Why the first Apple Watch is a yawner for developers

Tim Cook, chief executive officer of Apple, speaks during the Apple Spring Forward event in San Francisco.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Tim Cook, chief executive officer of Apple, speaks during the Apple Spring Forward event in San Francisco.

The official Apple Watch launch will attract lines around the block at retail outlets, waitlists online and endless product reviews.

But for the hardcore developers and gadget geeks, the first version—set for pre-order on April 10 and public availability two weeks later—is just a taste of what the future holds.

Why? Because the sensor data that the watch is uniquely positioned to capture won't yet be available to third parties.

For a combination of privacy reasons, performance concerns and desire to retain control over the device, Apple isn't yet letting outsiders access those sensors via WatchKit, the developer software tools for the Apple Watch. So all that valuable information about heart rate, calories burned, blood pressure and skin temperature will remain locked up, for now.

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"Once Apple opens that gateway and gives developers access to it, they can do wild and crazy things never done before," said Jordan Edelson, chief executive officer of Appetizer Mobile, a New York-based app development agency.

Like what, you ask?

Here's Edelson's example. Say you're Dunkin' Donuts or Starbucks, and a customer has your app linked to the watch. The device's sensors can tell you the person's heart rate, location and perhaps body temperature.

One million devices?

So you know where the consumer is relative to your stores and when exactly would be a good time to offer up that $1-off coupon for a drink or bite to eat, with personalized data on why this particular individual should take you up on the offer—right now.

"The device will know a lot about you, and by tapping into your wireless body network can serve ads that are more engaging," Edelson said.

Creeped out yet? Apple sensed that the first version of the product may be too soon to usher in a whole new era of privacy concerns and that the technology just wasn't ready.

The Wall Street Journal reported in February that much of the health data Apple was hoping to generate with the watch were unreliable, because the sensors performed inconsistently in tests and varied based on skin types and how tightly people wore the device.

A spokesperson for Cupertino, California-based Apple said, "It's pretty well-known among developers that access to the sensors is not available through WatchKit," and didn't provide further comment.

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According to the Apple Watch website, the initial version will have a heart rate sensor, Wi-Fi and GPS to track distances, and an accelerometer to monitor steps and calculate calories burned.

Edelson expects that within eight to 12 months, Apple will start to open that data up to developers with opt-in permissions for consumers. Combining all of that developer creativity with more body-reading capabilities that are likely coming in the future will enable the Apple Watch to blow away the competition, he predicts.

Apple Watch will be available for pre-order on April 10, 2015.
Source: Apple Inc.
Apple Watch will be available for pre-order on April 10, 2015.

Rise, a San Francisco-based start-up that connects consumers with nutritionists through an iPhone app, is anticipating equally dramatic improvements as the watch matures.

In the pre-Apple Watch world, Rise has its users snap photos of their meals and share them with a nutritionist, who acts as a coach. The coach then provides feedback and suggestions as to how the client can eat healthier, with the end goal often of losing weight.

Imagine if the coach was being sent real-time data from a watch on the customer's calorie intake, number of steps taken, daily activities and location. There's a stream of information that can be used to make recommendations, like a nearby place to go for a hearty, healthy spinach salad or, when is a good time to buy that bottle of water and bag of nuts.

"We want to make sure we can push these suggestions to you in a way that's very low friction," said Suneel Gupta, co-founder and CEO of Rise. "We're making a bet on this idea that the person that we're actually serving is going to have access to far more data and that will continue to increase."