There's Already A Huge Gold Rush To Fill The Apple Watch With Ads -- But Don't Believe The Hype (Yet)

IWatch (1)TapSenseTapSense said its Apple Watch ads could look like this. But the company later acknowledged Apple might not be able to let it serve ads to the Apple Watch at all.

We don’t even know the exact release date for the Apple Watch (we understand it’s due in March), but already advertising vendors are proudly boasting they will be offering marketers the chance to place ads on the device.

The latest such vendor is InMarket, a mobile advertising platform that specialises in in-store beacon ads. The company told Adweek it had partnered with Marsh Supermarkets to target beacon ads to Apple Watch users who use the US grocery store’s app with recipe suggestions and offers when they are inside one of its 75 stores.

However, there are a few caveats to this announcement and, indeed, all announcements purporting to offer Apple Watch advertising ahead of the smartwatch’s actual launch date.

The Apple Watch SDK is out. But it’s scant on detail about ads

Apple has released the WatchKit software development kit (SDK), which allows developers to build applications tailored to the device. Technically, using WatchKit, app developers could then insert ads into those apps too.

However, any Watch application will be subject to Apple’s strict approval process — it won’t just be a case of simply porting an iPhone app over to the Watch — and the SDK itself is still in beta and subject to change.

The Apple Watch is also set to be the most personal piece of Apple software you own. It’s on display at all time on your wrist, and while that tiny screen could be a highly-prized piece of advertising real estate, Apple is unlikely to allow its high-end device to be commandeered by ads that could detract from the overall user experience. Just look at Apple’s HealthKit fitness monitoring ad: As AdExchanger pointed out last year, Apple’s app store guidelines explicitly ban apps from using user data gathered from the HealthKit API for ads.

“If it feels like your smart watch is turning into a spam box, you will take it off,” Padden Guy Murphy, who heads business development and public policy at car-sharing service Getaround, told Reuters earlier this month.

Remember, Apple has its own advertising platform in iAd

In the background, Apple has been ramping up its investment and focus in its own advertising platform iAd in recent months.

Most recently, Apple announced it was partnering with a number of tech vendors — including Rubicon Project, MediaMath, AdRoll, Adelphic, Accordant Media, GET IT Mobile and The Trade Desk — to bring programmatic/automated ad buying to its iAd platform for the first time.

It’s not too much of a stretch to assume that Apple could make Apple Watch ads exclusive to the iAd platform, and those aforementioned demand-side platforms and ad tech companies. IAd’s share of the mobile ad market is tiny compared to competitors like Google and Facebook. But adding exclusive Apple Watch integration to the iAd API could give it an edge versus rivals.

But it’s worth reiterating that Apple has released no details on plans to announce any type of advertising on Apple Watch yet. And if Apple does have ads planned, it’s likely they will be rolled out on a very limited basis at launch. Apple TV still doesn’t have in-app ads, for example, and the first generation of that product launched in 2007.

Apple Watch ad announcements are good PR, but are couched with uncertainty

Announcements from ad vendors and analyses into the potential of Apple Watch for advertisers tend to be seriously couched with words like “could,” “potential,” and “may” (even this one!). In short, Apple has barely released any information about Apple Watch ad integration yet, so most people are making educated guesses.

Earlier this month, for example, mobile ad exchange TapSense published a blog post proudly announcing it had launched the “industry’s first programmatic ad platform for Apple Watch.” The platform apparently included “hyper-local targeting and Apple Pay integration.”

A day later, TapSense quietly updated its blog post (presumably after being on the end of a few stern words from Apple — although we can’t confirm that yet) admitting that it might not be able to serve ads to the Apple Watch at all.

The clarification read: “Both Apple’s WatchKit SDK and the TapSense SDK are in Beta and APIs are subject to change. As and when Apple makes the WatchKit guidelines available, we will review it carefully to ensure our SDK is both in compliance and approved by Apple. Couple clarifications and corrections:

* We’re announcing a programmatic platform which will allow you to have your ads displayed on Apple Watch

* The post inaccurately mentions support for watch faces. Currently, the WatchKit SDK doesn’t provide developer access to watch faces.

* Although Apple Pay integration with Apple Watch is a great convenience for the consumer, TapSense SDK will not integrate directly with Apple Pay. To redeem a coupon from an ad, it would need to have a readable barcode that can be scanned at the point of sale, or the ad could be added to Passbook and then delivered to Apple Watch to be redeemed.

Apple Watch is set to be a huge deal when it launches this Spring, with analysts forecasting it will kickstart the smart watch market as a whole from being a niche product for early adopters to a mainstream piece of tech. Business Insider Intelligence predicts Apple will ship 15 million Apple Watches this year and anticipates that number will rise to more than 50 million in 2020.

So expect plenty more announcements purporting to offer Apple Watch ads as we get closer to launch and the Apple hype machine kicks into overdrive. But unless Apple officially releases more information about Apple Watch ad integration and APIs, treat those press releases with scepticism. Yes, those vendors are preparing for a number of scenarios, but we still don’t know the full picture yet.

Business Insider has contacted TapSense co-founder and CEO Ash Kumar and an InMarket spokesman for further clarification about their Apple Watch advertising plans. This article will be updated once responses have been received.

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