Editorial: It's time Apple allowed third-party Apple Watch faces

Posted:
in General Discussion edited September 17
We're now six versions into the software for Apple Watch, and we're getting an App Store right on our wrist. It's time for us to get third-party faces too.

Detail from Apple Watch developer documentation
Detail from Apple Watch developer documentation


We can't truly imagine how hard it was to develop watchOS for the Apple Watch in the first place. And, true, if it ever came to a choice of what Apple should devote its time to, we'd have to say that International Emergency Calling or other health monitoring features are a bit more important than a new Watch face.

Only, that original Apple Watch came out four years ago. It was revealed five years ago. And throughout that time, Apple has been very clear on how it understands the importance of Watch faces.

Back at this year's WWDC, Kevin Lynch even chose to start his whole presentation about the new watchOS 6 by talking about faces.

"We're thrilled at how Watch is making such a difference in so many people's lives," he started. "And this is driving us to make Watch even more powerful and more personal for you."

"Now, [Watch faces] are something you interact with most every day and we have more Watch faces this year since the very first Apple Watch," he continued, but obviously didn't say anything about third-party faces at the time, or we wouldn't be talking about this today.

Kevin Lynch began his unveiling of watchOS 6 by concentrating on Watch faces
Kevin Lynch began his unveiling of watchOS 6 by concentrating on Watch faces


He then spent over a minute just taking us through the new faces that ship with watchOS 6. Your taste may vary, but even if you don't find every single one as beautiful as Apple claims, there are some that are truly gorgeous.

They're just all of them designed by Apple.

Apple's Watch faces

Apart from ones that Apple designs in conjunction with firms such as Hermes or Nike, every face is from Apple. If you're a developer, you can scour Apple's documentation, you won't find a mention of being able to design a face. You can do just about anything else you can think of, down to manipulating what happens with the Digital Crown, but faces are off the table.

Which has always been a bit of a pity. True, you can be totally certain that if Apple opened up faces to developers, there would be a flood of truly, truly dreadful options right alongside all the gorgeous ones.

If that's why Apple is keeping people away from its faces, then fine, we know Apple is very conscious of its aesthetics. Even if you can't tell that from some of the utter rubbish iOS games that litter the App Store.

Left: a practical Watch face. Middle: both practical and artistic. Right: the new App Store where faces could surely be sold
Left: a practical Watch face. Middle: both practical and artistic. Right: the new App Store where faces could surely be sold


And it's the App Store that makes us think it's time for Apple to give up on this exclusivity. Right after showing us new Watch faces, and before anyone got into the health features of watchOS 6, Kevin Lynch wanted to talk to us about App Stores.

First he spoke of Apple's moves to help developers, to get them "great new tools and APIs to build great apps for Apple Watch."

Then he touted how developers could make apps that are entirely independent of the iPhone, that could have greater and longer access to sensor data.

"So, with new developer tools and a new native UI framework coming this year, we are enabling a whole new generation of apps for Apple Watch," he said. :Now, to make it even easier for you to discover these apps, we are excited to bring the App Store to Apple Watch."

"You can browse apps curated by our editorial team, or find favourite apps like Head Space or Carrot Weather, or Streaks, the Nike Run Club," he continued. "You can search the full App Store using dictation or scribble or just asking Siri." You can search that App Store any way you like, you're still not going to get any third-party faces.

Why not?

Apple hasn't said as much, but the reasoning why it isn't allowing third-party faces at this point is likely down to battery life. Complications need data, and need sensors. The more data that the watch is collecting from the internet or its own sensors, the more battery power it needs to do so, and the shorter life that the Apple Watch has.

Battery chemistry and physics are remorseless, and physical volume for a battery in the Apple Watch is finite. Anything that Apple includes for a feature, they have to consider the battery life impact. Barring some revolution in battery creation, we're probably stuck with that about 250mAh battery in the Apple Watch for some time to come.

Developers come and go

Unlike the enormous, instantaneous success of the iPhone and iPad, app developers have not exactly stuck around with the Apple Watch. They came, they saw, and in a great many cases, they left again.

Major apps, such as eBay, tried Apple Watch and then quit it
Major apps, such as eBay, tried Apple Watch and then quit it


Presumably Apple thinks that these "new developer tools" will bring companies back to developing apps for the App Store.

