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Third-Party Faces Should Be A Thing

Third-Party Faces Should Be A Thing

April 28, 2015

Scott Stein, CNET:

I’ll throw in one more thought here: watch faces. Apple’s set of ten look great and can incorporate some at-a-glance data (calendar appointments, fitness, battery life), but third-party watch faces or ones that knit in extra data like sports scores or tweets, or anything else, could help the watch feel more efficient, too. Apple hasn’t announced any plans for a watch face store or extra watch face features yet, but down the road watch faces could end up being an even bigger game-changer than the apps.

It’s been my contention since the beginning that third-party Faces need to happen, as they represent several unique opportunities for eager customers, burgeoning developers, and potential Apple competitors alike.

I’m not sure that custom Faces — or Stein’s intriguing and practical idea of Faces-as-apps (with app-specific Complications always on display the second you raise your wrist) — would actually end up being a bigger deal than the more traditional app market on Apple Watch, but it would be a compelling and useful feature for users. I think there’s some decent money to be made there, too. And if other smartwatch ecosystems are any indication, aftermarket Faces could easily have the largest App Store presence by volume.

Why Apple doesn’t already allow these obvious, sure-to-be-popular embellishments isn’t exactly clear, but it’s likely a combination of the following two factors:

One, Apple doesn’t yet allow third-party creations to “live” on Apple Watch. Every non-stock app that shows up there has to have an iPhone counterpart, and the iPhone simply serves certain aspects of said app to the wearable. A custom Face would need to live entirely on Apple Watch, unencumbered by the tether that early reports (including Stein’s) indicate are causing significant operational bottlenecks.

Two, Apple wants to control the narrative in terms of Apple Watch fashion. That means that, to the hyper-focused likes of Jony Ive and company, Faces have to be specifically crafted with the device’s various finishes and Bands in mind. At the very least, I expect Apple to whip up a “designer guidelines” manual for the world full of Faces artists, and I think they’ll spend a great deal of time curating these artists’ works lest some really “ugly” examples sneak through to the App Store and “tarnish” the brand. There’s always counterfeits to watch out for, too.

Personally, the promise of such custom Faces remains firmly in my top three reasons to buy Apple Watch in general. The ever-changing aesthetics of just checking the time would make the wearable’s $350-$400 cost of entry almost worth it all on its own.

More importantly, without custom Faces ever making it onto the platform, I’ll be hard-pressed to pick up Apple Watch 2 or 3. It’s a principle thing. And I’m probably not the only one who thinks that way.

Over the years, how many people do you suppose chose Android over iPhone solely because of the latter’s lack of easily customizable ringtones? I’m guessing it’s not an insignificant number. Faces are like that.

I just hope Apple turns mine into a smiley.