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The Face of watchOS

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.

via AppleInsider

Man, I hope Apple doesn’t do this.

I know, it’s conventional wisdom that third-party watch faces would be the best thing since the Destiny’s Child reunion. But I think it would be a terrible mistake.

Designing a good watch face takes time and expertise. If you look at all the faces Apple shipped with the original watchOS, you can see they were all obviously painstakingly thought-out and implemented with care. Check out the custom animations in each one. The attention to detail. Even the faces I tend to never use are at least well-crafted. And there was a nice balance there between the more traditional and modern. More serious and playful.

It’s telling that of all the watch faces Apple has shipped since, only the Explorer is anywhere near the same quality of that original batch. All the others are either derivatives of the originals (e.g. Toy Story, Minnie Mouse, Timelapse), obvious examples of engineering over design (Siri, Activity), or complete WTF? (Kaleidoscope).

If Apple can’t even make good watch faces, what makes us think that random third-parties are going to do a good job?

Now that Jony Ive is back to paying attention to design at Apple again, what I’d like to see them do instead is contract out some experts in watch face design from the industry and have them work with the engineering team to add four or five really good new faces every year. Problem solved.

Flooding the market with crap, as we’ve seen in the App Store time and time again, would do more harm than good.

Do people really want the App Store to be overrun with “20 Awesome Watch Faces” apps?

Take a look at the Android Wear market, if you want a bird’s-eye view into exactly how hideous watch faces can get.

Sure, there may be the occasional winner. But I doubt it’ll be worth the effort of sifting through the garbage.

And given that there’s no way to charge directly for a watchOS app, there will be no financial incentive for anyone with skill to make faces, anyway. So then what? Watch faces with ads? Brand logos from Starbucks, MacDonald’s? It’s bad enough we’ve already got Nike logos.

So what, Joe? Just don’t use any of the third-party faces.

The watch face is the face of watchOS. Imagine Apple allowing third-parties to design macOS’s window style. (Yes, they allowed that many years ago, and it was a design crime of epic proportions.)

When Series 0 was introduced, people made fun of Apple’s attempt to make an elegant fashion timepiece. Apple has since retreated a bit into marketing Apple Watch primarily as an exercise device. I’d hate to see them cede the elegance altogether.

If Apple Watch is going to grow, it’s going to eventually have to get beyond the niche of exercise enthusiasts. That means it has to look good when you’re wearing something other than spandex.

Apple Watch needs to be respected.

I know when I’m wearing my stainless steel Series 3 I’m not wearing an Omega, Breitling, or Rolex. But I do want something that’s going to look nice with a button-down shirt or a suit. Turning the face of the watch into a third-party bottom-feeder billboard isn’t going to help.

Can you imagine Omega letting any Tom, Dick, and Harry design their watch faces?

I’m hoping against hope this was an idea tossed around for a few months, but now that Jony is back it’ll be emphatically squashed. It probably won’t be, but I’m going to keep hoping, anyway.