Pebble owners, breathe easy. Apple’s not banishing your smartwatch from your iPhone.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that, though. This week, just ahead of the Apple Watch’s launch, the App Store rejected updates to a handful of iOS apps that support the Pebble. That led many to worry that Cupertino was trying to quash its competitor as its own smartwatch hit the market. But WIRED has learned Apple’s review team simply made a mistake, and the company plans to continue supporting Pebble as it always has. For now, at least.
There are 401 iOS apps that work with Pebble smartwatches, and many of them have been updated recently. RunKeeper, for example, pushed a big update Monday. But PocketMariner’s SeaNav, a nautical navigation iPad app that’s been in the App Store for years, saw its latest update rejected. Apple’s explanation, according to a post in the Pebble forums by PocketMariner CEO Steve Bennett, was, “We noticed that your app or its metadata contains irrelevant platform information in the app.” It went on: “Specifically, your app and app description declare support for the Pebble Smartwatch.” The great irony is the SeaNav update was to add support for the Apple Watch.
An Apple spokesman confirmed to WIRED that this was a mistake and the company has not changed its policy toward Pebble. The SeaNav update, and others rejected under similar circumstances, will be accepted, and the company does not plan to reject apps that support Pebble.
Still, under its own review guidelines, Apple was within its authority to reject apps like SeaNav. Its developer guidelines specifically prohibit mentioning support for “any other mobile platform.” But Apple has long accepted Pebble, presumably because it has not seen it as a competing mobile platform. Pebble’s products, CEO Eric Migicovsky says, always have been certified as Made For iPhone—including the new Time and Time Steel. Even now, dozens of apps in the App Store mention Pebble; there are even a handful of third-party apps for managing and connecting to your watch.
But with the Apple Watch launching, it appears someone within the company was overly vigilant in the app review process. And this does raise a broader question: What happens if Apple does decide to cut Pebble off? The App Store is fully within its control, and it is free to change its mind about who is and is not competitive. This is about more than Pebble. There’s been apparent progress on making Android Wear compatible with iOS, something Apple could quash at any moment. Fitbit has an API, which others can use to make compatible apps. Could it be deemed a competitor? What about Jawbone? Or Nest, which competes with HomeKit? The Watch is among Apple’s widest-ranging products ever, with such vast possibilities that it’s competition could include virtually anything.
At the moment, it looks like a crisis averted, at least for a few developers and one smartwatch platform. But it’s a reminder that Apple, even a more open Apple, remains a tightly controlled ecosystem. That has inspired an incredible wealth of apps, services, and cool stuff beyond anything anyone could have imagined, but no one should ever forget who’s in control.