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Commentary Wearable Tech

It's time for the Apple Watch to get a watch face store

Commentary: It's long overdue. And it would fill the gap left by the apps leaving the Apple Watch.

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More, please.

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Apple's WWDC developer conference arrived with lots of news on the Apple Watch, and plenty of upgrades in WatchOS 5. But there's one thing still missing. A big thing. The thing I want most of all: a watch face store. It needs to happen, and it needs to happen now.

And it's not... yet. It's the most obvious, necessary upgrade the Apple Watch needs next. It's inevitable that Apple will make it happen, someday. But when?

I like watch faces. A lot. In fact, it's the main reason I love smartwatches. The fun of a watch is how you can change the face. Show off something new. Make it feel different.

Unfortunately, the Apple Watch has a tiny number of available faces. Mickey and Minnie Mouse are probably the most famous, and Apple adds a few more each year -- but they're limiting. I'm bored with them. And customization is limited: You can set your own photo as the background, but you can't add any complications.

Compare that to the new Fitbit Versa. I've gotten a kick out of wearing it mainly because of its insane watch face store. There are hundreds of watch faces to browse. It's a rogues' gallery, a weird bunch of enthusiast designs. Many of the Versa's watch faces are awful. Some are wonderful. Plenty are worth exploring for a day or two. (Look at some examples in the lengthy Twitter thread above.) But the presence of Fitbit's watch face store makes the Fitbit Versa a better watch.

There were signs that Apple may be pivoting: As 9to5Mac reported last month, support for third-party watch faces seemed to be embedded in the code for the latest beta version of Watch OS 4. (Veteran Apple source-code watcher Steve Troughton-Smith noted on Twitter that it may not mean a watch face store is on the way, and he was indeed correct.)

I'm sure Apple doesn't want a steaming river of watch-face-app vomit to ruin the aesthetics of what makes the Watch work. But there's another way around the problem: curate the developers. The Nintendo Switch is a solid example. A flood of games come through Nintendo's Switch catalog, but it seems to have a solid ratio of hits to misses. Or maybe Apple would limit which watch faces were approved for its own watch face store, as it already does in the App Store. I wouldn't mind that, at first. But I just want more variety.

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Watch faces, in fact, should replace most of my necessary apps. Apps on smartwatches largely feel like a dead idea, anyway. Many big third-party apps have already departed from the Apple Watch completely: Amazon, eBay and Google Maps are gone, as is Instagram. That's fine by me: I rarely use the apps I have on the Apple Watch, unless there's an easy way for me to shortcut to them on my watch face. (Are you sensing a pattern yet?)

I use the Apple Watch mainly for notifications, for fitness tracking, to listen to music, to check bits of info, and tell the time. Anything that shows me information quickly and looks cool is what I want. Watch faces are my apps. And for the Apple Watch, watch faces should be the new apps.

Speciality designer-made watch faces, activity-specific ones, ones that can be even more customized. Yes, yes and yes. Bring it all. Let the Apple Watch finally adopt as many watch face personalities as the bands I can strap onto it. The recently released Pride watch face is a great example. It matches Apple's new band. Why not do this more, or at least offer a lot more options?

It didn't happen at WWDC, but it still needs to happen. Someday. Soon. Because I'm getting pretty bored with the watch faces on tap right now.

(Updated June 6, 2018 at 1:19 p.m. after Apple's developer conference keynote revealed that there is still no watch face store.)

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