Apple Watch App Developers Finding Help From Online Courses

As the release of the Apple Watch approaches in April, app developers have some new tricks to learn to build apps for the device. Online training courses can help.  

Apple Watch, smartwatches, iOS development

Developers have been building apps for Apple iPhones, iPads and other devices for about eight years now, but they'll have to learn a few new tricks to build apps for Apple's upcoming Watch smartwatch, which will be sold to consumers starting in April.

To help provide that extra training, online courses are becoming available to teach developers of all experience levels the things they'll need to know to build their own apps for Watch so they can sell them in search of success in the marketplace.

One such training course, "The Complete Apple Watch Developer Course-Build 14 Apps," is being offered for $199 through, which offers online courses on many subjects. The course, which opened for sign-ups in late February, includes about 15 hours of training videos and some 142 lectures that range in length from 10 minutes to one hour, according to Rob Percival, a former math teacher who now runs a Web hosting business and began teaching online code writing classes through Udemy in 2014. This is Percival's third course on the site. He also teaches a Complete Web Developer Course and a Complete iOS Developer Course.

About 4,000 students are enrolled so far in his Apple Watch apps course—which is aimed at developers of various levels, from the novice to the more experienced, who want to build Watch apps, Percival told eWEEK. The course covers a wide curriculum, starting with the basics of programming and how to work with the two different coding languages that are used to write Apple iOS apps in Apple's Xcode software—the older Objective-C language and the newer Swift language, which is much easier to learn.

For developers who are used to building iOS apps for iPhones and iPads, there will be many similarities, said Percival, but there will be some changes, as well.

"If you know how to code for iPad and iPhone, then it's a relatively short leap to code for Apple Watch," he said.

Among the new things developers will have to learn about building apps for Watch are changes in how Watch apps deal with notifications and user glances, compared with iPhones and iPads, he said. "Notifications on iPhone work differently on Apple watch, and glances are completely new. No one knows exactly how that's going to work yet." More details are expected by the time of the product's launch, he said.

Some of those details could even come during an Apple special event that will be held on March 9 that's rumored to center on the upcoming Apple Watch smartwatch, he said.

Another change from other iOS apps is communications between an iPhone and the Watch, which is "something that you need to get a grip with" as you build apps, said Percival. "It's new because there's a different level of integration. The interesting part is that the Watch is almost completely dependent on the phone to function at all. When you are coding for Apple Watch, the vast majority of your code is running on the phone rather than on the Watch."

The other major difference is that developers need to be aware that it's a necessity that most Watch code has to be written as an extension of iPhone code so that battery life remains adequate on the Watch, he said. "What they don't want is a load of apps that function mostly on the Watch because that's going to use up the battery. They want extensions off the phone so it does things on your Watch without using so much power."

Experienced iOS developers can skip over the basics that they don't need in the course and dive into the Watch-specific content, he said.

For any developer, such a course offers the information you need all in one place without requiring Google searches to find it on your own, said Percival.

Courses like this one can help developers build and then monetize their apps for Watch after its release, he said. "It's a really good time to get into Apple programming. It's a really new opportunity for people to get into making Watch apps. There won't be lots of apps at launch so you can be getting in the on ground floor of a new ecosystem."

The course covers all aspects of Apple's WatchKit Software Development Kit (SDK), including glances, notifications, app architecture, APIs, interface elements and more advanced topics. In the coursework, students will build things like a simple messaging app, a brain-trainer app and a mood-tracker app.

Other organizations offering various kinds of online training classes are, and

The long-awaited Apple Watch was announced in September 2014 at an Apple new product event, along with the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus smartphones. The Apple Watch screen is controlled by touch, by arm movement and by the "crown"—the circular wheel button on the side that traditionally was used to wind a watch. The watch, which must be used with an iPhone to get full usability, can do many things that a smartphone or laptop can do, just on a smaller scale.

The watch will start at $349, though additional pricing information has not yet been announced. Apple Watch is expected to arrive in three versions: a sport version in polished or black stainless steel, a standard anodized aluminum model, and a luxury edition in rose or yellow 18-karat gold.

Earlier this month, the Watch made news for some features that won't be included when it is finally released. The smartwatch will be missing previously touted key health-monitoring features due to problems getting them to work and potential regulatory issues, according to reports.