Jeff Williams Confirms Native Watch SDK To Be Announced At WWDC

28 May 2015

Code Conference, via 9to5Mac:

Walt: Let’s talk about apps, the core apps (fitness, messaging), and there are third-party apps that vary widely. Walt asking if Apple Watch 3rd party apps will improve, says developers unsure what to do.

Williams: 4000 third party apps. I think the 3rd party apps are going to get much better when developers can write code natively to the watch. Apple will release a preview of the native Watch SDK at WWDC. Williams says SDK will give sensor access, Digital Crown access, more independent games. Will come out of preview in the fall, much like iOS updates.

Williams was more open than most Apple executives about future product plans. He dropped a pretty big tease about a car and said that Apple will preview a new Watch SDK at WWDC, with native apps launching in the fall. To be fair, on this second point, Apple had already kind of announced a native SDK for “later this year” but now we have clear timing.

At first, I was confused by Williams’ use of language. Developing against a native platform requires Apple to release an SDK. As with iOS and OS X, Apple releases betas of these next-generation SDKs just after the keynote for developers to get started. A ‘preview’ sounded different (like that it meant the real beta was coming later) but Williams then said that native apps would launch in fall (i.e. September). Due to the timing window, I think Williams was just using the wrong term or considered them interchangeable. To have apps ready for release by autumn, Apple has to start distributing proper beta SDKs at WWDC or very soon after, so that’s cool.

In light of this, WatchKit’s mere existence is amusing. A stopgap API that lasted (as a public development platform) for two months before its replacement and about six months until no one will want to use WatchKit extension-based apps ever again, when native Watch apps go live. This weird timeframe is largely caused by hardware shipping delays. If the Watch had debuted for Christmas 2014 as originally planned, the intermediary step of WatchKit would have made a lot more sense. It would have been nearly a year before the Apple Watch got any third-party integration if Apple had solely waited for native apps to be available.

I have speculated on Twitter that a native SDK may not necessarily be as open and freeing as the native SDK for iOS and Mac. There could still be limitations on drawing or interface elements. Williams’ comments appear to address these concerns. He says that apps will be able to access the Digital Crown, hardware sensors and ‘native’ games. The direct mention of games implies that custom drawing will be allowed. Although we’ll have to wait for Apple’s technical announcement at WWDC to be sure, it sounds as flexible as the development stack for iPhones which is great.