Since the early rumors about the Apple Watch, we were very excited here at JoyTunes. We felt like the idea of having a smart watch that could run and interact with our apps could open the world to a new era in technology for music education.
Our enthusiasm was even greater when we watched Apple’s September Watch Event. We saw that this watch is going to be big, and we knew we wanted to be part of it.
In November, Apple released WatchKit, which allowed developers like us to start designing extensions for their iPhone apps that will run on the Apple Watch.
We immediately started brainstorming about the different ways we can use the watch to make practicing and learning music more fun and effective.
We had lots of cool ideas, but for several reasons – it wasn’t that easy for us to turn the ideas into reality.
First, this primal version of the development kit had a lot of limitations. For instance: no access to the sensors of the watch (e.g. no ability to use the Taptic Engine to provide haptic feedback), only works with an iPhone (therefore we couldn’t create a watch extension for Piano Maestro, which is currently iPad only), and more.
These limitations caused many of these ideas to become unfeasible.
Second, and more importantly – we were so busy with our other apps, we simply couldn’t find the free time and start the development of a watch app.
Months passed, then came another Apple Watch Event in March. In addition to a big reminder of what’s about to come, and a great motivation boost, we also got a release date and understood the timeline. Suddenly reality hit us in the face. If we wanted to make a musical watch app, we had to act fast.
Shortly after the March event, came our quarterly “JoyTunes Ninja Week”.
Ninja Week is a tradition we have once every 3-4 months at JoyTunes. It aims to tackle exactly the second problem I mentioned earlier: because of the endless list of day-to-day tasks we have to deal with – there’s simply no time to get to some really cool tasks, whose immediate business value isn’t clear.
The rules are simple:
- You can do whatever you want: develop a complete new feature, a proof-of-concept, improve infrastructure, create a new app, learn a new technology, build something cool for the office, etc.
Anything goes – as long as you think you’ll finish it by the end of ninja week.
- Every day at 18:00 we all eat our daily Pizza / Sushi/ Hummus and get an extra burst of motivation.
So, as you probably guessed already, during this ninja week I chose to finally sit down and develop an app for the Apple Watch.
Initially I thought this would only be a junk app that will be only relevant for learning. After toying with some concepts and ideas, I decided a proof of concept of a metronome app could be something I could create relatively quickly, and have the potential of actually being cool and useful.
I recruited help from our super-talented designer, Oded Bengigi, who immediately stepped up and created a truly awesome metronome animation based on a glowing JoyTunes logo:
Check out the Metronome in action here!
From there, the road to build a watch extension displaying the animation was quite fast. We created a Metronome app that we felt was so beautiful it’s definitely worth investing some additional time to perfect and deliver. So by the time ninja week was over – we had a nice product, and the goal was to release it to the App Store along with the first apps to ever be released for the Apple Watch!
Challenges arose. We initially thought of the product as a standalone metronome that would feel super cool on your watch alone, but finally came to the realization it’s not quite possible.
First reason for this are the mentioned technical limitations. In addition to not being able to use the Taptic Engine which felt a natural fit to our case, playing a tick sound from the watch was also not possible. You have to do it from your iPhone.
Also, in order to conserve battery – an app on the watch stays active only for a few seconds if you don’t interact with it. Hence, getting the beat just by looking at the watch was also not quite possible.
We therefore decided to shift the direction of the app a bit.
We decided to invest more into the iPhone app, creating a fully blown metronome iPhone app we are truly proud of. Then, the watch extension behaves as the perfect companion for this app – it can control the iPhone metronome – start it, stop it, change the BPM and the time signature (using selection or dictation) – all while displaying a super slick animation loop that makes everything feel magical and fun.
I am personally really proud of what we made, especially since it all began with a fun ninja task, and we were able to deliver a fully blown app in less than a month.
Of course, this is not the end. We are planning many new features and additions in upcoming releases, and we can only cross our fingers that Apple will be so kind as to release a better WatchKit soon. This will allow us to make an even cooler native metronome app on the watch, and possibly many other apps that will improve the way you practice and learn music all around the world.
We are super excited about this. Hope you are too!
Have you tried out our Metronome app yet on your Apple Watch or iPhone? Let us know what you think!