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Smartwatch App Development Tutorial. Part 1

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11 min read

Around 224.31 million people use smartwatches worldwide as of 2024 according to Statista, and this number continues to grow. Smartwatches’ popularity is easy to explain, as the range of functions they provide reaches far beyond displaying the time as their mechanical counterparts do. A smartwatch represents an all-in-one technological assistant, replacing a fitness tracker, wallet, and even a phone.

The development of a smart watch app can be a promising opportunity for startups, as the variety of such solutions is significantly lower compared to the mobile app market. To get started in this direction, it’s important to know the intricacies of wearable devices OS development well.

In this post, you’ll discover how smart watches and their operating systems (OSs) work. Besides, you’ll explore smart watch OS solutions on the market and discover how to develop apps for smart watch step-by-step. 

How Smart Watches Work

How smartwatches work

Smartwatches are miniature devices that operate much like regular smartphones do. They are worn on the wrist and equipped with a touchscreen interface, enabling to operate the device by tapping or swiping on its screen. 

Smartwatches can serve as standalone devices. However, in this case, their functionality is limited. Alternatively, smart watches can be paired with smartphones for broader functionality. In the latter case, data is first received by the phone and then sent to the watch via Bluetooth. There are models with built-in SIM card slots. Such smartwatches can be used for calling and sending messages independently. Besides, smartwatches come with built-in measuring sensors providing for tracking functions, GPS, and more. 

Apart from embedded tools, the feature scope of watches can be expanded through the installation of third-party apps. 

Understanding Smart Watches Operational System (OS)

A smartwatch operating system (OS) is the software platform that manages the hardware and software resources of the smartwatch.

This technology is similar to how an operating system works on a computer or smartphone. It allows users to run apps, receive notifications, and interact with a device through a user-friendly interface.

You can discover the main functions that smartwatch OS incorporates from the infographic below:

Functions of Smartwatch OS

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Smartwatch Manufacturers, Operating Systems & Compatibility With Mobile Phones

Nowadays, the smartwatch market is pretty competitive. However, it is mostly shared between two main players, Google and Apple with Wear OS and WatchOS operating systems for smart watches respectively. However, there are two more providers to mention: Garmin Connect IQ, which is suited to more specialized solutions, and Huawei LightOS, which can often be found in budget-friendly smart watches. 

Now, let’s get to know these four key providers of smartwatch OS in greater detail:

#1 WatchOS by Apple

Watch OS is a smart watch OS which is based on the iOS mobile operating system running on iPhones. It is installed exclusively on the Apple Watch, which has been an absolute leader among smartwatches since its debut in 2014. 

As for now, Apple is one of the leaders in smart watch market accounting for 31% of shipments worldwide. Apple Watch can be paired only with the mobile phone of the same brand, complementing it to the fullest, which makes the choice of a smartwatch easy for iPhone users. The fifth generation of the watch coming pre-installed with watchOS 6 requires an iPhone 6s or later running iOS 13 or higher.

#2 Wear OS by Google

Wear OS was released as Android Wear, but rebranded in 2018 to highlight the software’s ability to pair with different phones. Its creators pursued the goal of elaborating a truly optimized smartwatch compatible with Android and iOS. The operating system is used in various devices, including those developed by such companies as Fossil, Mobvoi, and Skagen. 

There are more than 3 billion of Android devices in the world, more than 40 million of which are Wear OS and Android-powered smartwatches. Wear OS products are compatible with phones running Android 6.0+ (except Go edition) or iOS 10.0+. 

Since the Android Wear 2.0 version, the system has been supporting standalone apps, entirely autonomous wearable applications, which can be installed from their native Google Play Market directly on the watch. Wear OS is almost an independent system that still operates within the framework of the Google Services infrastructure, complementing, but not relying on it.

#3 Garmin Connect IQ

Garmin Connect IQ is the smartwatch development platform for Garmin’s wearable devices, launched in 2015. It allows users to enhance their wearable and mobile devices with downloadable applications, widgets, and watch faces from both Garmin and external developers. 

The platform primarily serves athletes and outdoor enthusiasts by providing tools tailored to sports and adventure activities, such as advanced performance metrics and navigational features. It’s worth mentioning that Garmin’s ecosystem expanded from only 4 to over 100 wearable products as of 2023. 

Connect IQ is integrated with Garmin’s ecosystem, offering users the ability to customize their devices to fit their specific activity tracking and navigation needs.

#4 Huawei LiteOS

Huawei LiteOS is a lightweight operating system created by Huawei for its Internet of Things (IoT) devices, including smartwatches. Introduced in 2015, LiteOS features a minimalistic design with a kernel size of approximately 10 KB, allowing for fast data processing and low power usage. 

Huawei has shipped more than 50 million units that use Huawei LiteOS, which is a decent result even compared to competitors. The operating system supports zero configuration, auto-discovery, and auto-networking, making it efficient for connected devices. In wearables, LiteOS enables reliable connectivity and enhanced battery life, which are crucial for continuous health monitoring and fitness tracking. 

