Alternative Apple Watch Faces

Third-party Apple Watch face style and color customization UI

These are 14 functional, animated, third-party analog and digital watch face apps that run in the Apple Watch’s built-in WebKit browser (watchOS 5 + required). They download to the browser cache, use the Watch’s crystal oscillator to keep time, and can function without an Internet connection. If you wish, they can appear automatically when you raise your wrist or tap the screen. Each includes multiple colors, styles, and options, such as a high-speed Demo mode.

To access all of these faces on your Watch at once, send the Install link to yourself as an email or text message, then view that page on your Watch. You can also try these timepieces on a computer, iPhone, or iPad, or use them with an old phone or tablet as a desk or wall clock. (Safari, Chrome, or Edge browser recommended.)

Theses watch faces are experimental. They are offered as-is, intended only for entertainment, and may have bugs. I wanted to explore unusual graphic designs, artistic effects, and alternative methods of communicating time. Some of these faces show the time in ways that are not obvious until you know how to read them, but they are simple once explained.

— Morgan Adams
 AdamsImmersive.com  Twitter

Analog Watch Faces

Digital Watch Faces

Low-State Watch Faces

Low-state Apple Watch face example (Cardinal in teal)

A conventional digital watch or clock communicates 1,440 different states: 2 meridiem periods (AM/PM) × 12 hours × 60 minutes. A 12-hour analog watch shows 720 states (and many more—or infinite—with a second hand).

I wanted to try communicating the time using the fewest states possible. I have concluded that 24 states are sufficient to be useful for most everyday timekeeping purposes.

Most of these “low-state” faces reduce the hours information from 24 states to 2 by conveying only the hour parity: even or odd. Example: at 10:30 AM, these faces will only tell you that the hour is even. But your internal time sense can easily tell you that it’s not 8:30 AM, nor 12:30 PM.

Minutes information is reduced from 60 states to 12 by quantizing time to the nearest 5 minutes. (Informally, analog time is often quantized the same way: “quarter past,” “ten to.”) I have chosen not to indicate the “last-passed” 5-minute mark, but rather the nearest one. So at :44 minutes, these faces indicate “about :45“ rather than “some time after :40.”

Approximating the minutes in this way still tells useful time—but it means that these low-state faces can be up to 2.5 minutes ahead or behind at any given moment. The average error magnitude is half that—75 seconds—which is only 45 seconds worse than a perfectly-set digital watch or clock. Digital watches run behind 100% of the time. The time they display has always already passed, as much as 60 seconds previously (for watches without seconds) and their average error is half that: 30 seconds.

As an alternative to hour parity, some of these faces (and Phi above) have the option to display 12 hour-states and provide the exact hour. 12 states for hours and 12 for minutes makes 144 states total—still 1/10 as many states as a typical digital watch. And an optional AM/PM indicator on some faces provides full 24-hour time with only 288 states.

(For the half-minute between 2.5 and 3 minutes past a 5-minute mark, these low-state faces may appear to be rounding incorrectly when compared with a digital watch. At 12:02:35, for example, a digital watch without seconds shows 12:02, making the nearest 5-minute mark seem to be 12:00. But digital watches are always behind. These low-state faces correctly round up to 12:05, which is the actual nearest mark.)

Tips

Each of these faces is a tiny web page, because web pages are officially supported on Apple Watch. You start by sending a link to yourself in Messages or Mail, and receiving the link on your Watch. As a result, there are some quirks and disadvantages compared with Apple’s own watch faces: the top bar (with “Close” button) cannot be currently be hidden, there are no complications other than those custom-built into certain faces, and the customization UI can be a little awkward. With a Watch display set to “Always On,” these faces blur and display a digital clock whenever the screen is dimmed. These faces have primarily been tested with watchOS 6 and the 44mm Apple Watch. Full native support for third-party watch faces would be even better—you can request that feature from Apple.

The instruction “Scroll Down to Start” that appears at first is necessary to hide the Watch browser’s URL bar. You can then tap the face to bring up options and colors. Tap the face again to dismiss the options when you’re done. (If you accidentally scroll the watch face or reveal the URL bar again, just swipe up a little then tap the face or “Start” button to automatically reset the view.)

The faces’ built-in instructions suggest setting “Wake Screen” to “Show Last App Always.” This is optional, but allows the custom face to be shown instead of Apple’s face when you wake your Watch’s screen.

You must choose whether to launch the face within Messages or Mail, since those are the only apps currently able to receive a web link and display it. I prefer using Messages, because using Mail causes your iPhone to check for new email when you view the Watch. You may not wish to check for email that often.

You can dismiss or respond to incoming messages directly in the alert without losing your custom watch face web view. But if you enter the actual Messages or Mail app on the Watch and view a different thread, to get back to the web-based watch face you will need to return to the thread where you sent yourself the link. After time passes, that old thread may no longer be shown on the Watch—in which case, you can use your iPhone to copy and paste the same link to yourself again.

To return to Apple’s watch face, simply click the Digital Crown. (Covering the Watch screen—even when it is already off—may also revert to the Apple face.) You may wish to add a complication for Messages (or Mail) to the Apple face, so you can tap it to quickly return to the custom face. Or, put the app in your Favorites in the side-button Dock (managed from the Watch app on the iPhone).

These faces can also be used as desk or wall clocks, using an old iPad or iPhone in vertical orientation. You can minimize distracting browser controls by using Dark Mode or Private Browsing mode. (Very old or non-Apple devices may or may not work.)