Apple considering third-party Apple Watch face support, watchOS beta code reveals

Posted:
in Apple Watch edited April 15
A line of code unearthed in Apple's latest watchOS 4.3.1 beta release suggests a future version of the operating system will allow third-party developers to deploy customizable watch faces, a feature for which many users have pined since Apple Watch debuted in 2015.




A log message buried in the first watchOS 4.3.1 beta, issued to developers earlier this month, and discovered by 9to5Mac hints at potential third-party integration with Apple's NanoTimeKit. The private framework is responsible for a number of assets traditionally left inaccessible to developers, including access to watch face configurations beyond complications.

The new beta includes a NanoTimeKit developer tools server for watch face customization that, in its current state, appears designed to communicate with Xcode. For now, the server is inactive, meaning third parties are unable to tap into the framework, but that might change in a future version of watchOS.

Accompanying the developer tools server is a log message that reads, "This is where the 3rd party face config bundle generation would happen."

While the toolset is inaccessible, its inclusion in watchOS 4.3.1 suggests Apple is at least considering opening that section of NanoTimeKit to outside app makers.

Whether a full-featured watch face customization toolset will ship to developers in a future version of watchOS, perhaps watchOS 5, remains unknown.

Such integration would be a first for Apple, a company known to keep major user-facing features under lock and key. Much like iOS, Apple is loath to allow user or developer access to key watchOS user interface assets like watch faces. Consumers have at times decried the strategy, but Apple's strict policy helps maintain a consistent, secure and bug-free user experience across its mobile device lineup.

Apple's stringent guidelines have not dissuaded attempts to install custom watch faces on the wearable. Shortly after the first-generation Apple Watch launched in 2015, a developer was able to roll his own watch face source code compatible with the then-new watchOS 2.

To satisfy calls for comprehensive personalization options, Apple routinely delivers new built-in watch face options with each watchOS iteration. Ranging from analog-style utility faces to fun animated faces featuring Disney characters like Mickey and Minnie Mouse, the designs incorporate customizable colors, third-party complications and more.

Most recently, watchOS 4 in 2017 introduced a powerful Siri watch face that taps into Apple's artificial intelligence technology, a kaleidoscope design with Photos integration and new Toy Story character options.

Apple is expected to unveil a next-generation watchOS 5 at its Worldwide Developers Conference in June.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 24
    chasmchasm Posts: 509member
    As happy as I've been with my pick of Apple's default faces and "complications," I would like to see what others can come up with, so I look forward to this feature.
    1983randominternetpersonwatto_cobrajbdragon
  • Reply 2 of 24
    Its been an obvious block to keep in their back pocket til later as it has significant commercial value.
    If they had a 'photo with hands' mode we could all have been wearing Jaeger or Patek knock offs from day 1 for free

    rossb21983Alex1Njbdragon
  • Reply 3 of 24
    I'm pretty sure apple could open this up AND maintain a secure platform.  That excuse is BS.  Apple's excuse is they believe their experience is there best experience.

    How many times have developers proven them wrong. How many times has Apple's customer base said, a reachable screen is to small.  We want a big screen phone. Apple needs to listen to it's customers or it won't have any


  • Reply 4 of 24
    rogifan_newrogifan_new Posts: 2,600member
    My guess is this will be pretty strict. Apple doesn’t want the headache of copyright/trademark issues.
    Alex1Njony0
  • Reply 5 of 24
    rossb2rossb2 Posts: 10member
    Great news, been wanting this on every watch OS update since the beginning. A watch face App Store. Android do it, so I guess Apple can.
  • Reply 6 of 24
    macguimacgui Posts: 706member
    jsmythe00 said:
    Apple needs to listen to it's customers or it won't have any
    ROFL, that is both adorable and hysterical, in a cranial inversion sort of way.


    My guess is this will be pretty strict. Apple doesn’t want the headache of copyright/trademark issues.
    I would hope so. They've had their share of infringement issues on their own, without any third-party help.

    I am against this in no uncertain terms. Beyond the copyright/trademark potential pitfall, there's the Crappy Pebble Watch Face Syndrome that would/will no doubt flourish.

