With more developers and businesses taking advantage of Bluetooth beacons for advertising to nearby iPhone users, many consumers have concerns that the experience could be intrusive from an end user’s perspective. Apple Watch, scheduled for release later this year, could potentially add to that problem if Apple decides to allow iOS apps sending info to the smartwatch to also send advertising as we come in contact with beacons. It hasn’t yet, however, provided public details about what it plans for advertising on the device.

Despite the fact that there aren’t specific references to advertising in Apple’s guidelines for app developers building features for Apple Watch, a couple companies have already announced plans to deliver ads to the device. But do they know something we don’t? Or has Apple not yet made up its mind regarding what it plans for advertising policies on the Watch ahead of a launch expected in the next couple of months?

Sources at large advertising companies tell us Apple is being very cooperative, but that the company hasn’t relayed anything in the form of final guidelines.

Others don’t seem to be too confident that Apple will allow traditional advertising on Apple Watch. InMarket, a beacon network and advertising service deployed across supermarkets and retailers in the US, this weekend announced plans for Apple Watch, but those plans curiously don’t include any advertising. While reports covering the announcement misinterpreted the news as inMarket pushing advertising via its beacon network and partner iOS apps to Apple Watch, we’ve confirmed with the company that isn’t the case.

Instead, inMarket will simply be sending data from a partner iOS app to Apple Watch when triggered by a nearby beacon. The company made a point of noting that it’s pushing app features, such as a reminder to check a shopping list, rather than the direct advertising of in-store discounts and deals like it pushes to iOS devices.

There is at least one company planning on sending ads to Apple Watch with Tapsense recently announcing a new SDK for what it called the “first programmatic ad platform for Apple Watch.” But it wasn’t long after the announcement that the company issued an update noting that it’s uncertain of Apple’s plans for ads on the device:

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… 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.

From the sound of the announcements from inMarket and the update from Tapsense, it would seem as if Apple hasn’t yet made up its mind for how advertising will play out on the device. Apple doesn’t have a framework yet to bring its own iAd platform to Apple Watch either.


Currently users can opt-out of beacon notifications in most apps and users are required to have the iOS app installed in order to receive the alerts in the first place. However, providing useful notifications to consumers in public spaces is still something ad companies and early adopters experimenting with the tech are trying to get right with the perfect balance of useful information versus advertising that might feel intrusive to the user. Users might have to opt-in by downloading an iOS app and allowing notifications, but intrusive alerts might lead to users deleting or disabling an app and missing future notifications.

But that’s not the case according to early stats from inMarket that claim users have responded positively. In the summer the company said a test of beacon notifications showed a 19x increase in interaction with advertisements. It also said app usage was 16.5x greater for users receiving beacon messages and those users were 6.4x more likely to keep an app on their device.

OS apps won’t require beacons to send alerts to Apple Watch though, making it a possibility iOS apps on our connected iPhone could send advertising of sorts to our wrists at any time. Apple’s guidelines for iOS apps, however, are clear on advertising policies.

For example, iOS apps “cannot use Push Notifications to send advertising, promotions, or direct marketing of any kind.” If Apple is to uphold that rule for Apple Watch, that would seem to at least eliminate advertising on Apple Watch by way of notifications sent from iOS devices, but Apple’s minimal guidelines for Apple Watch development do not currently specifically address advertising policies.

The only one reference to advertising is in the branding guidelines for Apple Watch interfaces and recommends developers “Incorporate a brand’s assets in a refined, unobtrusive way. People use your app to get things done or to be entertained; they don’t want to feel as if they’re being forced to watch an advertisement.”

Perhaps we’ll hear more from Apple soon on the subject ahead of the Watch’s launch in the coming months. 

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