Why are Apple Watch faces such a mess?

Jason Snell, writing at Macworld:

It takes time to get a new operating system up and running. With watchOS 5, it feels like Apple has finally addressed most of the rough edges. Apps are more powerful; devices are more capable of acting on their own without the aid of an iPhone. I can understand why other features trumped the prioritization of watch faces, but it’s time. Apple needs to really revisit how it approaches watch faces.

Since the day the Apple Watch was announced, developers have clamored for the opportunity to design custom watch faces. That may never happen — there are plenty of reasons for Apple to consider the face designs sacred and something the company must control itself. But if Apple insists on having a monopoly on face design, it’s incumbent on the company to be a better steward of those faces.

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It takes time to get a new operating system up and running. With watchOS 5, it feels like Apple has finally addressed most of the rough edges. Apps are more powerful; devices are more capable of acting on their own without the aid of an iPhone. I can understand why other features trumped the prioritization of watch faces, but it’s time. Apple needs to really revisit how it approaches watch faces.

Since the day the Apple Watch was announced, developers have clamored for the opportunity to design custom watch faces. That may never happen—there are plenty of reasons for Apple to consider the face designs sacred and something the company must control itself. But if Apple insists on having a monopoly on face design, it’s incumbent on the company to be a better steward of those faces.

Every face needs to be modernized and support the new complication styles, at least on Series 4. Key system apps and features like Messages and cellular status should be available on all faces. Every face design should be more flexible.

And moving forward, Apple should allow developers even more power in building complications. Complications should be able to appear when they have something to say and disappear when they don’t—for example, I’d love for a Timer complication to appear when I’m running a timer, but the rest of the time I’d rather not see it. If complications truly are the best face of Apple Watch apps, the developers of those apps need more power to build good ones.

Watch Faces are the face of watchOS. The complications on them are the face of every watchOS app. The design and implementation of Apple Watch faces needs to be more than an afterthought.

Roger Stringer spends most of his time solving problems for people, and otherwise occupying himself with being a dad, cooking, speaking, learning, writing, reading, and the overall pursuit of life. He lives in Penticton, British Columbia, Canada