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Third-party apps on the Apple Watch set to improve

Recode’s already hosted a number of heavyweights at this year’s Code Conference, but Apple’s Jeff Williams was definitely one of the headliners. He took to the stage to speak with Walt Mossberg mainly about the Apple Watch and HealthKit, and while he didn’t reveal much — Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) is only a handful of days away, after all — he announced a few nuggets worth highlighting.

First up: Apple Watch sales. The company’s first wearable is “gathering momentum” and doing “fantastic,” Williams said, but he declined to provide specifics. (He told Mossberg that Apple would “rather spend time making great products” than focusing on metrics, a possible — if ever-so-slight — nod to the disappointing sales estimates.) Analysts peg shipments at about 2.5 million, far short of the five to six million units Apple ordered ahead of the Apple Watch’s launch in April.

Williams was a little more forthcoming about a native SDK for the Apple Watch, which he revealed will drop a lot sooner than expected. A preview version will launch at WWDC, he announced, with a wider rollout to follow in fall. That’s surely welcome news for developers, who’ve by and large blamed the Apple Watch’s sluggish and buggy app performance on gimped access to the wearable’s hardware — right now, third-party Apple Watch apps can only stream information to the watch from a paired iPhone via Bluetooth, not run on the watch itself. The new development tools will not only boost performance by letting apps tap the Apple Watch’s silicon, but also allow them access to the watch’s bevy of buttons and sensors — the digital crown, speaker, plethysmograph, gyroscope, and heart rate monitor, among other accoutrements.

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Williams then may have let slip Apple’s interest in the automobile market. He called the car “the ultimate mobile device” when asked about the Apple’s plans for its vast hoard of cash, but quickly clarified that the company’s “exploring a lot of different markets.”

Near the end of Williams’ conversation, the topic pivoted towards ResearchKit, Apple’s health data platform for researchers. It’s already proved its worth in Williams’ mind — Apple discovered a set of control group participants in a Parkinson’s disease study that were afflicted but didn’t know it — but the Apple Watch has the potential to take things further. He cautioned that regulatory hurdles may delay some medical features, but that ultimately the contributions will be “huge,” Williams told Mossberg. “We’re just beginning.”