When the Apple Watch was first released in 2014, many speculated that the tech giant’s entry into the wearable market would fail. While the first iteration performed better than skeptics expected, Apple has been working hard to round out the timepiece and build a remarkable piece of technology. However, they are still missing one big piece to the puzzle.
Custom Watch Faces.
Where are the custom Watch Faces? I was lucky enough to get to play around with the Apple Watch when it first released, as my dad is a developer and purchased one to make his projects wrist compatible. If you were like me and got to play with WatchOS 1.0, it left a lot to be wanted. Over the last couple years Apple has intelligently and successfully corrected many of the short sighted decisions that plagued the first release. They moved computing to the device itself which maximized speeds, and refocused the use of the crown side button to offer a more intuitive experience. Apple additionally made impressive fitness improvements, and even expanded the capability and compatibility of complications that third party apps can add to the Watch Faces.
Complications are not enough. They only give developers the ability to add information to existing Watch Faces, and do not provide any avenue for unique or new faces from creative minds outside Apple. I know some of the watch owners out there will bring up the custom photos you can set as your watch face, but this only offers extremely limited options, and the only possibility of an animated face is if you happen to have a Live Photo. You can choose to have your digital time readout on the upper right-hand, or lower right-hand corner with only two possible complication spots, one above and one below the time readout. This is hardly an option for custom Watch Faces, though some do try to make it work.
Apple has continued to add new Watch Face options to their device, but the most recent ones fall short of impressing. Early Watch faces had the trademark Apple ingenuity and creativity. The Astronomy Watch Face for example, provides an accurate solar system model with the option to also show the Earth or Moon, complete with real-time light simulations. The Timelapse face is beautiful, seamless and features some incredible locations. The Toy Story watch face is fun and marks a cute callback to Steve Job’s bid on Pixar. However this years additions, Liquid Metal, Kaleidoscope, Vapor, and Fire & Water, were essentially a few textures that you can customize the shapes of. It was a massive, and disappointing drop in quality from previous faces, such as Solar which tracked the position of the sun in the sky in real time.
In addition to the disappointment of the new faces, there have been no additions to older Watch Faces. Apple even missed a massive opportunity to include a Timelapse of the High Sierra on the wrist to match their MacOS release. Are they losing their touch? The only planets available in the Astronomy face remain the same since its first release, and the incredible Motion Watch Face still has only three options. What about a bird flying in suspended motion? This is a disappointing missed opportunity for the tech giant, and it seems to have been an oversight in their usual attention to detail.
Why can’t developers add Watch Faces to Apps?
Beyond the neglected Watch Faces, I think the ability for developers to build their own custom faces is another huge missed opportunity. Apple has often been late to the game for developers, which has always been very disappointing. From iOS 1.0 not having an App Store, to the Apple TV which took almost 10 years to finally allow programmers the ability to develop for it. Their history of neglecting their strongest asset is especially confusing when they implement great new territory for developers such as iMessaging, allowing programmers to enhance communication and build games for users to play while texting.
Apple probably has some valid concerns, but they just need a little bit of that patent innovation. I think one of the biggest fears may be a tendency for some creators to strive for quantity over quality. However, there is a simple solution for this. Limit one developer created Watch Face, per Watch enabled App. This way developers are encouraged to design a companion Watch Face to the theme of their Watch App, and if a user has a lot of Watch Apps, Apple can provide organization with a Custom Watch Face management page such as they already do with Watch Apps, and iMessage Apps.
Apple has never strayed from complicating their platform a little more to bring new options and features to consumers. From iMessage apps, to adding the ringtone store to iTunes back in 2009.
They have already built a wonderful platform for quick actions, communication, and impressive health tracking. If they could take one more step and let developers build beautiful Watch Faces, I think the expensive timepiece will finally come full circle.