Can Improved Third-Party Apps Save the Apple Watch

Looking for an opportunity to outshine the competition? Designing killer third-party apps for the Apple Watch could be the meal ticket you're looking for. According to the first set of reviews of Apple's forthcoming wearable, the third-party app experience leaves a lot to be desired.

Preorders for the Apple Watch kick off at 12:01 a.m. Pacific time Friday. As such, a handful of reviews popped up online to help people gauge whether or not to order one. The collective sentiment shared by most reviews is that no one needs the Apple Watch, but plenty of people might want the Apple Watch.

Interestingly, all the reviewers criticized app performance. Not Apple's apps, mind you, but those offered by outside developers.

"Third-party apps are the main issue," complained Nilay Patel of The Verge. "Apple says it’s still working on making them faster ahead of the April 24th launch, but it’s clear that loading an app requires the Watch to pull a tremendous amount of data from the phone, and there’s nothing fast about it. … This first set of Watch apps is really just loading additional screens from the apps on your phone; you might think of all of them as remote controls for your phone apps. … Without a rich set of apps that extend the phone, it really is just another smartwatch." Patel's opinion was echoed by reviewers at Re/code, the The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The New York Times and Yahoo Tech.

The two biggest limitations appear to be speed and general functionality. Most reviewers said the Apple Watch felt slow or bogged down at times when running third-party apps. Remember, the Watch is talking to the iPhone though a Bluetooth connection. Data can move fairly quickly over Bluetooth, but there are practical limitations. General functionality was another letdown. As Patel mentioned, many of the third-party apps felt like small extensions of or windows to the main iPhone version of the app. None of them could really stand on their own two feet.

Technology reporter Ben Parr queried his Facebook friends about what they think might make the Apple Watch better. The answers spanned the gamut, but many suggested the device needs to operate independently from a smartphone. To do this, it would need its own data connection, GPS radio and probably a beefier processor. In other words, Apple has plenty of room to grow with Apple Watch II.

What can developers do in the meantime to maximize the utility of their apps? Make the apps light on their feet. See if there are ways to transfer less data between the phone and watch so they perform faster. Perhaps target specific, limited functions instead of porting the entire smartphone app to the watch. For example, American Airlines' app for Apple Watch offers flight notifications and mobile boarding passes. American didn't attempt to bring over its rewards program. It left those more advanced functions to its smartphone app.

Apple's WatchKit has all the tools you need to create the apps, their Glanceable data and actionable notifications. Start small and go from there. Remember, speed and utility are vital.

Be sure to read the next Wearable article: Google To Arm Droid Devs with Weapons for SmartWatch War


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