Pins and Needles for Apple Watch App Makers

Developer Curtis Herbert worries that a winter's worth of work on an Apple Watch app will come to nothing. Herbert and other independent developers haven't gotten nearly as much guidance from the tech giant as they'd like. They've had no access to the watch to test their work, and little direction on how to land a coveted spot in the virtual Apple App Store.

Apple "might rip my app to shreds," said Herbert, whose Slopes app would serve skiers and snowboarders.

The success of the Apple Watch -- set to go on sale April 24 -- will depend largely on the quality of apps built for its tiny screen. But critics have questioned whether a "killer app" will emerge, one that can transform the Watch from a novelty or fashion item into a breakout hit, like the iPhone or iPad.

Such an app or apps would arise from the thousands of developers' submissions that the company plans to stock in the Apple App Store. But except for a software developer kit Apple handed out months ago, most app developers have been left in the dark.

The stakes are high for developers. It's not expensive to develop most apps, but the rewards of being among the first to offer apps could be great. It's hard for new apps to get noticed amid the million-plus apps available for iPhones and iPads. But the limited number of Watch apps now offers better odds of them going viral, said Aaron Wadler, chief executive of ShopPad.

These are the "Golden Days" for the Apple Watch platform, said Wadler, whose company is developing a Watch companion to its iPhone app, Chameleon, which notifies wearers of special deals when they walk into a store.

The potential upside, combined with the uncertainty of the selection process, makes him nervous. He has little idea what...

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