Third-party watch faces for smartwatches allow users to express more of themselves while also letting them have a bit more fun with their tech. The Apple Watch already has a number of Apple-made watch faces, many of which are customizable, but third-party developers haven’t been able to make their own. A report from 9to5Mac suggests that might change soon, thanks to code found in watchOS 4.3.1 hinting at third-party watch face compatibility.
The interesting log message states: “This is where the 3rd party face config bundle generation would happen.” It’s part of the NanoTimeKit framework in the wearable software beta, which gives developers access to watch face components. While the feature doesn’t appear to be active yet, it seems to refer to an inactive developer tool server that may allow communication with Xcode on macOS.
It’s unclear if Apple would make this feature active in watchOS 5, the next version of the Apple Watch’s software that’s expected to be announced at WWDC this June. Even if Apple doesn’t announce it as a feature in watchOS 5, the mere mention of it means it’s possible that the company would allow third-party developers to create clock faces for its wearable some time in the future.
Third-party watch faces are staples for most smartwatches, as they allow both developers and users to get creative with the default screen. Wearable operating systems including Garmin’s OS, Fitbit OS, and Wear OS all have numerous third-party watch faces to choose from. Apple, however, has never allowed third-party developers to create watch faces for the Apple Watch. While some existing options derive content from other sources, like the Photos app for the custom Photo face or a Disney collaboration for the watch faces, those are all still Apple-created designs.
Apple prefers to control most user-facing design features of its software, which is likely why the company hasn’t allowed third-party watch faces yet. Considering the code found in watchOS 4.3.1 appears to be a placeholder, Apple may be figuring out how to best implement third-party watch faces to give developers the freedom they’ve been craving while also maintaining a level of clarity and usability in its flagship wearable.