Historically, Apple has resisted allowing third-party developers to create and release custom watch faces for Apple Watch, instead electing to add to its stock options for watch faces in successive iterations of the device’s operating system, such as the Siri and kaleidoscope watch faces introduced in watchOS 4.
However, a log message in watchOS 4.3.1 beta, unearthed by 9to5Mac, suggests Apple may be considering the possibility in a future version of Apple Watch software. As part of its NanoTimeKit framework which provides developer access to watch face components, the beta includes references to a currently inactive developer tools server that will likely allow communication with Xcode on macOS.
Within this portion of code is a log message that reads: “This is where the 3rd party face config bundle generation would happen.”
Whether or not Apple decides to implement the missing feature for watchOS 5 or in a later version is unknown, but the mere mention of third-party face configuration will likely be cause for hope for anyone longing for additional personalization beyond the existing color-adjustable stock options, custom “Photo” watch face, and accompanying third-party watch complications.
On the other hand, any such hope could prove misplaced given Apple’s traditional reluctance to open up the most outward-facing aspects of its operating systems to third parties (such as the lock and home screens in iOS, for example). Apple imposes strict limits on changes to major interface elements out of a concern that they guarantee a high level of usability, stability and security, and it’s hard to imagine the company casting aside those principles.
It’s worth noting that Apple tends to reject third-party Apple Watch apps that closely duplicate existing functions, as per its developer guidelines, although whether watch faces would come under this provision remains unclear. At any rate, while Apple welcomes “creative ways of expressing time as an app interface”, currently it does not allow apps that look like watch faces.
Meanwhile, rival smartwatch operating systems like FitbitOS and Android Wear have allowed users to install third-party watch faces on their devices for some time, but the design and usability standard on offer is highly variable and Apple isn’t likely to warm to the idea unless it can enforce a consistent means of quality control.
Apple is expected to release the fifth version of watchOS and iOS 12 at the Worldwide Developers Conference in June.
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