The Apple Watch, Apple’s first foray in into the wearable world, is already one of the best smartwatches on the market. But there’s one big thing holding it back.
When you get the Apple Watch, you’ll find it preloaded with a suite of full-powered, Apple-made apps — Messages, Mail, Calendar and more. If those aren’t enough for you, there’s also an Apple Watch app store, already packed with third-party apps from companies like Foursquare, Uber and JetBlue.
However, those third-party Apple Watch apps have a big drawback: They aren’t “native” apps running on the Watch itself. Instead, they’re basically extensions of their iPhone counterparts, with all the code running on your iPhone while the Apple Watch displays their user interface. They also can’t actively utilize some of the Apple Watch’s hardware, like the heart rate monitor.
What this means for you as a user is the third-party Apple Watch apps just aren’t as powerful as they could be. That’s a shame, because so much of our digital devices’ functionality comes from full-fledged third-party apps — think about how often you use Facebook or Google Maps on your iPhone.
Still, some of today’s Apple Watch apps make do with the limitations. And Apple has said developers can start making truly native apps sometime later this year.
If there’s a silver lining here, it’s that Apple Watch developers can use the time between now and then to experiment and learn about how people use their Apple Watch. Plenty of today’s Apple Watch apps say “we’re here,” but they don’t offer a compelling use case for a smartwatch app (You have to cut developers some slack, though: Many haven’t gotten much, if any, time with the actual device they were coding for). With lots of Apple Watches out in the wild, developers will learn more about how people respond to them and make their apps better down the road. Some developers, however, will learn a painful lesson: What makes a great smartphone app does not necessarily make a great smartwatch app.