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Watch Faces for Android Wear

Developer Docs

Creating Watch Faces

Android Wear supports custom watch faces with designs that can show contextually relevant information to users. Designing a watch face requires a careful blending of data and visual elements that informs users without requiring close attention. Simple, attractive layouts that can adjust to different screen shapes and sizes, provide options for color and presentation, let users create a deeply personalized experience with the Wear device that fits them best. Watch faces exist as part of the Wear user interface, so it is important to provide interactive and ambient modes, and consider how system user interface elements will interact with your design.

Follow the guidelines in this page to design your custom watch faces.


Creative Vision

Creating a watch face for Android Wear is an exercise centered around visualizing time clearly. Android Wear devices provide a unique digital canvas to reimagine the ways in which we tell time. Android Wear also lets you integrate data on watch faces for a higher level of personalization and contextual relevance.

These powerful new tools to create watch faces run the risk of overcomplicating a design. The most successful watch face designs leverage these advanced capabilities while delivering a singular, elegant expression of information.

Glanceability is the single most important principle to consider when creating a watch face design. Your watch face designs should deliver a singular expression of time and related data. Experiment with bold, minimal, and expressive design directions that are highly readable at a distance.

Plan for Square and Round Devices

Android Wear devices come in different shapes and sizes. You will need to consider both square and round faces as well as different resolutions. Some concepts work better in a certain format, but a little planning will allow users to enjoy your watch face regardless of screen format.

These guidelines help your concepts align across devices:

Create flexible concepts

Ideally, the visual functionality of the watch face works for both round and square formats. In this example, the visual functionality of the watch face is flexible enough to work well in either format without any adjustment. However, other design concepts require different executions for square and round screens.

Use a common design language

Try using a common set of colors, line weights, shading, and other design elements to draw a visual connection between your square and round versions. By using similar color palettes and a few consistent visual elements, the overall appearance of square and round can be appropriately customized while still feeling like part of the same visual system.

Adjust for analog concepts

Some of your concepts will naturally take the shape of an analog clock, like a center dial with hour and minute hands. In this case, consider the corner areas that are exposed when translating to a square format. Try extending and exploring this extra space.


Plan for All Display Modes

Android Wear devices operate in two main modes: ambient and interactive. Your watch face designs should take these modes into account. Generally, if your watch face design looks great in ambient mode, it will look even better in interactive mode. The opposite is not always true.

Interactive mode

When the user moves their wrist to glance at their watch, the screen goes into interactive mode. Your design can use full color with fluid animation in this mode.

Ambient mode

Ambient mode helps the device conserve power. Your design should make clear to the user that the screen is in ambient mode. The background color scheme is strictly limited to black, white, and grays. Your watch face may use some color elements on screens that support it provided it is unambiguous that the device is in ambient mode. You can use color elements for up to 5 percent of total pixels. In this mode, the screen is only updated once every minute. Only show hours and minutes in ambient mode; do not show seconds. Your watch face is notified when the device switches to ambient mode, and you should thoughtfully design for it.

Optimize for Special Screens

Android Wear devices feature a variety of screen technologies, each with their own advantages and considerations. One important consideration when designing the ambient mode display for your watch face is how it affects battery life and screen burn-in on some screens. You can configure your watch face to display different ambient designs depending on the kind of screen available on the device. Consider the best design for your watch faces on all screens.

Reduced color space

Some displays use a reduced color space in ambient mode to save power.

One reduced color space power saving method is to use a "low-bit" mode. In low-bit mode, the available colors are limited to black, white, blue, red, magenta, green, cyan, and yellow. When designing for low-bit ambient mode, use a black or a white background. For OLED screens, you must use a black background. Non-background pixels must be less than 10 percent of total pixels. You can use low-bit color for up to 5 percent of pixels on screens that support it. You should also disable antialiasing in your paint styles for this mode. Make sure to test your design on devices with low-bit ambient mode.

Other displays save power in ambient mode by not producing any color. When designing for displays which do not use color in ambient mode, the background may be either black or white.

Burn protection techniques

When designing for OLED screens, you should consider power efficiency and the screen burn-in effect. When these screens are in ambient mode, the system shifts the contents of the screen periodically by a few pixels to avoid pixel burn-in. Do not use large blocks of pixels in your ambient mode designs and keep 95% of the pixels black. Replace solid shapes in your regular ambient mode designs with outlined shapes in burn-protected ambient mode. Also replace filled images with pixel patterns. For analog watch face designs, hollow out the center where the hands meet to avoid pixel burn-in in this mode.

Accomodate System UI Elements

Your watch face designs should accommodate Android Wear UI elements. These elements give the user the status of the wearable and show notifications from services on the user's phone. Try to keep critical elements in your watch face designs from being obscured by the UI elements.

Cards

Cards are the notification system that bridges information between the wearable and a mobile device. Cards are also how most applications communicate with users. The user will be notified on the wearable about items such as emails and messages. As a watch face developer, you need to accommodate both large and small cards in your design. Your watch face can specify a preference for the card size, but users may override this setting. Users can also temporarily hide cards by swiping down on them.

The peek card is the top card in the stream that is partially visible at the bottom of the screen. A variable peek card has a height that is determined by the amount of text within a given notification. A small peek card leaves more room for your design. Round faces with analog hands should have a small peek card. If the time signature is clearly visible above the maximum height of the variable peek card, you may choose to include the variable peek card. The benefit of a variable peek card is that it displays more notification information. Faces with information on the bottom half of the face should leverage the small peek card instead.