    Apple should moderate Watch faces and say 'Yes, your submission meets our security criteria but is pure crap and has no business on our Watches. Pebble would've lapped that up. Begone.

    With the Photo Watch face, I've already seen enough movie and sports team versions for a lifetime. I'd like to see Apple ban any attempt at those, which may fall under the copyright/trademark umbrella anyway.

    I'd much rather leave the design to Apple. The choice would be slimmer but the signal to noise ratio would be MUCH higher.  Just looking at app icons tells me this would be a big mistake. There would be some gems, but rarity is what makes them gems.

    I do want more, and more elegant (read: analog) Watch faces, especially rectangular Watch faces. The very few we occasionally get with updates are too few too slowly. 
    macplusplusSolibb-15fastasleeprandominternetpersonwatto_cobraAlex1N
  • Reply 7 of 24
    rogifan_newrogifan_new Posts: 2,600member
    macgui said:
    jsmythe00 said:
    Apple needs to listen to it's customers or it won't have any
    ROFL, that is both adorable and hysterical, in a cranial inversion sort of way.


    My guess is this will be pretty strict. Apple doesn’t want the headache of copyright/trademark issues.
    I would hope so. They've had their share of infringement issues on their own, without any third-party help.

    I am against this in no uncertain terms. Beyond the copyright/trademark potential pitfall, there's the Crappy Pebble Watch Face Syndrome that would/will no doubt flourish.

    Apple should moderate Watch faces and say 'Yes, your submission meets our security criteria but is pure crap and has no business on our Watches. Pebble would've lapped that up. Begone.

    With the Photo Watch face, I've already seen enough movie and sports team versions for a lifetime. I'd like to see Apple ban any attempt at those, which may fall under the copyright/trademark umbrella anyway.

    I'd much rather leave the design to Apple. The choice would be slimmer but the signal to noise ratio would be MUCH higher.  Just looking at app icons tells me this would be a big mistake. There would be some gems, but rarity is what makes them gems.

    I do want more, and more elegant (read: analog) Watch faces, especially rectangular Watch faces. The very few we occasionally get with updates are too few too slowly. 
    I’m sure this is one reason we haven’t seen them yet. Who decides what’s elegant and what’s not? Should Apple be playing the role of tastemaker in chief for every watch face submitted? I can see that being a recipe for disaster and then you’ll have all these devs taking to social media complaining about their watch face that Apple rejected. And then the narrative will be what right does Apple have to decide what watch face I have on my Watch. They can’t control what background image I have on my iPhone/iPad/Mac. The alternative is allowing anything and having the Watch App Store flooded with crappy watch face ‘apps’.
    Alex1N
  • Reply 9 of 24
    designrdesignr Posts: 335member
    Shouldn't this be filed in the "well, duh" category? Whether they actually expose it might be news, but the fact that they thought about it and even put some stuff in place to make it possible seems surprising...not.

    cornchipwatto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 24
    I think this would de-value premium Hermès and perhaps even Nike models if anyone could replicate their watch face and supplement it with a cheap look-alike brand.
    macplusplusbb-15watto_cobraAlex1N
  • Reply 11 of 24
    mac_128mac_128 Posts: 2,975member
    hobnoble said:
    I think this would de-value premium Hermès and perhaps even Nike models if anyone could replicate their watch face and supplement it with a cheap look-alike brand.
    Both of those brands are about the bands, not the watch face. That's a bonus that comes with the band. While I suspect there are a few people who may buy one for the watch face, that's likely the tiny exception to the rule.

    That said, I doubt Apple is planning to open this up to just anyone. If a private developer wants to create his own knock-off watch face and hack it into heir own personal watch, and there were enough of them, I suppose it could be a problem. Apple will most likely still limit customer customization options, limiting watch face design to third party developers. While a few copyrighted designs, and trademarks may slip by, as they do with some apps, the major brand trademarks and copyrights will not. Particularly Apples partners, like Hermes and Nike. So no, this is not likely to be a significant problem.
    Alex1N
  • Reply 12 of 24
    cornchipcornchip Posts: 1,009member
    Interesting. I’m pretty happy with the “modular” face with calendar, messages, timer, and AnyList complications. I would have Shazam but it’s so finicky on my gen 1 it’s not really worth having in place of messages. 

