The Apple Watch has its fans and its critics, and just as many ambivalent onlookers in between. But a major criticism of the new watch is that it just doesn’t have a compelling use yet. And one major reason why the watch isn’t currently a particularly useful device for many users? The majority of popular iPhone apps that people would like to see on the Apple Watch are not yet available for the new wearable.
Brian X. Chen and Vindu Goel report for The New York Times that in the months preceding the launch of the Apple Watch, Apple courted Facebook, hoping that the social media giant would create a Facebook app just for the new smartwatch platform. But Facebook wasn’t persuaded, and three months in to the watch’s availability, a Facebook app for the Apple Watch has yet to appear.
Facebook isn’t the only company with a major app that hasn’t made its way to Apple’s new wearable. Only five of the 20 most popular free apps for the iPhone have a version for the Apple Watch. Snapchat and Google, for instance, don’t have apps for the Apple Watch. Adam Mosseri, who oversees Facebook’s News Feed, told the Times that the company had been studying the Apple Watch but had not yet determined how to deliver a good Facebook experience — one “that feels good and works well” — on the Apple Watch’s small screen. And at a conference in May, Snapchat chief executive Evan Spiegel said that he didn’t consider the device a compelling platform, posing the question, “Why would you look at a small picture when you can look at a large one on your phone?”
The Times reports that the lack of support from the companies behind the most popular iOS apps underscores the skepticism that the tech community harbors toward the wearable. That means that the companies whose apps would likely prompt more people to buy the Apple Watch are waiting to see who’s purchasing it and how they’re using it. At launch, the Apple Watch had more than 3,000 apps, far more than the 500 that were available when the App Store for the iPhone launched in 2008. But the app count now stands at about 7,400, jumping 142% in the first three months, a much lower rate than the 437% for the iPhone and 200% for the iPad.
Apple hasn’t yet provided investors and industry watchers with any information on how the Apple Watch is selling, or how the absence of prominent apps could be affecting sales. And when the company issues the earnings report for its third fiscal quarter, it’s not expected to go into specifics on the watch’s sales. Instead, it will wrap those figures into an “other” category, which will undoubtedly be subjected to close scrutiny by those trying to calculate whether the Apple Watch has been found success or has missed its mark. Analyst estimates for the number of watches sold in the quarter range from three million to five million — but even if Apple’s actual sales fall at the low end of that range, it’s hard to imagine the first quarter of the watch’s availability constituting a “flop.”
Paving the way for more, and better, Apple Watch apps is a change in the software that powers them. Currently, apps need to process data on the iPhone and then transfer it to the watch, which limits their functionality. The next version of the software, which will be released in the fall, will enable developers to create native apps that run on the Apple Watch itself. The new watchOS 2 also enables developers to make use of the Apple Watch’s heart rate and activity sensors, microphone, Digital Crown, Taptic Engine, and Force Touch.
Even as tech bloggers look for a killer app and users try to evaluate whether the platform supports the apps that would make the device useful, it’s becoming evident that finding a compelling use for the Apple Watch is more likely to be about finding the right apps than having a large number of them downloaded and waiting in the background.
Michael Simon, reporting for MacWorld, recently noted that in the five weeks he had been wearing an Apple Watch, it’s had a more meaningful effect on his habits than any other Apple device did in such a short amount of time — even though he isn’t constantly on the lookout for apps to enhance the wearable’s functionality, and, in fact, writes that “I can understand how someone could want more from their Apple Watch, but I’m not looking for Apple to add more apps and functionality.”
Weighing in on the app selection for the watch, Simon explains, “where I dutifully check the App Store each week to see what’s new for my iPhone or iPad, I barely pay attention to the apps being designed for Apple Watch.” He adds, “It’s kind of the opposite of the iPhone effect—after using Apple’s original handset for just a few days, I craved a store where I could download games and utilities to enhance its usefulness, but with my Apple Watch I want it to be as simple as possible.”
With smarter watch apps set to arrive in the fall, users putting off an Apple Watch purchase until the device gets more useful have something to look forward to. It bears keeping in mind that it will only be when the watch has the right apps for you that a purchase of the device will be worth it. There’s no reason why the top apps on the Apple Watch need to be the same apps that were designed for and popularized on the iPhone, but capable apps that offer compelling experiences and make good use of the Apple Watch’s hardware would be a step in the right direction.