Huawei’s use of LiteOS in their smartwatches emphasizes practical functionality with a focus on user-centric design.

Should you need fintech consulting services, don’t hesitate to contact experts from DashDevs. 

Best Smartwatch Features

Must have smartwatch features

The functionality of smartwatches depends on the manufacturer, model, and issue date. The newer the watch, the greater the variety of features a user can enjoy, and the better its overall characteristics, like operation time or speed. 

Here’s a list of must-have functions of modern smart watches:

  1. Duplicating phone notifications. Read, open, and even reply to messages forwarded to your phone and displayed on the watch using your voice or on-screen mini-keyboard. The solution gives the possibility to review SMS, calendar alarms, apps, and social media notifications.
  2. Tracking physical activity. Watches allow calculating all the critical metrics to achieve your fitness goals: they count heart & pulse rate, steps, distance, calories, sleep, and anything else that matters to you. 
  3. Determining user location. The smartwatch with a built-in GPS sensor or the one receiving data from an iOS or Andorid smartphone synchronized with it can help identify where you are. Moreover, the device can serve as a guide, sending directions to follow and location-specific alerts.
  4. Accepting/ declining calls. A smartwatch that answers calls is already a reality, while the functionality range depends on a particular model. For example, Apple Watch has a speaker and microphone, enabling chatting without the involvement of a mobile device. At the same time, many other wearables require a Bluetooth headset for communication. 
  5. Ensuring safety. The GPS tracker can show a location, while the geofencing feature presets safe zones to roam within. Some watches allow kids to send voice memos and SOS signals to their parents’ phones with a tap. Moreover, a parent can adjust the setting to receive an alert when the watch is taken off of a kid’s hand.
  6. Managing music players. You can control the music playing on the phone, switch songs, adjust the volume, or create a separate music library in the smartwatch storage. Google Play Music and Spotify are some of the best apps available that let you play music right from the watch with no need for a phone connection.
  7. Finding your phone. Pairing the mobile with a watch will help locate it when it’s out of sight. Press a few buttons on the smartwatch, and the phone will ring. Nonetheless, the sensor range is limited, making this feature relevant within the house.
  8. Executing contactless payments. Many smartwatches have an embedded NFC chip that provides encrypted data exchange between readers and payment devices at a distance of about two inches. Thus, users need neither a plastic card nor a phone to make a purchase.
  9. Access to simple applications. The smartwatch provides access to the calculator, alarm clock, stopwatch, timer, and even allows playing videos. Complementary apps are many, and smartwatches can provide easy access to most of them. 
  10. Health alerts. There are devices that incorporate medical alert systems on top of vital sign tracking. While medical wearables definitely have an edge over smartwatches in that regard, still, tracking calories, heart rate, and other indicators, is still proven to be useful in healthcare. 
  11. Voice assistant. Finally, as AI-based features become more widespread, smartwatches obtained the ability to host assistants like Siri. This allows users for more simple interactions. Voice assistants can also use lots of smartwatch integrated features, which is similar to how they operate on mobile and desktop devices. 

The features of smartwatch are many. Choosing features for your particular app should be based on the desirable complexity and functionality as well as the competitor research. 

Looking for fintech development services for your business? Drop DashDevs a line and let’s discuss opportunities! 

Smart Watch App Development: Step-by-Step

Above everything, there are two main approaches to smart watch app development:

  1. Dedicated app. It encompasses the development of standalone software operating solely via the smart watch. 
  2. Extension to an existing mobile app. It includes the development of a complementary software solution that allows you to use of the functionality of an existing mobile app via smartwatches. 

Developing apps that are dedicated is much like regular mobile software development, with the use of smart watches OS and specialized SDKs. At the same time, creating an extension to an existing app is a more sophisticated procedure.

Here’s what the development of a smart watch software extension to an existing mobile app looks like:

#1 Discovery phase

The regular discovery phase involves:

  • Conducting market and competitor research
  • Gathering requirements
  • Understanding user needs
  • Setting objectives and defining metrics
  • Selecting the app’s core functionalities
  • Choosing a tech stack

This stage sets the foundation for the entire project. So, collaboration with stakeholders here is essential to outline the project’s scope, goals, and deliverables.

Pro note: When it comes to smart watch software extension development, the choice of OS, and therefore, SDKs to work with fully depends on the OS of the main application on the mobile device. So, tech stack choosing is somewhat simplified. Yet, the dev environment and complementary instruments are to be defined anyway. 

You can discover how the DashDevs team approaches the product discovery phase from our dedicated web page. 

#2 UI/UX design

In the UI/UX design phase, the focus is on creating intuitive and visually appealing interfaces tailored to the smartwatch’s small screen. Designers create wireframes and prototypes to visualize the app’s layout and user interactions. This will be later on used as blueprints in the development phase. 

