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Time for an Apple Watch Software Update

New watch faces, better tools, mess with your VW with the new Apple Watch software update.

Vjeran Pavic for

Apple Watch’s software is getting an update that will give the recently unveiled device more watch faces and features and will allow developers to write software designed to run on the device.

Apple’s Kevin Lynch took the stage at the Worldwide Developers Conference to showcase enhancements for the Apple Watch, which hit the market just six weeks ago. Updates to the device’s operating system allow wearers to further customize the watch face for the first time, displaying photos — their own, or time-lapse photography from major world cities.

A new feature borrows an old-fashioned watchmaking term, “complications.” It will allow Apple Watch users to customize the information they see when they glance at their wrists. A nightstand mode allows the wearer to turn the watch into an alarm clock when it’s charging overnight on the nightstand.

Apple tinkered with a core aspect of the watch, the health and fitness features, so that a workout recorded with a third-party app, such as Strava, will be logged in the device’s activity tracker — and the Siri digital assistant can launch a favorite workout app.

Developers have also been handed an updated set of tools that will allow them to write apps that can live natively on a watch. Programmers will be able to access the watch’s microphone, play audio out of the watch speaker or watch a short video on the watch face.

Operations head Jeff Williams teased the announcement last month at the Code conference in Rancho Palos Verdes.

At the developers conference, Lynch offered more details about the implications of opening up the Apple Watch. He said developers could tap into HealthKit to access the wearer’s heart rate data, so when a cyclist goes for a ride, the Strava app can monitor the watch wearer’s heart rate. With access to Apple’s home automation software, HomeKit, Apple Watch owners can now use it to control devices in the home.

Developers can even harness the Apple Watch’s “taptic engine,” which delivers alerts and reminders with a subtle tap on the wrist. Now, programers can harness that subtle notification feature to let the wearer know that the Apple Watch has successfully unlocked a car, for instance.

In interviews ahead of the Worldwide Developers Conference, developers discussed the implications of Apple providing them with greater access to the Apple Watch. Shazam’s chief product officer, Daniel Danker, said the company had early access to the device and worked directly with Apple’s engineers to develop a version of its popular music recognition app for the Apple Watch that was available at launch. It was among 3,000 apps offered on the day the wearable debuted.

For the moment, Shazam’s Apple Watch app uses the iPhone’s microphone to identify a song on the radio, TV or in movie theaters. But direct access to the watch’s microphone might offer a better audio experience, Danker said.

“Today, you’re running with far fewer capabilities,” Danker said.

Adam Grossman, the co-founder of Dark Sky, a weather app whose claim to fame is its ability to predict, down to the minute, when to expect rain or snow, said access to the watch’s Digital Crown would allow him to offer new features, such as the ability to zoom in on a forecast. He’s also hoping that allowing native apps that run on the Watch will address a problem with latency.

“Dark Sky takes a long time to load,” Grossman said. “Sometimes I find it more convenient to take out my phone … really, the watch is the proper place for an app like Dark Sky.”

Evernote Chief Executive Phil Libin would like Apple to introduce tools that allow for better coordination between the iPhone and Apple Watch, so a person who receives a call would automatically see relevant information displayed through Evernote’s workplace app on their wrist.

“Think of it as one app that’s running with two screens it can address simultaneously,” Libin said. “I think that will be really powerful to unlock ideas.”

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