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Samsung Developer Program

Design Watch Face Apps

Note: In August 2018, Samsung Gear became Samsung Galaxy Watch. Information referring to Galaxy Watch also applies to earlier Gear devices and apps, unless stated otherwise. 

Design Watch Face Apps
This section provides important design principles and factors for your watch face app.

Samsung watches can have many interchangeable watch faces. Users can choose watch faces based on preference, occasion, season, or even their mood. Classic clock designs may be good for formal occasions and unique designs can be used for more casual occasions or for everyday life.

Stylish designs allow users to view their wearable device as a fashion accessory. Be creative and provide a variety of unique designs that users can enjoy. Using typographic elements for decorative purposes is a good idea. Although we do not recommend that you use text to convey main ideas, typefaces can serve as design elements.


Watch face apps and the UI

When the user selects your watch face app, it is displayed in the home screen in active state display.


Samsung watches have the following hardware features: two physical buttons and a touch-sensitive display screen. Some watches have a bezel and some do not.

Your watch face apps can initiate actions based on certain screen features (such as tap). Watch face apps cannot initiate actions based on the bezel and other display screen features (including swipe left, right, up, and down).

Design watch face apps 

Watch faces can look like a traditional watch or have a different look entirely. Typically, watch faces can be analog or digital types, but you can create your own type.


There are two fundamental methods to design and develop your watch face apps:

  • Designers without any coding experience can use the Galaxy Watch Designer (formerly Gear Watch Designer) tool to design and develop standalone watch face apps that employ the watch face features available in the tool. 
  • Developers can create more powerful watch face apps (either standalone or companion) by coding them using the native or web Tizen OS SDK.

For both methods, the following factors and principles influence your watch face designs.

Platform factors

The following platform operational factors can influence the design of your watch face app:

  • Can be either a standalone app or a companion app that has a companion host app (on a mobile device).
  • Users can install many watch face apps, but only one app can be selected and displayed at one time.

Watch face app information, display, and actions

The following factors can influence the design of your watch face app:

  • Can get information:
    • From the wearable device (including time and other platform information, and from device sensors).
    • For companion watch face apps, from their companion host app running on a connected mobile device using Samsung Accessory Protocol.
  • Can only be composed of one circular screen that cannot be extended by supporting vertical scrolling.
  • Can display time-keeping information and other data graphically and/or by text and symbols.
  • Can display watch face design(s) that support the active display state and the always-on display state (also known as the ambient display state)
  • Can initiate actions based on:
    • Code logic not in response to user input.
    • Response to the user's display screen actions (including tap and double-tap).
  • Can initiate tasks on the wearable device (such as opening a watch app or a widget).
  • Can redirect users to any Android app running on a mobile device (such as a phone) connected to the wearable device.

Watch face display states

Under certain conditions, your users' wearable device can be in the active display state or in the always-on display state. Display state conditions can be determined by the user's device configuration settings, movement sensor readings, and user input. Newer wearable devices support a high-bit color always-on state. Older wearable devices support a low-bit color always-on state.

Your watch face app must provide an active state watch face design and may or may not provide an always-on state watch face design.

  • Active watch face design
    • High-power, rich-data watch face design that is displayed when the wearable device is in the active display state (for example, after the user lifts their wrists to look at the watch).
    • Intended to use a larger amount of battery power.
    • Watch face data can be updated once every second, which enables higher resolution data, such as second time info.
    • Can express concepts and moods using diverse colors and display additional information, such as battery level, weather info, and app shortcuts.
  • Always-on Watch Face Design 
    • Low-power, key-data watch face design that is displayed when the wearable device is in the always-on display state (for example, after screen timeout).
    • Intended to use a small amount of battery power.
    • Watch face data can be updated once every minute, which restricts data that can be displayed (for example, not displaying second time info).

If your watch face app has designs for both display states, the suitable watch face design will be displayed.  

If your watch face app provides only an active design:

  • When the wearable device is in the active state, your active design is displayed.
  • When the wearable device is in the always-on state:
    • If your active design is an analog watch face, the default analog watch face will be displayed.
    • If your active design is a digital watch face, the default digital watch face will be displayed. 

Watch face app design principles

Because of the differences between the active and always-on display states, we recommend that you design separate watches for both display states. You can achieve design consistency for your active and always-on watch face designs.  

The following principles apply to both active and always-on watch face designs.


Design for the circle

Design your watch faces for the wearable device's circular frame.

Deliver the natural look and feel of a watch by leveraging the clock metaphor that the circular screen enables, or optimize your designs for the circle by placing curves and round shapes around the circular frame.

Consider creating a compelling watch face by using the visual image of the bezel (when the bezel is a component of the watch).


Have a clear purpose

Each watch face should have one primary purpose.

Users can choose from a wide range of watch faces; ensure your watch face provides a particular value.

Users are attracted to a watch face that fits their situation and meets their needs.


Make it fashionable

A watch face, like a classic watch, can be an appealing fashion item. 

Find your own ways to make a fascinating watch face, such as replicating a look of an actual watch or expressing the time with unique characters.



A watch face is a single-page app.

Although you can add a lot of functionality, keep it as simple as possible to take advantage of the single-screen design.


Design for outdoor use

Wearable devices are designed primarily for outdoor use. Your best designs and content may be useless if they are not visible outdoors.

Use dark-colored themes.

Ensure good contrast.


System icon display

The top area of watch faces can display small system icons for the status of a particular function or setting.

When your design uses system icons, make sure the top area is reserved and properly displays them.

When set by the user, unread notifications are indicated by an orange (regular notifications) or a red (urgent) dot at the 9 o’clock position in the watch face.

Only one indicator is shown regardless of the number of notifications.
Ensure that unread notification indicators are clearly visible on your designs.

The following principles apply only to active watch face design.


Watch content update

Watch face content can be updated every second. 


On-pixel ratio

Watch face design on-pixel ratio (OPR) is not restricted.

The following principles apply only to always-on watch face design.


Watch content update

Watch face content can only be updated every minute. Therefore, your always-on watch face cannot display a secondhand or information about seconds.


Color mode

Depending on the capability of the device display, two different color schemes are available for the always-on state watch face designs:

  • Low-bit color display (older wearable devices): Supports only cyan, magenta, yellow, red, green, blue, and white colors at full brightness, with no grayscale or gradients.
    Note: Images may be pixilated because anti-aliasing is not supported.

  • High-color display (newer wearable devices): No color restrictions. You can replicate your active state designs more closely.

We recommend that you initially design for high-color mode and create a visually compelling watch face, then create a matching design that meets low-color mode restrictions.

Note: High-color designs will be displayed in low-bit color by wearable devices that do not support high-color mode.




On-pixel ratio

Because always-on is a low-power mode, OPR is limited to less than 15%.

OPR is the ratio of the sum of each pixel’s RGB values to the value when all pixels of the screen are white. OPR increases as more pixels have RGB values or the sum of RGB values are higher. For example, the OPR value of white (R255, G255, B255), red (R255, G0, B0), and black (R0, G0, B0) results in 100%, 33.3%, and 0%, respectively.

As OPR increases, electricity consumption goes up. However, even with the OPR limit, there are still many styles available.

If you simply lower the overall brightness of the design to meet the OPR restriction, you may hurt the visibility and quality of your watch face. Instead, we recommend that you use a black background both in low-bit color mode and high-color mode, and you test your design on wearable devices that are set to always-on state.


Screen burn-in

Avoid burn-in of the OLED display:

  • By not applying high brightness and high chroma to a large block of pixels.
  • In analog type watch faces, by leaving the center area empty or dark.

In the always-on state, the Tizen platform moves the watch face around at regular intervals by just a few pixels in order to prevent burn-in.

Caution: When burn-in occurs, design elements near the edge of a watch face can be pushed out of the display.


Default always-on screens

If your watch face app does not provide an always-on design, the platform will display a default watch face when the device is in the always-on display state.