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We've been using the WIMM One Android watch as an everyday time piece for several months now, but this week, with the company's OTA update to firmware version 1.03, the device finally has its own app store. Our watch quietly received the upgrade without so much as an alert to let us know it had happened on Wednesday and we've been playing with the small UI improvements and the third party apps ever since.
Micro App Store Beta
Prior to this week's update, users were able to sideload apps, which WIMM calls micro apps, by downloading their APK installs from the WIMM One developer forums and then copying those files over to the watch via USB connection. However, with the beta launch of the Micro App Store, users can now see a comprehensive list of available micro apps and install the ones they want right over Wi-Fi.
To access the Micro App Store, users simply log in to wimm.com and click on the Micro App Store Beta link in the left nav. The current app store homepage loads containing a complete list of all the micro apps -- 25 as of this writing -- sorted into categories such as gaming, productivity and travel. For each app, there's a thumbnail which matches its shortcut icon and a gray "Add" button next to it that's clickable only if the app has not already been installed on your device.
If you hover over the thumbnail for a given app, a small description of it will appear. If you want to install one of the apps, you can click the Add button next to it and then wait until the next time your watch syncs with WIMM's servers. You can set your watches to sync as frequently as once per hour or as infrequently as once a day, but you can also manually force an immediate sync by tapping the sync button in the settings menu on the device itself.
At present, all of the Micro Apps are available for free, but in the future, the Micro App Store will likely also be able to accept payments. If you want to remove an app from your device you can go to the Micro Apps control panel page on wimm.com which shows a list of all the apps on your device and lets you reorder their shortcuts or get rid of them by toggling the "visible" checkbox. After unchecking the visible box next to an app, that app's shortcut will disappear from your watch at the next sync, though we're not sure whether that means it is truly erased or just hidden.
To test out the app store, we installed a few of the available apps, including TwitUpdate, News Reader, Searchlight, and aFlashlight.
One of our favorite micro apps, TwitUpdate allows you to follow up to five users and / or search strings on twitter. The app shows five different screens, one for each Twitter feed.
You configure the feed by tapping on the blue title bar at the top of the screen and then entering either a user to follow, text to search for, or both. If you enter only the username, you see the latest three updates from that user on that screen. If you enter only a search string such as "laptops" or "#ces2012" that screen shows the latest three tweets from all of Twitter that contain that text. Of course, if you enter both "@laptopmag" and "smartphone" you can see the latest three tweets from the @laptopmag twitter account that contain the word "smartphone."
Useful as it is, TwitUpdate has its share of limitations. First, you must use WIMM's slow-moving on-screen keyboard, which makes you swipe through the whole alphabet to select each letter, to change TwitUpdate's query stings. Second, it is limited to only the latest three tweets per screen and only five screens in total. Finally, there's no way to view pictures or click on links that appear in the tweets. Still, it's great to be able to see a friend's latest tweets at a glance and we hope to see the functionality expand on this app as it evolves.
News Reader sets the gold standard for what is possible on a WIMM One watch. Using a Google Reader account, you can set the app to receive RSS news updates from all your favorite sites. If you're too lazy to set up a Google Reader account, the app has built-in feeds from leading tech news sites like Engadget, Tech Crunch and Boy Genius Report.
Within the app, each screen contains a list of the latest headlines from a different news source. You can scroll side to side between screens to switch news sources or tap on an individual headline to read that article. The articles even have lead images that appear in full color. We used an earlier version of this app before the app store launched, but the latest version has improved formatting within the articles (paragraph breaks work now) and seems smoother than before.
As its name suggests, aFlashlight lights up the screen so you can use the watch to light your way in a dark room. The only neat feature here is that you can select the color of the light using a color wheel so, if you want a pink flashlight, you've got one.
Inferior to aFlashlight, Searchlight just shows a white circle on the screen to emulate a flashlight.
UI Improvements and Responsiveness
Long-time WIMM users will notice a small, but important change to the application menu which appears when you slide upward on the watch's face. Where the old menu had an image of a large neverending cube behind the shortcut icons, the new menu has a simple but tasteful royal blue wallpaper and what appear to be larger shortcut icons.
With the update, the screen also appears to have become a bit more responsive, sometimes seemingly too responsive. When shooting a video demo of the new UI and apps, we found ourselves accidentally pulling down the watch face when we were trying to rotate through shortcuts. However, when we put the watch on our wrist -- rather than holding it in it in our hands -- and were careful not to swipe upward -- we had no trouble moving side to side in the apps menu or between screens within apps.
As you scroll between the icons, you'll notice a small white bar at the top of the screen which shows you where you are in the row of apps. If you're on the first shortcut, the white bar is all the way on the left and it moves further left or right as you swipe through the apps. If you want to swipe through apps more quickly, you can press and hold on left or right side of the blue wallpaper and the system will quickly scroll through the apps until you lift your finger.
WIMM says another key feature of the version 1.03 firmware update is improved Bluetooth power efficiency. We haven't had a chance to test this feature out yet, but we're hopeful that battery life with Bluetooth enabled will improve as our watch was dead after just 8 or 9 hours when we tethered it to our phone in the past.