Alpha's WatchBench App Lets Apple Watch Developers Build With JSON

The WatchBench app aims to help enterprise developers quickly prototype new app ideas using JavaScript tools and coding that they already know.

Aplha Software, WatchBench, mobile apps, developers, Apple Watch, iOS, JavaScript, JSON

Using only an iPhone, enterprise developers who are already familiar with JavaScript can now quickly and easily build prototype apps for the Apple Watch using a free app called WatchBench from Alpha Software.

WatchBench, which was released in the Apple iTunes store on June 5, allows enterprise developers to create working prototype apps for Apple Watch without having to code the apps using Apple's iOS tools and languages, Dan Bricklin, CTO of Alpha Software, told eWEEK.

"In an hour or two, they can throw something together, even if they are not an iOS developer, and without having to spend days becoming proficient on that part of iOS," he said.

Developers can use WatchBench to build functional prototypes that interact with remote data services, have working buttons and menus, and can look quite polished so they can test app ideas before companies commit to spending lots of money to actually build them, said Bricklin.

WatchBench uses lines of JavaScript to call WatchBench functions, and the prototyping app includes full documentation as well as sample projects, boilerplate function calls and data structures, according to Alpha.

The idea for WatchBench came to Bricklin because it looked like wearables were going to be important in business, he said, and because the Apple Watch is pushing the limits of that potential.

"It looked like a good device to experiment with and to see how it could be good for business," said Bricklin. Prospective users include workers in warehouses, field service workers and others who don't sit at a computer at a desk but who need to have access to information, he said. Rather than using their hands on a device, they could use a smartwatch on their wrist to get information they need while they do their jobs with their hands.

"[These kinds of apps] need to provide some simple interactions like 'I completed that step, so what's the next step,'" he said. "Businesses are filled with jobs like that."

WatchBench is a normal app that a user downloads and installs on an iPhone. It lets users edit simple JavaScript applications and JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) descriptions of the user interface, he said.

"There are a lot more people who know JSON, than there are people who know iOS," said Bricklin. "The idea was to see if they could use this to build Apple Watch apps for their businesses. These are skills that you're going to find among all sorts of developers within a corporation. And JavaScript is one of the languages that iOS supports really well."

Typical uses for WatchBench could include companies that want to experiment with connecting their Apple Watch apps with external servers so they can pull out data from a database, such as inventory figures, product details or shipping status, he said.

To do that, a developer can use WatchBench to prototype those connections rapidly.

"WatchBench lets you build and test the types of applications that businesses would need to have to see if Apple Watch will be valuable to them," said Bricklin. "Businesses are all about custom code. This lets them do that."

Once the app experiments are proven in WatchBench, then companies can move to pay someone to develop them fully, he said.

At its Worldwide Developers Conference on June 8, Apple revealed that a new version of the Apple Watch operating system will come out soon, called watchOS 2. Bricklin said Apple has already said it will run all existing Apple Watch apps, such as WatchBench. "But watchOS 2 will bring new capabilities, and we'll look at and see what we need to build into our main product."

Bricklin is best known for co-creating VisiCalc, the pioneering spreadsheet program back in 1979, as well as Dan Bricklin's Demo Program in the 1980s. More recently, he is the author of the popular Note Taker HD app for the Apple iPad.

WatchBench is a 1.1MB download and requires iOS 8.2 or later. It is compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch and is optimized for iPhone 5, iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus.