Developers are not rushing to develop apps for Apple Watch, and that’s a good thing

BY Gautam Prabhu

Published 28 Jul 2015

Apple Watch apps

Over the last few weeks, there has been a steady flow of negative news about the Apple Watch.

First it was the analysts and Wall Street, who don’t seem to be too impressed with Apple Watch sales. You got to love their job, first they overestimate based on unrealistic expectations, then they get disappointed because Apple can’t meet them.

The New York Times has also joined the negative chorus about the Apple Watch by pointing out that developers are holding off developing apps for the device, which the authors claim underscores the skepticism that remains in the technology community about the wearable device.

In the months surrounding the much-ballyhooed release of the Apple Watch, Apple managers courted Facebook in the hopes that the social networking giant would make a software application for the new gadget.

Facebook was not persuaded. Three months after the watch’s release, there is no Facebook app tailored for it. Adam Mosseri, who oversees Facebook’s news feed, said the social network had been studying the Apple Watch but had not figured out how to deliver a good Facebook experience — including the news feed’s stream of posts, photos and videos — on such a small screen.

Frankly, as I had advised in my Apple Watch review, the fact that developers are not rushing to develop an app for the Apple Watch is a good thing. In many cases it may not make sense for the developer to release an app for the Apple Watch. For example: News based apps for the Apple Watch app are quite pointless. Since all you can do on the Watch is read the title, if you want to read the article, you need to open the app on your iPhone. (Seriously?)

Apps like Shazam, Uber and Due are great for the Apple Watch as they allow me to use their core functionality such as recognize a song, call a cab or remind me what’s next (with a glance) without having to take out my iPhone from my pocket.

I am not a heavy Facebook user, but it is certainly not an app that I am missing on my Apple Watch. There are still some use cases where it can be useful such as giving you the ability to post updates to your Facebook wall using Siri, or for the Friends Nearby feature, but it’s not a must-have. I would probably like Facebook to release an app for WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, especially since the Messages app is one of my favorite apps on the Apple Watch.

Unlike the iPad, where it made sense to launch an app for the larger screen, an app for the Apple Watch is not a necessity. The other problem has been that most third-party apps for the Apple Watch are laggy and takes a long time to load since they’re tethered to the iPhone. watchOS 2 will fix this issue, so it is quite possible that developers are also waiting for it to be available to the public later this fall before releasing their apps for Apple Watch.

In some cases, I have noticed that apps are unusable from a user interface point of view or just pointless as in the case of the news app as I mentioned earlier. So it is prudent to avoid releasing an Apple Watch app just for the sake of it. I would prefer developers spending their time in improving their iPhone and iPad apps. If it does make sense to release an app for the Apple Watch, then developers may need to reimagine the user interface for the Watch’s tiny screen, which is a lot more work than just porting the app.

According to analysts, Apple may have sold 2-3 million Apple Watches, which is significantly more than any wearable that has been sold in the market, but relatively still quite small compared to the number of iPhone and iPad users. So when the company is prioritizing work given the limited resources, I won’t be surprised if features and improvements for the iPhone and iPad apps get a higher priority over the Apple Watch app.

I’m quite sure that as the Apple Watch user base grows (analysts are predicting 2017 will be the breakout year for the device), it would be difficult for developers to ignore the Apple Watch, assuming there are good reasons to launch one.

I still hope that the reason they’re not releasing an Apple Watch app is because they haven’t figured out how to deliver a good experience like Facebook rather than due to the lack of resources.

If I was Apple, I wouldn’t be worried. It is the quality of apps available in the App Store that is more important than the quantity. watchOS 2 which will be released later this fall is a step in the right direction as it will help developers make even better apps.