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Apple Watch Face Legibility

In a post on Marco.org, Overcast developer Marco Arment critiques the design of many of the current Apple Watch faces. Using a variety of analog watches as references, Arment highlights the design elements that make them legible, few of which are followed by Apple’s faces:

Across a wide variety of brands, styles, and price points, a few key design principles are clear:

  • The hour markers for 12 (and often 3/6/9) are more prominent.
  • The hour indices are much larger than the minute markings.
  • The hour hands nearly touch the hour indices.

These all improve legibility by making it as fast and easy as possible to know which hour is being indicated (and minimize the chance of an off-by-one error), first by orienting your eyes to the current rotation with the 12 marker, then by minimizing the distance between the hour hand and the indices it’s between.

Arment is especially critical of the Infograph face, which is so hard to read that many people have resorted to using a digital time complication with it. He concludes that it’s time for Apple to allow third parties to create watch faces.

We covered our Apple Watch faces on AppStories this week, and both Federico and I noted that we use a digital time complication with the Infograph watch face because the hands are so hard to read. As Arment’s piece points out, that isn’t uncommon, but it shouldn’t be necessary and is a pretty clear indication that the design is flawed. I’ve been happy with the Series 4 Watch’s support for more complications, but I also want more face options and flexibility across watch faces. It's time for Apple to re-evaluate its current watch faces and reconsider letting developers create faces of their own.