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Publishers Explore the Potential for Apple Watch Apps

April 23, 2015 | By Mark Glaser, Founder and Publisher – MediaShift @mediatwit

Apple’s slow reveal for the new wearable Watch has given publishers some time to think about how it might fit into their plans. Digital content makers are already dealing with a dizzying array of distribution options on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, Periscope — and now the Watch!

Developers have submitted more than 1,000 apps for Apple’s approval ahead of the company’s upcoming official release date on April 24 (though most people won’t get them until much later). But the question of whether people might actually use the Apple Watch — and whether publishers should pour resources into creating their own apps — has to do with how users first understand and use the Watch in the first place.

In the case of news apps, for example, the Apple Watch would encourage a sort of “glance journalism.” The New York Times is coming out with an app for the Apple Watch that would feature one-sentence stories. It’s neither a tweet, a headline nor a condensed version of an article appearing on other Times’ platforms, but “a new form of storytelling to help readers catch up in seconds,” as a Times representative put it. The length of this one-sentence story won’t be contained in the number of characters but in the amount of space it would take up on the Apple Watch screen. NPR and CNN have also reportedly developed apps to make the watch a “wearable news source,” as Nick Gallagher wrote in the American Journalism Review.

Personalized Experiences
In other words, even if few publishers have yet to actually use the Apple Watch, they’re foreseeing a utility with it. CNN’s Apple Watch app is also aimed at creating a more personalized experience for its user by sending push notifications, though its developers admit they have to be careful with it because of the low tolerance for these alerts on wearable devices. The Economist, meanwhile, doesn’t plan to focus on text and push notifications, which most publishers are doing, but will use the app as a remote control device to control its audio edition on the iPhone. It also doesn’t plan to include advertising on its app. Economist deputy editor Tom Standage said, however, that its strategy might change over time and will ultimately depend on the usage patterns of its users, which still remain a mystery.

Another publisher, NBC’s Breaking News, has developed an app that will offer alerts as well as a “tip” button that users could use to send information back to Breaking News about news happening around them. Breaking News co-founder Cory Bergman told The Verge that they expect new users to tap on this tip button “just for fun,” but that “over time we’re expecting more signal than noise.”

Ups and Downs
It’s still hard to say whether Apple Watch will remain exclusive to the very wealthy and geeky. Some analysts believe Apple could help boost an entirely new category of devices. Others are lamenting its shortcomings even before it’s officially come to market.

One problem is that not everyone gets to develop “native apps” that run much better than third-party apps. The latter have a tendency to load and perform slowly, making it much more difficult for newer companies to break out on the Apple Watch — for now.

The bottom line is that the Apple Watch is “first and foremost, an iPhone accessory,” as Scott Stein wrote in CNET. The scope for what apps, including third party apps, can do in the future will no doubt increase once the Watch firmly plants its footprint on the market and more users start testing it. But it’s safe to say that until the Watch becomes less of an iPhone accessory and more of its own independent device, it’s best for publishers to approach this new device with a grain of salt, and first learn more how to integrate it into future efforts.

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