Today in Apple history: Letterpad gives us a preview of Apple Watch gaming

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Letterpad was one of the first games we got to see on Apple Watch.
Letterpad was one of the first games we got to see on Apple Watch.
Photo: NimbleBit

January 21: Today in Apple history: Letterpad gives us a preview of Apple Watch gaming January 21, 2015: Months before the first Apple Watch goes on sale, users get a glimpse at what playing games might look like on the wearable.

Thanks to Apple making the WatchKit API available to third parties, game developer NimbleBit releases a mockup of its simple work-in-progess word game, Letterpad. Suddenly, we get a desire to play games on our wrist that we haven’t had since the days of the Nintendo Game & Watch three decades earlier.

The Apple Watch gold rush

Frantic activity for app developers ensued between September 9, 2014, and April 24, 2015. Having seen the original App Store make a mint for some early adopters during its first few months, everyone wanted their watchOS app to be ready for the Apple Watch launch.

Apple rolled out its WatchKit API for the upcoming Apple Watch with iOS 8.2 in November. At that time, Apple also launched a new developer website for WatchKit. Packed with all the resources developers needed to start making apps, it included video tutorials and a lengthy interface design guide.

For many, games looked like a no-brainer category to focus on. The top-performing category in the iOS App Store, games seemed like an obvious impulse purchase for new Apple Watch owners.

There was serious precedent for this idea. In the early days of the iOS App Store, a game called Trism — made by a 28-year-old programmer named Steve Demeter — earned its creator $250,000 in a couple of months. A later entry, called iShoot, earned its creator $600,000 in a single month.

However, the Apple Watch faced a key constraint: its limited screen real estate and control mechanisms. To deal with those limitations, Letterpad employed a simple grid of nine letters. From those, users could create words on a particular topic. It provided an early look at the kind of game many creators hoped would soon sweep the App Store.

Apple Watch games fail to gain traction

Jump forward a few years, and Apple Watch games never really took off. Despite the success of Apple’s wearable, the device’s form factor — and the way it only encourages users to look at its screen for mere glances — worked against the kind of interaction needed to make it a gaming platform.

Nonetheless, the first few months of 2015 were an exciting time. Apple fans everywhere struggled to wrap their heads around the possibilities of Cupertino’s latest platform.

Do you play games on the Apple Watch? What is your favorite title? Leave your comments below.