Stray lines of code in new Apple operating systems sometimes provide hints as to what the company is working on, and the latest watchOS 4.3.1 beta may have leaked something exciting: support for third-party Apple Watch faces.
As discovered by 9to5Mac, the NanoTimeKit developer framework contains a message reading, “This is where the 3rd party face config bundle generation would happen.” The language seems fairly clear, describing a not-yet-implemented “3rd party face” feature without further support in the beta.
Apple’s decision to launch the original Apple Watch without downloadable watch faces was only a little less perplexing than its continued lack of support for the feature. Competing watches have supported third-party faces for years, generating robust and sometimes beautiful alternatives. The ability to customize a fully digital watch with a face of one’s choice seemed like a given.
However, Apple’s limited face approach let it use new watchOS and hardware releases as upgrade incentives. Special faces are included with the Apple Watch Nike+ and Hermès variants, but cannot be downloaded to otherwise physically identical Apple Watches.
Most watchOS 4.3 users today have access to 18 different faces, including Photos, which fills the screen with a static image of your choice from your iPhone’s photo library. Users can also tweak “complications” — tiny on-screen elements containing numbers, text, or icons — to change, say, a persistent display of temperature to a remaining battery or alarm indicator. Apple has added several new faces to the Apple Watch with annual major releases of watchOS.
The prospect of third-party faces implies a watch face store, and if the App Store and iPhone ringtones models are repeated, an effort to sell rather than give away the next round of user-selected content. Should the feature debut, it is highly likely that Apple will treat the watch faces as miniature apps, complete with a new SDK for developers. Some have speculated that Apple will use third-party faces as a tentpole feature of watchOS 5.0, which is due in June.
— Steve Troughton-Smith (@stroughtonsmith) April 16, 2018
But well-known iOS developer Steven Troughton-Smith cautioned this morning that the code string might not be what it seems. With Apple’s annual developer conference WWDC less than two months away, we’ll have a definitive answer on this soon enough.