When the iPhone first came out, it had no 3rd party apps and no app store. For the first year developers had to make do with handicapped web-apps that at the time had been dubbed "The Sweet Solution." This year, when the Apple Watch came out, it launched with 3rd party apps and it's own app store to showcase them, but in similar fashion the apps were handicapped. WatchKit apps, as they're called, have to stream everything over bluetooth from the user's iPhone; from the UI to the content displayed within it.
I've been using these apps since day one with the watch, and just like many others who have had their Apple Watches in this past month, I've come to the conclusion that... well... most of the apps just aren't very good.
Much like when the iPhone's apps first launched in 2008, developers are only just beginning to grasp what makes an app idea a good one for the watch, and many have shipped ideas that just don't fit on the wrist very well. Couple that with the fact that WatchKit itself is rather laggy and unstable, and most of the apps just aren't worth using. That being said though, there's still a small handful of applications that I've decided are worth their while on my watch, and of that handful I've decided on some that I think really and truly are good apps even with their fledgling issues. This is a little series I'm starting called "WatchKit Standouts," and in it I'll be talking about those apps and what makes them something special to me.
Lifesum is the first of these apps, and it was the first WatchKit app I really took notice of when I got my watch. Lifesum on the iPhone is a meal and nutrition tracking app that has a whole database of food items to call upon. Rather than try and port that experience verbatim to the watch, the developers behind Lifesum instead made it so that you could easily log smaller snacks in categories and meals in general sizes (small, medium, large) which could be filled in later with the exact food items on the phone. This is one of the smartest decisions I've seen so far from a developer in terms of how to take the essential experience of their application and shrink it down to an experience that fits on the watch. It's what really makes the app for me, and it speaks to Lifesum's devs getting how they need to handle their Watch App in a way that other developers haven't as of yet.
The Lifesum Watchkit app also really nails the wrist interaction model in another way that's become important to me over the past month; the UI design. Not only is it nice to look at with it's flat visuals and aesthetics consistent with the iOS app, but the portions of the app that could have been split into multiple screens are instead consolidated into one large view which is scrollable either by finger or via digital crown. This scrollable UI concept makes a lot of sense on the watch, but you'd be surprised how many developers haven't embraced it, and I've found that it makes a big difference in use. Being able to scroll through an app with the digital crown adds a level of intimacy and physical interaction to the software that isn't there with standard touchscreen scrolling, and for my next app in this series it's an even more prominent design feature. There are still other screens in the Lifesum app which take a more traditional approach for interactions, but as far as the main screen of the app goes, it's top notch.
The app isn't perfect yet (no WatchKit app is) and I find myself wanting a few features that could probably be added easily. For one, in the iPhone app you can choose to add water in increments of either glasses or bottles. I choose to track my water intake in bottles because that's the way I drink the majority of my water, but on the watch I can only add amounts in glasses. This could be easily fixed by changing the watch's settings to mirror the selection in the iPhone app, and I hope the devs will get to that soon. The only other glaring issue for me is the app's notifications. The app sends you reminders around meal times to log your food, which is fine, but the rest of the notifications it sends are usually reminders to "eat a kiwi" or "snack on some blueberries," which I don't find all that useful, especially after you've seen the same recommendations dozens of times. In addition, it usually seems to send those sorts of notifications almost exclusively after I've just logged a snack or meal, making them redundant. I don't remember Lifesum's notifications being as aggressive before the update that added the Apple Watch functionality, so I hope that the notifications can get tweaked in the future to closer resemble their original state.
So after a solid paragraph of nitpicking, it's fair for me to say that there's room for improvement, but all told the Lifesum app is still among the very best Watchkit experiences I've had so far. It's so easy for me to add the general size of a meal directly after I've had it from my watch, rather than try to find the time to peck out individual food items as I'm ramping back up into work after a meal. This way I don't forget to add my meals, and it's convenient enough that I can quickly tap a couple times in the watch app while walking or doing something else. Exactly the kind of interaction model that excels on the wrist, and a solid experience overall between the phone and the watch. The Lifesum experience has improved with the addition of the WatchKit app, which isn't something you can say for most of the initial offering. Absolute congratulations to the Lifesum team for nailing the balance on the first try, it's a rare achievement in these early post-launch times.