With Apple Watch, it's time for new ad designs

Apple Watch.
Apple Watch.

iOS developers and technology-watchers say Apple's wearable marks new creative challenges for brands

The countdown has begun for Apple Watch, reportedly set to ship right after Chinese New Year in February. On the way, the ad industry is setting its sights on how to use this new device in particular and wearables in general.

Apple is playing its cards characteristically close to the vest. Nevertheless, Watch-watchers in the advertising industry can glean some brand opportunities from the Mac-makers’s recent deal with Nike to create co-branded wearables as well as the current branding on iPhone apps.

For the current generation of iOS apps, Apple has set clear rules for developing branded apps and delivering ads to apps. The company publishes App Store Review Guidelines, including a section on what will and won’t be allowed for in-app ads. The list comprises just three items: cheating (artificially increased ad impressions); empty banners; and apps that are mainly ad-delivery devices are all banned. Other restrictions that could relate bad behavior around ads are listed in the Privacy section of the guidelines.

The jury’s still out on whether Apple will release Watch-specific guidelines or revise the approval process for apps destined for the Watch. While Apple is working on wearable advertising opportunities with companies such as Facebook, Yahoo, and other tech giants, details are not forthcoming. (Apple did not respond to request for comment on this article.)

"Apple announced an SDK (software development kit) at [September’s launch] event," said Benedict Evans, a partner at Menlo Park, Calif., venture-capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, "but no other data. There will be guidelines, but it’s impossible to say anything beyond that but Apple will be very focused on privacy and battery life."

"The space for advertising is very limited, though," Evans added.

The SDK announcement was merely a paragraph in the press release introducing the Apple Watch. Here’s what the company had to say about display opportunities:

"Apple introduces WatchKit, providing new tools and APIs for developers to create unique experiences designed for the wrist. With Apple Watch, developers can create WatchKit apps with actionable notifications and Glances that provide timely information. Starting later next year, developers will be able to create fully native apps for Apple Watch." (Glances are like current Widgets on iOS and can be interactive; notifications are like, well, notifications, and may be limited in interaction to the user calling and dismissing them.)

David Smith, an independent Mac and iOS developer, last week published an overview of WatchKit. While developers will be able to build apps with notifications and Glances for the release of the Apple Watch, he noted, the ability to create fully native apps will be limited to a few "special partners" until the next WatchKit release, probably at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference in June.

"This two phase rollout of capabilities makes a lot of sense," Smith writes. "Building a fully native app for a device that you’ve never touched, with a radically new form-factor would be a perilous proposition."

Marking time to launch
So what does Smith recommend for ad agencies hoping to send ads to users’ wrists? "I imagine you could theoretically show an ad within a Glance," he told Campaign, "but whether or not this would be permitted by Apple is another matter entirely."

Investor and writer Taylor Davidson (who has written about the Apple Watch) agreed the field is still open. "I don't think people can quite imagine what new promotions are possible until we get a feel for the total UX of Watch.

"I think the Watch experience will push companies and app developers to think of intelligent way to reach people through Apple Watch," he continued. "The experience is unique enough from existing devices that simply applying the same ad models would be a mistake by all involved (Apple, app developers, advertisers). And I think Apple realizes that and will limit advertisements in Watch.

"Watch, from a UX perspective, opens opportunity for interesting new advertising and promotional opportunities, but it takes time for developers and people to create the shared experience that will create the footbed for promotional advertisements.

"The lesson," he said, is that "existing ad models pushed into new experiences don't work, and it takes time to develop new ad models that are native to new experiences. That held true for TV, magazines, radio, web and mobile, and it will hold true for wearables in general."

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