We all know that when you buy into the iOS ecosystem, you’re restricted to installing what Apple has deemed “fit and appropriate” for its devices. Compared to more open operating systems like Android, iOS can sometimes feel like you’re being strangled with a straight-jacket. Unfortunately for Apple Watch users — and probably fortunately for the design tastes of Apple VP Jony Ive — you won’t be able to install your own third-party watch faces on the Apple Watch.
Apple has updated its App Store Review Guidelines for the Apple Watch, and it states “Watch Apps whose primary function is telling time will be rejected.” That means that you won’t be seeing any third-party watch faces for the Apple Watch anytime soon, and possibly not until the native SDK lands later this year. And even then, it’s not a given that Apple will allow third-party watch faces to be added.
Apple does state, however:
Apple Watch includes a variety of watch faces, any of which you can customize to suit you. Check frequently for software updates; the set of watch faces that follows might differ from what you see on your Apple Watch.
Apple offers roughly a dozen or so “base” watch faces with the Apple Watch, which can then be tweaked to your liking. But that’s still a rather limited number of designs in this day and age. Although I can understand Apple’s walled garden approach to a certain extent, a watch is a very personal device. I’d say it’s even more personal than a smartphone — whereas most of can’t live without a smartphone, we consciously make the decision to wear a watch (or smartwatch) — usually for style reasons these days.
Daring Fireball’s John Gruber explains this in a very Jony Ive-esque way:
There is no way to set up a watch face that is ugly, or that doesn’t look very Apple-Watch-y. Even the Mickey face looks like an Apple Watch Mickey face, because of the San Francisco font on the hour markers and the complications. That is by design, and I don’t see that changing.
If we turn our attention to Android Wear, Google has made it easy for developers to add custom watch faces to devices like the Motorola Moto 360 and ASUS ZenWatch. Want a watch face that displays your favorite sports team? You can probably find it available for download. Want to have some funky abstract or art deco watch face for your G Watch R? Go for it! Want to design your own watch face to show off to friends? Your wish is Google’s command.
Perhaps Apple will show a change of heart as Apple Watch popularity increases, but for now, consider your personalization options limited.