App developer aims to makes Apple Watch good for the Jews

As crowds ready to line up for their favorite tech company’s newest gadget, RustyBrick prepares programs for observant Jews

The Apple Watch introduced on stage at the Flint Center in Cupertino, California, on Tuesday, September 9, 2014 (screen capture: YouTube video)
The Apple Watch introduced on stage at the Flint Center in Cupertino, California, on Tuesday, September 9, 2014 (screen capture: YouTube video)

After months of anticipation, the Apple Watch is finally here – and the Jewish world is ready for it, with apps designed by RustyBrick, said company CEO Barry Schwartz.

“Judaism is such a time-oriented faith – you have to pray at certain times a day, the Sabbath begins and ends at specific times, and so on, so it’s strange we haven’t had a real ‘Jewish watch‘ until now,” he said. “I think the Apple Watch could fulfill that role.”

Apple on Monday was set to announce when and where it will start selling Apple Watches, and how much they will cost. Actually, much of that information has been released in dribs and drabs over the past few months. When Apple CEO Tim Cook announced the product last September, Apple said it would go on sale in March or April of 2015 and the basic device would cost $349, with higher prices for devices with more memory and upgraded styles (according to some reports, the company is planning to offer an 18k gold version, which will cost about $10,000).

Also to be announced on Monday will be the first Apple Watch apps, which are likely to include some of those that Cook showed off last September, including health/activity apps, communication apps and interfaces with iPhones and iPads. And while RustyBrick won’t be able to release its apps until it gets a first-hand look at the device, the basic technology is there, and Schwartz expects to bring the apps to market within weeks of the device’s appearance in Apple Stores.

That is, assuming that he can get his hands on one, which won’t be an easy feat considering the mob scenes that are expected in Apple retail outlets as fans clamor for the latest gadget from their favorite tech company.

“Even in its sixth iteration – when everyone who wants one already has one – the demand for iPhones sets demand records each time a new one comes out, so you could imagine what is going to happen when the Apple Watch goes on sale. There will be an unprecedented demand,” said Schwartz.

Barry Schwartz (photo credit: Courtesy
Barry Schwartz (photo credit: Courtesy

Eventually, though, those watches will get into the hands – or, rather, onto the wrists – of observant Jews, and for them, RustyBrick is busy developing and adapting (from their iPhone versions) a host of apps, including a version of its Zmanim app, which provides the proper times for daily prayers, when the Sabbath begins/ends, alerts on when to break for the afternoon prayer – often a major challenge for those in the business world – and the like.

“It’s considered rude for a person to take their phone out in a business meeting to check an alert, but an observant Jew can’t stop the clock in order to delay the obligatory time for reciting mincha, the afternoon prayer,” said Schwartz. “The Zmanim will provide an alert via the watch, so they can quickly glance at it and see how much time they have to say the prayer during the required time, before nightfall.”

Besides Zmanim, RustyBrick is adapting its Brachos app – which provides the text of blessings on food (bread, fruit, beverages, etc.) as well as the Grace After Meals (Birkat Hamazon). In addition, the company will be releasing a Watch version of its Kosher app, which provides information on where the nearest kosher restaurants are, directions on how to get there, who the supervising rabbis are, etc.

Both those apps, unlike Zmanim, are “text heavy,” but Schwartz doesn’t think the smaller text on an Apple Watch will turn people off from the device.

“Obviously, the surface of the Watch is smaller than that of an iPhone’s, but people who have tested it tell me that the text is very crisp and clear, and quite readable,” said Schwartz.

Instead of stuffing all the text for a prayer in a single screen, text could be scrolled or accessed via the watch’s buttons or touchscreens. The user experience should be an easy one to adapt to, said Schwartz.

Ditto for another issue that many in the tech business have pointed to as a possible drawback for the device – battery life. According to reports several months ago, users would be able to get just six hours out of their Watches, but Schwartz said his sources tell him that Apple’s engineers have managed to bring up battery life to a full day.

“Even if they hadn’t improved the battery life, I have no doubt people will line up to buy this, but Apple is committed to as great a user experience as possible, so they have been putting a lot of effort into improving battery life – and they have succeeded.”

Could Israeli engineering have had anything to do with those improvements? Apple won’t say (a spokesperson for the company’s Israel operation said he had no information about the company’s battery technology), but it’s possible, considering the fact – pronounced several weeks ago by none other than Apple CEO Cook himself – that Apple’s Herzliya R&D center is the company’s second largest in the world.

Apple Israel’s 700 employees – the vast majority of whom are engineers, company sources said – is “very important” to the company, Cook told employees on a visit to inaugurate the new center in February. “Apple is in Israel because the engineering talent here is incredible,” said Cook. “You guys are incredibly important to everything that we do and to all the products that we build.”

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