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Apple to Unveil Tool Kit for Watch App Developers

When Apple began selling the Apple Watch in April, Phillip Ryu did not rush to create an app for it. Because apps on the device have limited animation and the software takes several seconds to load, Ryu, a founder of Impending, which makes mobile games, said he was constrained in terms of what programs he could create for the watch.

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Now, he is rethinking that decision. On Monday, Apple will begin its annual developer conference, where the company is set to release new tools for software developers to create smarter apps that will gain deep access to the watch’s heart-rate and motion sensors, among other components.

“It feels like we have both our hands tied behind our backs, and that’s why you haven’t seen anything really impressive,” Ryu said about apps for the watch, which was released with around 3,500 programs. Now, “it sounds like they plan on untying our hands.”

Gaining more apps for Apple Watch is crucial to Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive. The device is his first new product since taking the reins of the company in 2011. Apps from outside developers helped increase sales of Apple’s iPhones and iPads by vastly expanding their capabilities. Likewise, third-party apps could become important selling points for the watch, which now is primarily an expensive timepiece that requires an iPhone to operate.

Apart from more powerful watch apps, Apple’s developer conference is also set to showcase software advancements for OS X, the Mac operating system, and iOS, the mobile operating system powering iPhones and iPads. In addition, Apple plans to unveil a new streaming music service it developed with Beats, the music company it acquired for $3 billion last year, according to people briefed on the situation, who declined to be identified because the details were confidential.

Yet one much ballyhooed device will be absent from the conference: a new Apple TV, Apple’s set-top box for televisions. The company planned as recently as mid-May to use the event to spotlight new Apple TV hardware, along with an improved remote control and a tool kit for developers to make apps for the entertainment device. But those plans were postponed partly because the product was not ready, according to two people briefed on the product.

Apple declined to comment.

Apple, which introduced the watch in April after months of promotion, is selling the device in nine countries and expects to expand that distribution this month. The company is keeping mum about sales, however. On its earnings call in April, Apple would say only that consumer demand for the new product had exceeded supply.

“We couldn’t be happier about how things are going,” Cook said about the number of apps now available for the watch, adding that customer response so far seemed to be “100 percent positive.”

Jeff Williams, Apple’s senior vice president of operations, said last month at the Code technology conference that developers would soon be able to write apps directly for the watch. Now, developers have to modify an iPhone app to include “extensions” that run on the watch. In other words, the brains of the watch apps live on the iPhone, and the smartphone beams data to the watch. As a result, some consumers have said, watch apps have loaded sluggishly and what they can do has been limited. The expanded tool kit will be introduced to developers next week, and improved watch apps should arrive by fall, Williams said.

“I think it’s going to make watch apps much more interesting, just because you get access to so much more stuff,” said Brian Mueller, the developer of Carrot, a suite of productivity apps. “Right now, watch apps are sort of another feature to an iPhone app.”

For iOS and OS X, Apple is expected to do some fine-tuning after widespread criticism that its latest systems, iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite, were released with many bugs, according to people briefed on the software system. In September, Apple released an iOS update that broke the iPhone’s fingerprint sensor and caused some users to lose cell service, among other issues. The company will make under-the-hood improvements to iOS and OS X – for example, mobile apps will be able to run more efficiently, which could help improve battery life, these people said.

Sales of Mac computers, while generating a small portion of Apple’s revenue, remain a bright spot for the company, even as the rest of the PC industry shrinks. Last quarter, Apple strengthened its overall Mac sales, thanks in large part to its momentum in China, where Mac sales grew 31 percent from the same period a year ago.

Those eager for a new Apple TV, however, will have to wait. The company decided to hold off an announcement because the product was not ready to be demonstrated, according to people briefed on the device.

A major setback for the Apple TV involves content. Apple plans to offer its Apple TV, iPhone and iPad customers a bundle of channels that is smaller and cheaper than the large catalog of offerings in a typical cable subscription, according to people briefed on the service, who discussed the incomplete plans on the condition of anonymity. Media executives have been coy about the existence of the coming Apple TV service – the chief executive of CBS said last week that his network would “probably” sign a deal with Apple. Separately, Showtime announced on Wednesday a new Internet streaming service that would debut on Apple devices in July for a monthly fee of $10.99.

But in the background, content providers have also whispered that they are far from reaching deals with Apple to offer an Internet-based TV service, largely because they have not come to an agreement on price, rights and technology issues, according to people briefed on the discussions.

Despite the delay, many developers remain intrigued by the idea of making apps for the Apple TV. This year, Apple published a graphic that resembled its hockey-puck-shaped Apple TV on a webpage promoting the developer conference, hinting that TV apps would be coming soon.

“The context of everyone sitting down in front of a large-format display will be totally different,” said Luke Muscat, a director of the app studio Prettygreat and creator of the games Fruit Ninja and Jetpack Joyride. “It’s hard to imagine what’s going to happen.”

© 2015 New York Times News Service

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