The Complete Guide to Customising Your Apple Watch

The Complete Guide to Customising Your Apple Watch
Photo: Caitlin McGarry/Gizmodo

Apple’s watchOS platform doesn’t have quite as many customisation options as other smartwatches, such as those built on Google’s Wear OS, do. But there are numerous ways to make your Apple Watch your own, beyond picking your watch colour, size, and strap. Here are the top features to know and how to use them.

The Watch app on your iPhone gives you a few customisation options to get started. Tap App View and you can pick between a grid and a list for your apps (shown when you press the digital crown); with a grid, you can also tap Arrangement to get all your apps positioned exactly how you want them.

Then there’s the dock, which you pull up by pressing the side button on your Apple Watch. This shows your most recent apps or up to 10 of your favourite apps. To tell your watch which apps to show, tap Dock in the Watch app for iOS, then choose Recents or Favourites (if you pick the latter, you can select both the apps you want to see and the order they appear in).

Watch faces

Screenshot: iOS Screenshot: iOS

Apple hasn’t yet thrown open the doors to a third-party watch face developer community, but there are a growing number of Apple-approved faces to pick from (for the Apple Watch Series 4 and later, at least). To switch to a new watch face from your actual watch, swipe left or right on the current face to see your options.

If you’ve only just set up your Apple Watch, you won’t actually have many options. You can tap New, and Apple will present a selection of faces for your perusal — swipe up or down on the screen to scroll through them. When you find something you like, tap on a watch face to set it (it’ll also be added to the quick pick list that shows up when you swipe on the current watch face).

You might find it easier to set watch faces from your phone. If you open up the Watch app, you can tap Face Gallery to see all the options available. Here you’ll see not just a choice of faces, but multiple variations of those faces. When you select one, you’ll be able to pick the colours it uses (if available), and the complications that you’ll see (again, if the watch face supports them).

Tap Add on a watch face and it gets added to the My Faces box on the My Watch tab — tap Edit to change the faces that appear in this list. This is the same list that you’ll see if you swipe on your watch face to see more options — it’s a good idea to have the faces you use most often stored here, for easy access. Tapping any of these shortlisted faces in the app on your phone takes you to the customisation screen, where you can also choose to Set as current Watch Face or Remove Watch Face.

Once you’ve got a few watch faces in the My Faces gallery, you can swipe across your watch screen to flick between them. You do have to press and hold if you want to share a watch face look that you’re particularly keen on, because that’s where you’ll find the share button, in the lower left corner.

Watch complications

Screenshot: iOS Screenshot: iOS

Some watch faces have complications, which are little shortcuts that lead to apps or features, or panels that show information in real time. Again, you can change these complications from your watch or from your phone. To do it on the wearable, tap and hold the watch face, then choose Edit. You’ll see colour options first, and you can then swipe left to see the options for complications.

Tap on any of the available complications to change it to something else, then scroll using the digital crown to make your selection. Your choice will depend on what type of complication it is and what apps you’ve got installed — take your pick and then press the digital crown twice to get back to the watch face display again.

As with watch faces, this is something that’s probably easier to set from the Watch app on your iPhone. You can tap on any face in My Faces or on the Face Gallery tab to get to the complications, which are then straightforward to scroll through. Some watch faces will have more complications than others, and while you won’t be able to rearrange them on the screen, you can turn certain ones off if you want.

If you feel like you need more complications to play around with, look for iPhone apps that also have decent Apple Watch apps and complications included. You can get music complications with Spotify, weather complications with Carrot Weather, note complications with Bear, and travel complications with Citymapper, for example. Some complications display information, while others allow interaction.

It is possible to create your own complications, to an extent, using the same tools that developers use. The best option we’ve found so far is Watchsmith, which lets you create complications covering the weather, the time and date, astronomy and more, and which also has options for changing complications depending on the time.

Other tweaks

Screenshot: iOS Screenshot: iOS

There are a few other ways that you can customise the appearance of what you see on your Apple Watch. If you pick Display & Brightness from inside the Watch app on your iPhone, for example, you can adjust the brightness of the screen, turn the Always On feature on or off (if it’s available), change the size of the text on the Apple Watch screen, and make that text bold if you want to. You can also make these changes in the Settings app on the watch itself.

One way to completely personalise your Apple Watch is to set your own photo as your watch face. If you open the Photos app on your watch, then select an image and tap the little watch icon in the lower left-hand corner, you can apply the picture as your background — either as a simple image or in a kaleidoscope effect.

This is basically the idea behind Facer too, which showcases custom designs created by other people — not third-party watch faces, but different backgrounds and complication combinations that people want to show off. If a watch face you select uses a complication from an app you don’t have installed, you’ll be prompted to install it.

It doesn’t take too much effort to create background images specifically for the Apple Watch in your favourite image editor of choice, either. All you need to do is look up the resolution of the screen of your Apple Watch and leave room for the digital clock face that Apple slaps on top (if you pick a kaleidoscope effect, you get the analogue hands, but there’s no way to choose specifically).

Finally, it’s also worth mentioning Apple’s Shortcuts app. If you get the app running on your smartwatch, then you can launch compatible actions right from your wrist, and even set them as complications on your watch faces. It’s another way of creating custom complications — in this case set to launch shortcuts that you find useful.