Complications for Apple Watch

One of the many appealing features of the current generation of smart watches is the ability to tailor the device to your own preference.

Turning specifically to the Apple Watch there’s a decent amount customisation available. We can obviously install our favourite apps, we can adjust which should be seen at a glance, we can tweak how we want to be notified and we can choose from a number of different watch faces and vary the information (called ‘Complications’) displayed on each.

The Apple Watch ’watch face’ topic has been discussed at length in the developer community over the last fortnight or so. Specifically the desire for Apple to allow developers to build custom watch faces for the Apple Watch. John Gruber responded to the issues at play and summarised that he doesn’t expect Apple to open this aspect of the Apple Watch any time soon.

After spending 24 hours with the Apple Watch I agree. I don’t want to build watch faces for the Apple Watch as the current range provides a more than adequate level of variation and personalisation. While I say this I do expect Apple to offer more options over time as the watch evolves.

As a developer, what excites me the most is the opportunity to create ‘complications’ for these Apple designed watch faces.

A ‘complication’, according to Wikipedia, “refers to any feature in a timepiece beyond the simple display of hours and minutes.” With the Apple Watch the complications that can be added to the face include an Alarm, Moon Phase, Timer, Calendar, Stocks, Weather, Activity, Stopwatch, World Clock and Sunrise/Sunset. Extending this set to third party apps would unlock a sea of other options and in turn render the Apple Watch face the most informationally powerful single screen in modern tech.

These tiny information tidbits would be exceptionally hard to design. The allowed visual space is minuscule ensuring that each complication will have to not only be succinct with the information it displayed but also be distinguishable as to which app it relates. Only a very small subset of apps will be suited for such space.

I’ve taken some time to illustrate my thoughts. I’ve grabbed my favourite apps and imagined what a complication may look like for each.

MLB at Bat

A complication for MLB at Bat could show the score of the current game your favourite team is playing. A simple tap could switch to the time/date/opponent of the next game.


Things could use a complication to show your next to-do. A tap marks it complete and brings forth the next on the list.


ETA could use a complication to show the estimated time you’re due to arrive at your favourite location. A tap could toggle between home and work.


A complication would serve Overcast well, providing the user detail on the time remaining on the current podcast episode.

What we’re seeing with the apps available today for the Apple Watch is very much a first step. As the device matures and as developers learn its capabilities we’ll see some amazing apps arrive. Whether third party complications see the light of day or not is yet to be seen. Either way I look forward to what the future holds for the Apple Watch including what is released by the development community working with it.

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