Hopefully that will happen, but if you want companies to pay attention to the Apple Watch, let them create new Watch faces. They don't have to be imitation Rolex-style faces, they don't have to be gorgeous artwork with regular Watch hands on them. They don't automatically have to be copyright-infringing Disney knockoffs that leave Apple's App Store team with more policing to do.

They could be practical, and useful. Imagine a To Do app where the developer isn't stuck with displaying your tasks solely in a small window or in one of those circular icons. Imagine manufacturers who make watch straps being able to do matching faces -- just as Apple does, and works with Nike and Hermes to do so too.

When we first had the Apple Watch, it's as if it were a near-miracle that it worked at all. Alongside the small size, there was the smaller storage space, and that handing of functions to the iPhone. Now, so much more and more, the Apple Watch is its own independent device. Apple touts that fact, even as it tends not to emphasize how much more storage space is in the Apple Watch Series 5.

And now that we can have an always-on display while reportedly keeping the 18-hour battery life, we at least have a little wriggle room on that too.

It seems like nearly everybody wants that always-on display, though probably everyone actually wants an always-on display that doesn't dim. Nonetheless, now that battery life is not such a crushing constraint on the Apple Watch, it's time to open things up.

It's time to open up the Apple Watch to third-party face developers, and if that means we choose to lose some charge time in the day, it's our choice. And Apple knows it.

Keep up with AppleInsider by downloading the AppleInsider app for iOS, and follow us on YouTube, Twitter @appleinsider and Facebook for live, late-breaking coverage. You can also check out our official Instagram account for exclusive photos.
applesnoranges
«13

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 46
    Agreed. I can see a Watch face where it's basically just a bunch (or well, a couple) of faders for whatever smart lights you want to control. Swipe over from your main (actual time focused) face to that controller face for way faster access to such features.

    Also, you may want to take another pass at this sentence: "They're just all of them designed by Apple."
    cornchipwatto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 46
    Good piece William.  Pretty much spot on.  I think it's way past time for Apple to open up to 3rd party faces.  Like the regular App Store, I think Apple should open it up and let the market decide what's good and what's not.  
    You said: True, you can be totally certain that if Apple opened up faces to developers, there would be a flood of truly, truly dreadful options right alongside all the gorgeous ones.

    That's true right now, even without 3rd party faces.  Some of the Apple faces are gorgeous, but some of them are butt ugly as well.  It would be no different with 3rd parties

    You said: but the reasoning why it isn't allowing third-party faces at this point is likely down to battery life. Complications need data, and need sensors. The more data that the watch is collecting from the internet or its own sensors, the more battery power it needs to do so, and the shorter life that the Apple Watch has.

    Just like Apple sets parameters in the App Store, they could do the same in the Watch Store.  Those who abuse the battery can be reined by Apple, but more importantly judged by consumers with negative reviews of their face(s).  Market correction.  

    You said: knockoffs that leave Apple's App Store team with more policing to do.

    Of course that's going to happen.  It always has and probably always will.  That's part of the cost of doing business.  With the Watch Store in it's infancy, I don't think it would be that bad really.  

    applesnorangesberndog
  • Reply 3 of 46
    Never gonna happen. The face is part of the branding and fashion of the watch. They don't want bad faces out there muddying the uniform appeal.

    I'm not saying that the faces couldn't be better, but they could be much, much worse out of their control.
    StrangeDayslkruppmdriftmeyermac_dognetroxuraharaDeelronmacplusplusmwhitebluefire1
  • Reply 4 of 46
    I have been saying this since the first Apple Watch. Apple needs to facilitate a watch face store so people can purchase branded, stylized watch faces that reflect individual interests. The commerce would be huge.

