Apple Watch apps are about to get a whole lot more useful. Third-party developers will now be able to build native apps for the smartwatch, thanks to watchOS 2, the latest version of Apple’s smartwatch operating system, announced at the 2015 Worldwide Developers Conference on Monday.
WatchOS 2 is available to developers at WWDC, but native Apple Watch apps won’t appear in the App Store until later this year. Until now, the more than 3,000 third-party apps had no way to run directly off the Apple Watch. Instead they relied on using the processor of a paired iPhone to do the heavy lifting.
Native third-party apps will also be able to tap directly into the number of sensors and features built into the device, such as its heart rate sensor, accelerometer, microphone, speaker and even the Taptic Engine. Apple Watch apps also gain access to the watch’s face in the form of third-party complications, such as one for Volkswagen demonstrated at WWDC. And third-party fitness apps such as Strava can now contribute to Apple Watch daily fitness goals.
The addition of native support will enable third-party apps to run without a nearby iPhone. And in the cases where an iPhone isn’t available, the Apple Watch will connect to known Wi-Fi networks to receive notifications and information.
Beyond native app support, Apple Watch gains a number of features, including new timefaces, Apple Pay store card support, rewards cards, transit directions and Siri integration with HomeKit, and support for short video playback.
Apple Senior Vice President of Operations Jeff Williams previously revealed Apple’s plans to open the watch up to developers last month while on stage at Re/code’s Code event in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. After developers test their apps on watchOS 2, Apple will release the update for free this fall.