What Ambient Apple Watch Faces Might Look Like

Posted by Matt Birchler
β€” 2 min read

One of the things on the very short list of things that Android Wear has over the Apple Watch right now is the ability to have always-on watch faces. All smart watches light up when you lift them to your face, but sometimes that's not enough. If you want a smart watch that is always on, Android Wear has the advantage.

But there are rumors that Apple is going to add this ability to a future watchOS update and I wanted to take a stab at figuring out what Apple will do to the watch faces we know and love to make them more "always on" friendly. Here's a few of my considerations:

  1. You need to minimize the number of lit pixels. Less pixels lit up = less battery drain.
  2. An ambient watch face should not animate. Remove or simplify any elements that currently animate.
  3. Seamlessness. You don't want the shift from ambient mode to active mode to be jarring, so they should be very similar, with each element remaining in place in both versions.

Let's get onto the watch faces! Please note that I only did 3 watch faces to get an idea for what changes might be made, but I think you'll have a good idea for what the other watch faces could look like given these rules.


Utility has a lot of details on the face, so we had to get rid of everything not completely necessary. The most notable removal is the seconds hand which renders at 60 frames per second when the screen is turned on. This is beautiful, but unnecessary in ambient mode. Removing the seconds hand and having the minutes hand update once a minute greatly reduces the refresh rate.

Next was removing as many pixels as possible so the ambient mode as as few on as possible. The date, notifications light, and most of the numbers and markers got the axe.


Solar has much less going on than the previous watch faces, so trimming it down was easier. The first task was removing the bright blue glow from around the sun icon. That reduced the total number of lit pixels by over half on its own. The rest was just dimming the bright whites to a muted grey.


This one was the easiest of all. The only element omitted is the notification light at the top, and then the rest of the screen is desaturated and dimmed.