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Apple’s flagship wearable recently got an upgrade in the Apple Watch 2, a device with a heavier emphasis on health and fitness and a redesigned watchOS 3. The latter development was long overdue, given that the previous iteration of the operating system famously took seven seconds to load an app — at an Apple conference.
But what does the update mean for gaming on the platform? A good smartwatch game is built the device’s limited size and power in mind. The Apple Watch 2 is a one-touch device — if you can’t do everything you need to do with a few taps or swipes, it fails as a companion to a smartphone.
Games are power hogs on all devices, and the Apple Watch 2 doesn’t have the processor or the battery for anything close to the gaming experience offered by smartphones. Apple is notoriously cagey when it comes to hardware specs, but a comparable watch processor, the Snapdragon Wear 2100, has a clock speed of 1.2 GHz; the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge has a 2.2GHz Snapdragon 820.
One of the criticisms levelled at all wearables, especially the niche kind that occasionally appear on Kickstarter, is that the level of miniaturisation required to make them successful simply doesn’t exist yet. Put another way, you can’t crunch 2.2GHz of processing power down into a smartwatch without making compromises that harm user experience. No one wants to wear a heavy, overheating computer on their wrist.
The Future Of Smartwatch Games On Apple Watch
For the above reason, many recently released games on the Apple Watch 2 rely on a gameplay style distinct from games on iPhones. Smartphone titles like Limbo, Downwell, and Monument Valley are traditional games that demand your attention; in contrast, smartwatch apps rely on more “passive” game modes with notifications to let you know what’s going on.
For example, your interactions with the fantasy world in Rune Blade last no longer than 15 seconds, while Spy_Watch revolves around a secret agent in the field who periodically asks for advice. The smartwatch gaming experience is exemplified by Tamagotchi Classic, a revival of the handheld life/neglect simulator, which requires the occasional button press and little else.
One of the more clever applications for smartwatch gaming is gambling. Microgaming — arguably the largest provider of iGaming tech in the world, with clients including Betway — released a five-reel slot machine game called Thunderstruck II in 2015. It runs on the Apple Watch, Samsung Gear, and Pebble watches.
Why Apple Watch Needs Pokémon Go
The future of gaming on smartwatches may lie with augmented reality titles like Pokémon Go. Niantic, the developers of the title, already market a wrist-based peripheral called the Pokémon Go Plus. However, it’s essentially just a vibrating motor with a strap and an LED. Smartwatches, with their AMOLED screens, could provide a far better experience for players.
Related: Learn more about Pokémon Go Plus.
Considering that Pokémon Go eats more battery life than almost everything else on the market, the bulk of the game would have to stay on mobile but notifications regarding the presence of Pokéstops and gyms would be a boon to players. Even better – pushing an image of which wild Pokémon has appeared to a smartwatch would take most of the hassle out of the game by allowing players to keep their phone in their pocket until Dragonite appears.
Smartwatch games are unique by necessity, giving in to poor battery life and the limitations imposed by ‘glance-based’ gaming. They may never evolve beyond stripped-down or companion versions of larger smartphone apps, but smartwatches have the advantage of keeping players in game even when their phone is stuffed in a backpack.
About the author: With a passion and great knowledge for all things digital, Hannah Bates has traveled all over the world while writing for various reputable publications.