Better Apple Watch apps are coming this year

Apple’s Jeff Williams at the 2015 Code Conference.
Apple’s Jeff Williams at the 2015 Code Conference.
Image: Asa Mathat for Re/Code
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Apple confirmed today that it’s working on fixing one of the initial Apple Watch weaknesses: its apps.

The problem: Most of them—the thousands made by other companies—aren’t very good. A key reason for that is because Apple hasn’t yet shared very sophisticated app-making tools. Third parties have had to build very simple apps using a limited tool set called WatchKit. The result is a collection of slow, mostly useless apps that actually run on an iPhone and are beamed wirelessly to the Watch.

That is going to change. Speaking today at the Code Conference in California, Apple executive Jeff Williams confirmed that Apple will launch a new software kit for Watch app developers at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference, which begins June 8.

This will allow apps to run directly on the watch, and will give apps and companies access to more functions on the device, including its sensors and “digital crown.” This could immediately be useful for apps such as fitness trackers and games, Williams said.

It’s reasonable to assume the company will support these new apps in an Apple Watch software update included with iOS 9, the latest version of its mobile operating system, which it will also likely unveil on June 8. Apple typically releases its new iOS versions in September alongside new iPhones.

This change won’t happen overnight. While Apple is set to release the improved software tools in a couple of weeks, new apps won’t be available until later this year.

Then there’s the bigger problem of actually designing great Apple Watch apps. The best tiny-screen watch apps won’t simply replicate what works on larger mobile devices like phones and tablets. It could be years before the sorts of apps that truly make the most of wearable computers—the way, for example, Instagram and Uber have defined the smartphone era—appear and take off.