Apple to Give Developers Tools to Speed Up Slow-Load Watch Apps

The Apple Watch
A man uses an Apple Inc. Apple Watch Sport smartwatch in Hong Kong. Photographer: Billy H.C. Kwok/Bloomberg

The Apple Watch has a punctuality problem: apps are slow to load, which could defeat the whole point of having a gadget to deliver information at a glance.

To fix that, Apple Inc. will unveil new tools for the programmers writing applications for the device. The upgrade will be one of the key highlights of the iPhone maker’s annual conference for 5,000-plus software developers in San Francisco next week.

While praising its design and other features, a majority of reviewers have criticized the time it takes for snippets of information to show up on the smartwatch’s screen. Unlike a smartphone, where users might be accustomed to slow-to-load apps, the Apple Watch is competing with timepieces, which by definition and design have instantly accessible information. Any performance issues could risk hurting sales of Apple’s newest product category in five years.

“I’ve seen it take up to 20, 30 seconds for something to happen, and that’s not uncommon for me,” Slaven Radic, chief executive officer of Tapstream Network Inc., an application marketing software company, said of the delays. The watch screen often turns off before apps get a chance to load, he said.

There are already about 4,000 apps for the Apple Watch. There’s software that actually runs on the device, and then apps that run on a linked iPhone and are controlled via Bluetooth. The software development kit that will be previewed next week will give engineers the ability to write programs on the watch and access to the device’s sensors, Jeff Williams, Apple’s senior vice president of operations, said last week at the Re/code conference.

Apple, based in Cupertino, California, declined to comment further on plans for the worldwide developer conference.

‘Infuriatingly Slow’

The slow-app issue was mentioned in 10 evaluations by major publications reviewed by Bloomberg. The Guardian, for example, wrote that third-party apps were “infuriatingly slow to launch,” while the Verge said, “Sometimes apps take forever to load and sometimes third-party apps never really load at all.”

Apple hasn’t released sales results for the watch, which went on sale in April. UBS last month reduced its sales estimate for the watch next year and said a recent survey of shoppers found that the percentage of people “highly likely” to buy the watch fell to 8 percent from 10 percent a year ago.

“Apple has somewhat botched the Watch introduction,” Steven Milunovich, an analyst at UBS, wrote in a note to investors last month, noting the supply issues and inability to purchase the device in stores.

Faster Experience

Demand for the watch is outpacing supply, and Chief Financial Officer Luca Maestri told Bloomberg in April that the company is aiming to balance supply and demand by the end of June. Shipping times on Apple’s website for some models have shortened to two to three weeks, from more than four weeks when they first went on sale.

The development kit could be “another catalyst for more apps on the device in the coming quarters,” Daniel Ives, an analyst at FBR Capital Markets & Co., wrote in a note to investors.

Apple has told developers that they should create Apple Watch apps that are designed to be used for mere seconds at a time.

“If you think about what the Watch is good at -- these quick, little, short interactions -- the full SDK will allow us to deliver that that much better,” said Hamid Palo, who leads mobile development at Trello Inc., an online organizer. He expects the new software kit to allow Trello to make its notifications run smoother and faster.

Developer Event

ModiFace makes a health app called Skin that uses images to monitor skin health and changes. Native coding would let ModiFace to improve images on the Watch, Parham Aarabi, the company’s CEO, said.

“Access to the sensors on the watch including the accelerometer and the heart-rate sensors would be useful not only for our Skin app, but for future health apps that we intend to make,” Aarabi said in an e-mail.

While the annual developer’s conference will touch on the Apple Watch, there’s also other news in the pipeline for the event, which starts June 8. Apple is preparing a revamp of Beats Music, the Web-streaming service that it acquired along with the Beats headphones business last year for $3 billion. Among Apple’s other products, there’s a chance that the company will unveil new products and services for home automation.

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