User experience is paramount in smart watches considering the limited screen size and unique interaction methods applicable. 

Pro note: Since the smart watch app extension is normally built with the reuse of the main app’s assets, the main issues lie in the adaptability and responsiveness of the design. 

#3 Development

The development phase encompasses writing the code for the smartwatch app utilizing the design, SDKs which are native for Android and iPhone respectively, APIs, and additional dev instruments. 

This phase is divided into two main parts:

  1. Core development: Here the dev team creates the main functionality of the smartwatch app, ensuring it works seamlessly on the target smartwatch OS. It’s similar to any other software development process. 
  2. Interaction development: It’s an additional development step presented in smart watch app extension creation only. It encompasses the development of interactions between smartwatch apps and mobile apps. It allows smartwatches to utilize the functionality of the mobile app using the smart watches’ control elements, like touchscreen or buttons. It also enables two-way communication between the smartwatches software extension and mobile app, so they can exchange information. 

    From the development perspective, such interaction is ensured through the use of specialized APIs that are present in mobile app development SDKs by default. 

#4 Testing

The testing phase ensures the app operates in the desired way, reliably, effectively, and error-free. Here are some of the most used testing types:

  • Functional testing: Ensuring the app functions correctly and meets the defined requirements.
  • Performance testing: Checking the app’s performance under different conditions.
  • Usability testing: Assessing the app’s ease of use and overall user experience.
  • Compatibility testing: Ensuring the app works across different smartwatch models and OS versions.

#5 Launch

After successful testing, the app is ready for launch. This phase involves deploying the app to app stores like Apple App Store and Google Play Store. It includes setting up app store listings, preparing marketing materials, and planning the launch strategy to ensure a successful release.

You may be interested to discover how long it takes to develop a fintech app from another our blog post.

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Creating a Media Player with Accessibility for Smart Watches: Success Story by DashDevs

Challenge: The DashDevs’s customer approached us with the request a media players for smartwatches that will cater to the needs and preferences of people with disabilities. The solution was expected to be both easy to use blindfolded, given the limitations of smartwatches, yet complex enough to compete with the capabilities of modern-day media players. 

Solution: To meet the project’s objectives, we created an extension to the client’s existing media player. The end solution has screen-reader support, accessible themes, and other accessibility tweaks. It’s also designed in a way that makes it incredibly easy to use even when more sophisticated features like equalizer, or track renaming are needed to access.

Results: The media player for smartwatches passed several stages of user testing with flying colors. User satisfaction score was 4.8 as per the Likert scales, while the success rate was at 85%, which is great for an accessibility application, and task time was optimal. The app is now in the production stage. DashDevs will continue to work on the solution, providing technical support and maintenance and releasing updates. 

You can explore more success stories of DashDevs from our dedicated portfolio page. 

Final Take

A smartwatch has become a go-to for many people, comprising a myriad of functions, earlier available on separate devices only. It’s a handy multi-purpose solution, helping its users better manage their lives in plenty of ways: starting with ensuring their safety and ending with providing for e-transactions. At the moment, there are numerous options for all tastes, both standalone and those serving as a phone extension.

Here, at DashDevs, we have substantial experience creating mobile applications and smart watch applications, both dedicated and extensions. With over 12 years of presence in the fintech dev market and more than 500 projects under our belt, we can craft the perfect solution to your business needs at your request. 

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Table of contents
FAQ
What are the features of a smartwatch?
Common features of a smartwatch include health tracking, GPS navigation, call and message notifications, media control, and mobile payment capabilities. Advanced models may also offer water resistance, sleep monitoring, and custom app installations.
What is the future of smart watches?
The future of smartwatches involves enhanced health monitoring capabilities. Besides, smartwatches could play a pivotal role in continuous health smart watch app development and early disease detection, further integrating with telehealth services. In innovative tech, smart watches are expected to gain more independent functionality without needing a smartphone connection and better integration with IoT devices for a more connected lifestyle.
Can I make an app for a smartwatch?
Yes, you can develop smart watch apps using specialized platforms like Wear OS for Android smartwatches and WatchOS for Apple Watches. These platforms provide tools and libraries specifically tailored for smartwatch app development.
How to program a smart watch?
Smart watch app development involves using software development kits (SDKs) like Wear OS for Android and watchOS for Apple devices. Developers must consider the limited screen size and ensure that the app interfaces are simple and intuitive.
What is wearable app development?
Wearable app development focuses on creating applications for devices like smartwatches and fitness trackers. These apps often emphasize health and fitness monitoring, quick notifications, and seamless integration with other mobile apps and services.
How much does it cost to develop a wearable app?
The cost of developing a wearable app can vary widely, typically starting from $20,000 and going up depending on the app's complexity, features, and the platforms it supports. Factors such as design, development time, and testing also significantly affect the overall cost.