Why Isn’t Big Tech Developing For The Apple Watch?

As the Apple Watch was gearing up for release, Apple reportedly leaned on Facebook to get a custom app for the wearable.

So far — not so much on the app front.

“I don’t know if we could get it all in there in a way that feels good and works well,” Adam Mosseri, who oversees Facebook’s news feed, told The New York Times. “You’d just want to get your phone out at that point.”

Facebook is just one of many tech giants adopting a “wait and see” attitude about the Apple Watch. Google’s and Snapchat’s developers are also holding off to see who is buying.

This is creating something of a dilemma for Apple’s first new device since dropping the iPad in 2010. Better apps by better firms would push more people to the watch, but those better apps won’t be designed until their corporate overlords determine that there is enough of an audience waiting.

Which is not to say there are no apps. There were 3,000 or so at release — 2,500 more than were available for the iPhone when the App Store debuted. The problem is, of the 20 or so top apps, only five have their own Apple Watch app. And though the app count has more than doubled to 7,400, it is not running up quite so fast as iPhone apps or even iPad apps did. Apple Watch apps climbed 142 percent in the first three months it was out, compared to 437 percent for the iPhone and 200 percent for the iPad, according to App Annie’s data.

And it remains unknown how well the watch is selling. Apple has released no figures, and third-party estimates vary so widely that it is almost impossible to glean meaningful data from them. The watch’s sales will not be broken out separately, according to Apple, but will instead be reported under the category of “other.”

Analysts estimated that Apple sold 3 million to 5 million watches for the quarter. Five million would make it more successful than the iPhone or iPad in the first quarters that they became available.

The stumbling block for many of “big app” makers seems to be less about the watch’s popularity, however, and more about its size — the largest screen is about 1.3 inches by 1.65 inches.

“Why would you look at a small picture when you can look at a large one on your phone?” said Evan Spiegel, Snapchat’s chief executive, at a technology conference in May.

Another challenge with the Apple Watch software system is that apps have to process all the data on the iPhone and then beam it to the watch, limiting what the Apple Watch apps can do. That will change this fall when a software update will allow developers to program to the watch directly.

Not everyone is a naysayer. The Weather Channel (a stunningly popular app, according to App Annie) introduced an app for the smartwatch in April.

“We’ve been there for every Apple product launch, so we felt we had to be there,” said Chris Huff, who heads application development for the company. “People want to get the weather wherever they’re at.”

Right now, Weather Channel has focused on delivering notifications — like lightning alerts — and tracking weather in real time by asking people to confirm with a tap on the wrist that it is raining or snowing where they are.

“We’re still figuring out how users want to use an app on their wrist.” Huff said. “We’re really bullish.”

Others, it seems, are still tentative on the untested tech. However, there does seem to be some hedging. Facebook is not on the watch, but Facebook-owned Instagram is.


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