The system notifies your watch face when the bounds of a peek card change, so you can rearrange the elements in your design if necessary.

Indicators

Indicators tell the user the status of the wearable, such as charging and airplane mode. When designing a watch face, consider how the indicator will fall over the watch face.

The indicators can be placed in several fixed locations on the wearable. If you have a large peek card, the indicators should go on the top or on the center of the screen. When you position the status icons or the hotword on the bottom of the screen, the system forces small peek cards. If the edge of the watch face contains strong visual elements, such as ticks or numbers, place the indicators on the center of the screen.

The hotword

The hotword is the phrase "OK Google", which tells the user that they can interact with the watch using voice commands. When a user turns on the wearable, the hotword appears on the screen for a few seconds.

The hotword no longer appears after the user says "OK Google" five times, so the placement of this element is not as critical. You should still avoid covering up elements of your watch face. Finally, background protection for the hotword and the indicators should be turned on unless your design is tailored to have these elements appear on top of them, for example using dark solid colors with no patterns.

For more information about measurements and positioning of system UI elements, see Specifications and Assets.

Design Data-Integrated Watch Faces

Your watch face can show users contextually relevant data and react to it by changing styles and colors in your design.

What do you want your user to know?

The first step in designing a data-integrated watch face is to define a conceptual user outcome based on available data. First, generate a strong concept or outcome you believe is supported by real user needs. What do you want your users to know after they have glanced at your design? Once you have identified your outcome, you need to determine how to obtain the required data.

A watch dial is a timeline; add data to it

Your watch face concept may include use of data beyond time, such as weather, calendar and fitness data. Consider the inclusion of data integration creatively. Avoid simply overlaying a time-based watch face with extra data. Rather, think about how the data can be expressed through the lens of time. For example, instead of designing a weather-related watch face as a clock with an indication of the current temperature in degrees overlayed, you might design a watch face that describes how the temperature will change over the course of the day.

Stick to one message

Once you have solidified your conceptual direction or desired outcome, you will need to begin visualizing your watch face. The strongest watch face designs are highly glanceable and deliver a singular expression of data. In order to identify your singular message, you must identify the most important supporting data point. For instance, instead of displaying an entire month of calendar events, you might decide to display only the next upcoming event. By a process of reduction, you should arrive at a powerful singular expression of data to include in your design.

Begin with some insight and test as you go

Make sure your approach begins with insight into the needs and expectations of your users. Test your designs with users to check any assumptions you might have made about your design along the way. Try making a rough sketch on paper and asking a friend to tell you what it means. Try your concept out with lots of different types of data and scenarios. Test your designs with an actual watch screen before you start coding.

Design Interactive Watch Faces

Your watch face can respond to a single-tap gesture from the user, as long as there’s not another UI element that also responds to that gesture. Some possible use cases for interacting with the watch face include:

  • Causing an aesthetic change on the watch face, for example inverting the color scheme.
  • Showing more information inline on the watch face, for example displaying a detailed step count.
  • Completing an action inline or in the background, for example starting a timer.
  • Launching a specific activity, for example a starting a conversation in a messaging application.

Available gestures

Only single taps are available. This restriction is important for maintaining clear and consistent system interactions, and for making watch face interactions as simple as possible: Neither you nor the user should think of watch faces as full-fledged apps. Figure 1 summarizes the categories of gestures, and their uses.

Single tap is the only available gesture.

Figure 1. Available, reserved, and blocked gestures.

As a rule, watch-face interaction should be lightweight, with the user completing their desired action within one or two touches.

Tap targets

If you want to cause a simple state change on the watch face, such as a purely aesthetic change, you can use the entire canvas of the watch face as the tap target.

For a more significant change or action, such as launching an activity or sending a message to a friend, it’s important to keep targets smaller, between 48-90 dpi, to avoid false-positive taps. There should be a gap between targets of at least 8-16 dpi. For an optimized tappable experience, display a maximum of 7 to 9 targets at once.

Tap regions

You can also use different regions of the screen to trigger different changes to the watch face. For example, tapping on the entire canvas could toggle states for the entire face. Tapping a specific target could produce an inline display of information related to the target. Last, tapping outside the target could restore the watch face to its default state.

The watch face should show where the user’s finger has made contact.

Visual feedback

Provide visual feedback when the user’s finger touches down on the watch face. The tap event does not trigger until the user lifts their finger, but visual feedback on touchdown helps indicate that the system has received the touch, and also helps the user know where the touch landed.

Warning: Do not immediately launch a UI on touchdown. A UI that you launch on touchdown conflicts with gestures for interacting with system UI elements including the watch face picker, notification stream, settings shade, and app launcher.

Design examples

Here are some examples of approaches for interactive watch faces:

Applying an aesthetic change

Toggling states

Changing a targeted UI element

Revealing information inline

Launching an activity with a single tap

Launching an activity with two taps

Support the Android Wear Companion App

The Android Wear companion app gives the user access to all installed watch faces and their settings.

Don't use a launcher icon

All available watch faces are accessible from the Android Wear companion app or from your bundled third party app. There is no need for a stand-alone launcher icon for Android Wear watch faces.

Settings

Each watch face that has useful settings can have a Settings panel, accessible from the watch itself and from the companion app on the phone. Standard UI components work in most cases, but you can explore other creative executions once you have built a foundation designing watch faces.

Settings on the watch should be limited to binary selections or scrollable lists. Settings on the phone may include any complex configuration items in addition to the settings available on the watch.

Specifications and Assets

To obtain watch face design examples and detailed measurements for the system UI elements, see the Design Downloads for Android Wear.

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