    I think they already have some decent solutions for functionality with the complications. The quality that’s really lacking with the watch faces is culture and personality.
    applesnorangesberndogbadmonkwatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 46
    Is it forbidden to make an app that displays the time and other data that might otherwise be shown on an officially sanctioned watch face?
  • Reply 6 of 46
    I’m not sweating the loss of apps like Ebay. I don’t manage my listings from a watch — but I do want to get notifications when they have activity. That’s exactly what AW does with Ebay now (notifications from the phone app) and all it needs to. Devs just realized that. 
    edited September 17 gregoriusmapplesnorangesrandominternetpersonmacpluspluscaladanianpscooter63watto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 46
    If Apple is keeping third-party developers out because they want to keep the standards for aesthetics high (my personal theory), the answer is to be very blunt about arbitrary standards for the App Store acceptance. "Faces are accepted on the highly subjective standards of our design department. Most faces will be declined. Spend time developing at your own risk."
    cornchipwatto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 46
    Is it forbidden to make an app that displays the time and other data that might otherwise be shown on an officially sanctioned watch face?
    No, but an app isn't a watch face. It will function differently. Unless you force the last app used to always display, it won't show up when you wake your watch. And every time you use another app, you'll have to relaunch your not-face app to get it to display again.
    retrogusto
  • Reply 9 of 46
    dewmedewme Posts: 2,198member
    I can only guess that Apple sees the watch faces as integral to the product and its branding and identity as a watch that competes in the watch market. Technically the Apple Watch is simply a connected wrist-worn computer. At some level just about every modern electronic device from TVs to medical diagnostic equipment to connected appliances are also a "computer" at heart, but the manufacturer has decided to constrain some of the aspects and qualities of the product to fit and convey a specific purpose. Apple must feel that the watch face is something they want to constrain to match their assigned definition of their watch product. However, I would not be surprised if they eventually relent, as they've done with keyboards, styluses, and attachable peripherals on the iPad.
    applesnorangespscooter63cornchipwatto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 46
    I would have imagined that by now an Apple sanctioned full featured custom face builder would be available - choose the colors, background, size and styles of fonts and hands, then add various complications. The more I thought about it I realized that it may not exist because people could duplicate copyright protected watch faces such as a Rolex and that  Apple could be held liable for infringement.
    applesnorangescornchipwatto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 46
    If Apple wanted to show some leeway, it could allow developers to submit new watch faces that are selected and displayed using the built-in watch app. Apple could even agree to pay these developers based on the percentage of times people use their faces. In fact this might even be the best solution for developers because most people are not going to download a new watch face app, but many will scroll through the existing face library to look for one they like.

    This solution also provides Apple with some control over the power drain of the face itself, since it's not a standalone app.

    Why didn't the article address this possibility?
  • Reply 12 of 46
    Please. No.
    right_said_fredwatto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 46
    I would be happy if Apple made an Apple Watch version of a "Goofy" watch, one that runs backwards, just like the one I had when I was a kid.  With Apple's close ties with Disney, I bet they could make that happen.
    applesnorangespscooter63watto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 46
    That’s like Rolex saying, you can purchase a watch and put whatever face on it you want, which will never happen. Sure, you can put all the diamonds you want on it but you ain’t gonna mess with the face lol. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 46
    Please. No.
    Why?  It wouldn't affect you in the slightest... unless you actually wanted one of the faces,   
    berndog
  • Reply 16 of 46
    Just no. I don't want a Watch face that's being diluted by Apple and their respected brands. I am satisifed with limited choices of watchFaces. And people who pay premium for Apple Watches should be able to show off their faces that are exclusive with their brands.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 17 of 46
    jumejume Posts: 199member
    Eric_WVGG said:
    If Apple is keeping third-party developers out because they want to keep the standards for aesthetics high (my personal theory), the answer is to be very blunt about arbitrary standards for the App Store acceptance. "Faces are accepted on the highly subjective standards of our design department. Most faces will be declined. Spend time developing at your own risk."
    Yeah the Mickey mouse face is pure aesthetics  :#   
    caladanian
  • Reply 18 of 46
    Please. No.
    Why?  It wouldn't affect you in the slightest... unless you actually wanted one of the faces,   
    But it would affect the branding of the watch. Developers don't need to get their fingers into every single aspect of a piece of Apple hardware.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 19 of 46
    My guess is that Apple is shying away from the copyright issues: they got burned once for copying the Swiss Railway Clock (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swiss_railway_clock), and don't want to be led there again by third parties.
    Deelronwatto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 46
    mjtomlinmjtomlin Posts: 2,028member
    Probably not going to happen (anytime soon). What they could do is expand what they've done with Hermes, Nike, Disney... invite certain designers and possibly even other watch companies to create their own designs and sell those on the App Store along with some of their own faces. And then cut back on the number of built-in faces.
    edited September 17 cornchip
Sign In or Register to comment.