Jason Snell today published the article I've been itching to write, outlining the current mess that is Apple's watch face ecosystem. The Apple Watch in so many ways is in its best position ever, which makes the lack of coherence in Apple's watch face strategy particularly surprising.
As Apple continues to create new watch faces at a regular clip, those faces have grown more and more fragmented in what they can do. The Siri face introduced last year was an interesting new direction for watch faces, yet it remains one of a kind in many ways. The Series 4 Watch's Infograph faces come with a whole new set of complications, all of which are wonderful except that they don't work on other faces, nor do older complications work on the new faces. This lack of compatibility is frustrating enough, but what may be even more vexing is that Apple itself hasn't even provided new complications for all of its apps, only some of them – I'd love a Podcasts complication on my Infograph face, but it simply doesn't exist.
Snell offers up a handful of suggestions for where Apple should focus its watch face efforts going forward, all of which earn my total agreement. He writes:
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.
Every one of these ideas is entirely reasonable, and would go a long way toward fixing the current watch face mess. I know we just got watchOS 5, but I hope watch faces are a strong area of focus for Apple in next year's watchOS 6.