New Jewish Apple Watch app lets users ‘pray different’
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New Jewish Apple Watch app lets users ‘pray different’

The Siddur app may be good example of how Watch apps should be written, says RustyBrick CEO Barry Schwartz

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)

For Jews who are serious about prayer, the new RustyBrick Apple Watch Siddur may seem like a gift from heaven.

Its features, says RustyBrick CEO Barry Schwartz, are “aimed at making Jewish life just a bit easier. The goal is to give observant Jewish individuals easy access to common prayers, important times (zmanim), a glance at the Jewish calendar and access to find nearby synagogues.”

The app was made available in the App Store Monday for Watch owners who are using iOS 7.1.

The app, Schwartz believes, is also the answer to prayers for better-written Watch apps. Although the Watch has been on the market for barely a month, there’s already a lot of griping in the tech media about its apps, with the main complaint being that they are just very slow. For example, uber-geek and app author Marco Arment wrote in a recent post on his blog about how a watch app he designed based on an iPhone app “sucked. WatchKit load times are inconsistent and problematic. Every time the interface loads or changes, the Watch and iPhone communicate round-trip over Bluetooth. Whether due to wireless flakiness, 1.0 OS bugs, or (most likely) both, WatchKit is frustratingly unreliable.”

That’s not a problem for RustyBrick’s Apple Watch Siddur app, said Schwartz, which was designed from the ground up for Apple Watches. “This update is not some basic Apple Watch app you’ve seen from others, it is likely the most comprehensive Apple Watch app out there.”

The app provides full details on times for prayers, synagogue location, blessings, and much more, practically “praying” for the user all by itself – in effect, “praying different,” appropriate for a company that for years has urged technophiles to “think different.”

Among the features: “Quick prayers” which show up in the correct context (hour of day, etc.) on a Watch; a Jewish calendar with programmable alerts for times of prayers, holidays, events, etc.; a synagogue locator that shows you where services are taking place, connected to the iPhone’s map app which provides directions; and “handoff support with the iPhone, which allows a screen that is being displayed on the Watch to show up on the iPhone.

That latter feature is important, because although Watch apps can operate independently, they are generally much more useful when working in tandem with an iPhone “parent app.” On the other hand, many such Watch apps simply display the same screens that can be seen on the iPhone and are effectively just mirrors of their namesake app. The RustyBrick app is neither “rootless” nor iPhone dependent; it’s got its own screens and displays, and connects to databases to display times, locations, etc. on its own, but knows when to defer to its Big Brother, always remaining on call in case the user wants the larger feature set of the iPhone Siddur app during their interaction with the Watch version.

There have been some questions on how well the Apple Watch is selling, a month into its market life. Apple won’t say yet, and the most recent surveys show that between 8% and 10% of potential consumers would consider buying one (the exception seems to be China, where demand is much higher). But leave it to Apple to figure out the marketing, said Schwartz. “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 with the Apple Watch.”

Eventually, 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, among them 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.

And Schwartz has got a lot of other ideas – for example augmented reality that will use the Internet to enhance everyday activities, like checking to see if a product is kosher.

“We could have an app that would look at a package and see if it was kosher, based on the ingredients, or one that could give you information on the supervising rabbi,” said Schwartz. “We could also do automatic Hebrew and English translations — for example, we could do a visual translation of the Bible or Talmud as a person was reading.”

Those platforms and databases, too, already exist, thanks to the English translation of the Talmud and Bible, and Google Translate. “Putting together an app that draws on these sources wouldn’t be too difficult. The goal is to simplify Jewish life using smart technology. This is just one more example of RustyBrick doing just that.”

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