The Seven Deadly Sins of Apple: My Experience as an Apple Watch developer

Rather than just depending purely on quality, each platform’s success relies heavily on the support given to it by the devs community. You want to find a very clear proof of this? Palm’s WebOS (and many others OS as excellent) failed terribly due to not having such support.

However, developers have been (for a number of years) pampering Apple, prioritizing countless times the development for iPhone and iPad apps rather than Android ones.

One of the reasons for that is, clearly, that iOS is the most profitable platform for developers, and that seems more than enough. But it is also true that Apple can brag about having, IMHO, excellent development tools, a prety good documentation and a huge App Store in which you can, with more or less work and budget, make your products visible.

And they have achieved all of this by working (at least) as hard for the developers as they do it for the users.

During the last months, while working with Víctor San Vicente in the development of apps and games for the Apple Watch, I have started detecting a number of aspects in which Apple should work, showing they care for the developers that are (or want to start) creating apps for the Apple Watch, a product that, it seems to me, offers endless possibilities.

1. Development Tools

Unlike with iOS, compiling an app for the Apple Watch is a seriously dreadful experience.

If you run an app in the simulator or in the device (from xCode) it takes way too long in running. Many times, you end up opening it manually to (finally!) end the process.

Furthermore, some APIs (like, for instance, CloudKit) don’t even work from the simulator.

2. Documentation

Something I really value of every Apple documentation is the specific guides, detailing how the APIs work (such as in Game Center, cloudKit, coredata…).

In the case of Apple Watch, there are no specific guides, and the documentation of many APIs is either incomplete or not clear enough.

For instance, the documentation of the Game Center API is the same for iOS and Apple Watch. The issue is that many methods are not available for both platforms, so it becomes really challenging to find out which method works on which platform, and how should they be used.

3. APIs introduced in the WWDC that don’t work

Game Center offered the prospect of having our games in the Apple Watch by means of turns, rankings, achievements, challenges… But all of this has been left behind because of a bug that haven’t ever been solved since it was announced.

It is impossible to login of Game Center from the Apple Watch, therefore, you can’t access the rest of the features. It is quite curious, though, that there is a presentation in which they talk about all of these features, with demo included and everything (and it is downloadable although, of course, it doesn’t work). Incredible but true.

4. Companion Apps

The Apple Watch is conceived as a companion device, and currently Apple is leaving no margin to any other perspective whatsoever.

I (and many other developers) would love to be able to develop apps intended exclusively for the Apple Watch, whether there will be a companion iOS app or not. We even have had to include some basic functionalities for the iPhone app, so to make sure that Apple approves our Apple Watch games. That is surreal.

I think it’s great that you can create apps that add functionality to an iOS app, but I believe this shouldn’t be compulsory.

5. App Store Screenshots and Preview

If we talk about uploading app screenshots to itunesconnect, there is where Apple really hinders both developers and even their own product.

Apple requests to avoid (although it is not forbidden, for now) uploading screenshots in which you can see the Apple Watch app. In other words, they want each and every screenshot to display the iPhone version.

OK, it’s true that there are 5 screenshots purely reserved for the Apple Watch version. The problem is that, on them, you can only show screenshots of the app running. Which means: no promotional or descriptive text, no case or design elements are allowed.

This is a problem in itself, since when you develop a product thinking of the Apple Watch, the iOS version may lack some functionality and it may not be enough to fill the 5 screenshots.

What is definitely forbidden is to show images of the Apple Watch app in the Preview (the promotional video). That’s hard to take if all of what you have to show is… in the watch :)

6. App Store. Nooooo!!!!

This is probably the trickiest aspect. We, as developers, rely on downloads for a living, and in order to get those downloads we need visibility, and in order to have visibility we need a space where our product can be easily found :)

The first problem here appears by making users open the Apple Watch app and go to the “App Store” tab, just to be able to search and download apps.

The second one comes with the very few apps highlighted by Apple. There are just 7 topics created by editors to classify the apps, each one of them, in turn, having very few apps that vary very rarely, if ever.

For example, there is a “topic” called “Quick Games,” where there are only 16 games that have been there for more than 2 months without any update. This makes you think of loneliness and negligence. There are some rumors that Apple only updates this Store once a month (which I think they don’t even fulfill in the Spanish App Store).

Another problem is that, unlike in the iOS App Store, you cannot access the categories lists (such as, for example: productivity, games, travel, education…), or the success rankings.

All of which brings us to a crucial dependency on Apple highlighting your game on one of their topics, or otherwise you would exclusively depend on a dull browser, that has very little to offer, not even the suggested trends, and which has not ever been used anyway by anyone among the users.

7. Search Ads

After the disappointment with the App Store, I thought we would always have the alternative to pay for advertisements through Search Ads, the new service offered by Apple.

But here you are: another wall to hit. As soon as I started segmenting the audience by device, I realized the Apple Watch was not there and, thus, it was simply absurd to show my advertisements without that segment there.

Still, I made some tests with search terms including “apple watch” but, altogether, the result was not that good.

So… I abandon the ship?

As much as it may seem obvious, after reading this post, that I may have already forsaken the development for the Apple Watch, and left towards any other platform, that is actually not the case. I love the Apple Watch and, despite the aspects discussed above, I think it is a very good platform for creating singular experiences. As for me, it fits perfectly to the product concept that I like to work for, and I hope I will be able to keep on working on it for a long time.

In fact, this week, Víctor San Vicente and I released Misspelled, a fun word game that we developed (and loved every minute of it!) and, God permits, next week we will release Trampling Trump, but that’s already for another post, and that is no bluffing.