microphone of sorts.

Line 6 were quick to add support to their AMPLIFi Remote app, making it possible to tune your guitar, access tones, and control levels from your Watch... iZotope also included a simple Watch app in their recently released Spire that puts a four–track recorder with a great interface in your pocket.

It doesn’t get simpler than this: WatchHapticMetronome beats time using the Taptic Engine.It doesn’t get simpler than this: WatchHapticMetronome beats time using the Taptic Engine.

Most of the early Watch apps fell into this ‘remote control’ category. Line 6 were quick to add support to their AMPLIFi Remote app, making it possible to tune your guitar, access tones, and control levels from your Watch. iZotope also included a simple Watch app in their recently released Spire that puts a four–track recorder with a great interface in your pocket. There was also a fair number of (frankly terrible) metronome apps that were pretty useless since all they could do was control a metronome running on your phone, and a number of slightly more useful tap tempo apps.

With the release of watchOS 2 last September, developers can finally create native apps for the watch. This has meant the appearance of slightly better metronome apps, such as the awkwardly named WatchHapticMetronome, which take advantage of the Taptic Engine — when the metronome is running, you feel the beat pulsing on your wrist. It works surprisingly well, although is hampered by another current limitation of watchOS: native apps go to sleep after around 20 seconds if you’re not interacting with them. Having a metronome stop after a brief time isn’t ideal, but these are early days and Apple are already working to improve battery life with the watchOS 2.0.1 update, released just as I was finishing this article.

The Apple Watch is undoubtedly a luxury. It’s nice to have, but you absolutely don’t need it, and there are no killer apps as yet that would make me recommend the purchase. That being said, if you do already own one, there are some neat things you can do with it, and given the rich ecosystem of music and audio–related iOS apps, it’s not impossible that the usefulness of the Watch in this field will evolve over time. Watch this space!

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Published January 2016