    I cant really think of a 3rd party face I would want, but I guess my mind could be changed..
    bb-15watto_cobraAlex1N
  • Reply 13 of 24
    hexclockhexclock Posts: 361member
    cornchip said:
    Interesting. I’m pretty happy with the “modular” face with calendar, messages, timer, and AnyList complications. I would have Shazam but it’s so finicky on my gen 1 it’s not really worth having in place of messages. 

    I cant really think of a 3rd party face I would want, but I guess my mind could be changed..
    A NASA face that shows a different planet or moon each day would be pretty sweet. 
    bb-15cornchipwatto_cobraAlex1N
  • Reply 14 of 24
    macplusplusmacplusplus Posts: 1,259member
    That log line doesn't mean that the watch faces will be "open" to all 3d parties. Maybe they limit it to only licensed brands?

    Apple has a consistent and strict policy on developing custom user interfaces: you cannot.
    edited April 15 StrangeDayscornchipwatto_cobraAlex1N
  • Reply 15 of 24
    FolioFolio Posts: 160member
    hexclock said:
    cornchip said:
    Interesting. I’m pretty happy with the “modular” face with calendar, messages, timer, and AnyList complications. I would have Shazam but it’s so finicky on my gen 1 it’s not really worth having in place of messages. 

    I cant really think of a 3rd party face I would want, but I guess my mind could be changed..
    A NASA face that shows a different planet or moon each day would be pretty sweet. 
    Yes, or super nova, comet, etc. Apple's existing planetary complication is one of my favorites. Twirling the knob to see when at least three planets align...Wonder if any astrologists are using it? ;-)

    hexclockwatto_cobraAlex1N
  • Reply 16 of 24
    FolioFolio Posts: 160member
    With a new Watch HW rumored soon, one might imagine a sleeker watch. So yeah, even though I'm happy with Apple selection of complications (and use about four a day, of 8 that I have, and of those 8 maybe swap out two a month) I do think you want to open it up for artists and devs. Lots of talent to tap in the world, and the next iterations of the Watch will be huge.

    Once the form gets sleeker more women will get it; the fashion bar will be set higher (great for bands and complications). The watch will have its own little economy. As it gets bigger and tech progresses, easy to envision different device shapes: for elegance, for fitness, etc.


    watto_cobraAlex1N
  • Reply 17 of 24
    I have played with Android Wear and the Samsung Tizen stuff. Apps like WatchMaker and Facer have a mix of cool original designs, stupid photos with hands, and trademark infringement faces from Rolex and others. It is tough to regulate for sure. However, many of the original faces are really good looking and interesting. I would imagine Apple would block Facer and WatchMaker as they have their own libraries of faces out of Apple's control. However, selling standalone watch faces would allow Apple to maintain control over the content.
    watto_cobraAlex1N
  • Reply 18 of 24
    The other issue with Apple doing this is the ability to get refunds. Whereas Google Play has allowed refunds within a quick time period, the App Store does not. So if you download a crumby watch face you will be out the money. The challenge I saw with third party watch faces on Android Wear and Tizen is that they did not always properly integrate with the watch, for example counting steps would often be incorrect. So if that happens on WatchOS, you would have paid money for nothing. 
    bb-15cornchipwatto_cobraAlex1N
  • Reply 19 of 24
    Eric_WVGGEric_WVGG Posts: 282member
    Folio said:
    Once the form gets sleeker more women will get it
    Anecdotally, the gender split on Apple Watches seems pretty damned split, in NYC at least. 

    gonna write me a replica self-playing Nelsonic Pac-Man face for goofs (personal use and maybe github, obvs)
    http://historysdumpster.blogspot.com/2012/07/nelsonic-pac-man-watch-1982.html

    also I would love to have a version of the Modular face that didn't use white for the detail text, makes all the color options look bad
    edited April 15 cornchipjbdragon
  • Reply 20 of 24
    oh apple please don’t. but then again, when customizable keyboards were allowed apple later found out that very few ended up customizing their keyboards and sticked with apple’s standard issue.
    cornchiprandominternetpersonwatto_cobraAlex1NGeorgeBMac
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