Here’s why Apple Watch doesn’t support third-party faces

Apple VP opens up about custom Watch faces and their continued absence

Apple WatchOS 10 renders
(Image credit: Apple)

Since the very first Apple Watch debuted back in 2015, many wearers have been asking the same question: why can’t we install third-party watch faces?

If you thought it’s because Apple looks down on third party faces’ lack of design nous you’re probably partially right, but it turns out there’s a technical reason too.

It’s important to note that while there’s a little cottage industry of face-changing apps in the App Store, they’re not genuine alternatives to proper faces. They can’t take advantage of the always-on display, for example, and the ones I’ve looked at for app reviews have been buggy.

So, unlike the best smartwatches for Android users, there’s no way to install good quality, custom watch faces because Apple’s wearable simply doesn’t support them.

Speaking to Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger, Apple VP of technology, Kevin Lynch,
and product marketing specialist, Deirdre Caldbeck, shed some light on the reasons why Apple doesn’t want other people’s faces on your wrist unless they’re photos.

Why Apple doesn’t support third party Apple Watch faces

Lynch stuck to the corporate practice of talking about how much effort Apple puts into its products, but he did add that third-party faces were a problem for two reasons: uniformity and compatibility.

While Apple’s own faces may look different, they all work in the same way, so you get that “it just works” vibe as you’re experimenting with different ones. Plus, when Apple introduces a new OS, you won’t find your favourite face unable to do what it did before the update.

Apple’s approach is to make the watch faces themselves an Apple-only affair, but to let app developers do their thing via complications - the little icons and information strips that you can add to most Apple Watch faces. When they’re good they’re very good - my current Watch face has a whopping eight complications on it, covering everything from my shopping list to the weather forecast and my smart home controls – but as you probably know, you can’t access the same complications or have the same number on every Apple Watch face. 

One change that is coming, however, is a big revamp to the Apple Watch interface in watchOS 10. New Smart Stack widgets will enable you to add up to three complications, and there will be some new faces too including the cute Snoopy one.

Maybe this will be enough for those clamouring for more choice.

Carrie Marshall

Writer, musician and broadcaster Carrie Marshall has been covering technology since 1998 and is particularly interested in how tech can help us live our best lives. Her CV is a who’s who of magazines, newspapers, websites and radio programmes ranging from T3, Techradar and MacFormat to the BBC, Sunday Post and People’s Friend. Carrie has written more than a dozen books, ghost-wrote two more and co-wrote seven more books and a Radio 2 documentary series. When she’s not scribbling, she’s the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR (