The Next Apple Watch Should Be Round

Time is linear, but the way we measure it is circular. As the earth rotates, causing the sun to seem to rise and set, days pass according to a familiar rhythm. When the sun is high in the sky we call at noon; when is on when it is on the opposite side of the earth we called at midnight. These two markers are what clocks have long used as reference points.

The round shape of clocks and watches is no accident. It attempts to reproduce this movement of the sun around the earth, this rise and fall and repetition of day and night. Of course there are other ways to measure time: water clocks, hourglasses, and digital clocks, for example, all track time, some with a visible element showing its passage (such as water clocks and hourglasses) and others, like digital clocks, that display time just as a set of abstract numbers.

As the Apple Watch has reached maturity, it’s time for Apple to reconsider the shape of the device. While the rectangle with rounded corners is good for reading text, it doesn’t make one think of a watch. To be fair, this isn’t a watch; it’s a wrist computer, and the shape of the device suggests that much more than it does a timepiece. While there are some iconic square or rectangular watches — think of the Cartier tank watch — most watches are round. There is something relaxing, reassuring about a circular device on the wrist. It is linked to the tradition and history of watches, and to the circular movement of the sun and the way we represent time.

Watch faceI use a round watch face on my Apple Watch most of the time; I’m not a big fan of digital time displays, and, as a friend of mine has said, a digital watch tells you what time it is, but an analog watch — or one with a round display — tells you what time it isn’t. And I find that I can more easily have an idea of what time it is just by glancing at a round face. I don’t have to read numbers and interpret them; the hands alone show me what time it is (or isn’t).

Samsung’s smartwatches are circular, and they look more like watches and less like computers. I think Apple should copy this; not that copying the round shape not that making a watch that is circular would actually be copying Samsung, it would just be aligning the Apple Watch with standard timepieces. Yes, reading emails might be more difficult, but as the last few years have shown, the Apple Watch is not a device that many people used to read text on. Its health and fitness features don’t need to be rectangular; notifications don’t need to have a rectangular display; and most apps would easily accommodate the round shape.

I can’t help thinking, as my as I look at my Apple Watch today, that this device is almost as clunky as those old Casio calculator watches with the tiny buttons, and that, in a few years, will look back at this and snicker. A round Apple Watch, especially if it was thinner, would look much better, it would make the device look less like a computing device and more like a timepiece. Even though that timepiece would have some very advanced computing features, why couldn’t it look less like a wrist computer and more like a watch?

34 thoughts on “The Next Apple Watch Should Be Round

  1. Sorry Kirk, don’t agree. I have a circular face with complications displayed in each corner. If the case was circular that extra info would have to go into the centre thus crowding the middle of the display. It would also put the Digital Crown and button below it at an angle on the casing. Not sure what the answer is when the design does come for a refresh but I like it the way it is. Puts it apart from the others, and makes it instantly recognisable.

    • Fair point. But there are other ways to display complications; round watches have had them for ages. It would not prevent you from using a digital display on a round face.

      However, do you ever use the “digital crown?” I find that it just gets in the way; the only time I use it is to take screenshots.

  2. Sorry Kirk, don’t agree. I have a circular face with complications displayed in each corner. If the case was circular that extra info would have to go into the centre thus crowding the middle of the display. It would also put the Digital Crown and button below it at an angle on the casing. Not sure what the answer is when the design does come for a refresh but I like it the way it is. Puts it apart from the others, and makes it instantly recognisable.

    • Fair point. But there are other ways to display complications; round watches have had them for ages. It would not prevent you from using a digital display on a round face.

      However, do you ever use the “digital crown?” I find that it just gets in the way; the only time I use it is to take screenshots.

  3. Kirk,
    There are some very popular styles for both men and women in which to watch the Square. Some of them date back over 100 years. I don’t think it’s an automatic that it should be around. Actually before the Apple Watch I used to fancy getting one of the vintage square ones from the 1920s 30s or 40s.

  4. Kirk,
    There are some very popular styles for both men and women in which to watch the Square. Some of them date back over 100 years. I don’t think it’s an automatic that it should be around. Actually before the Apple Watch I used to fancy getting one of the vintage square ones from the 1920s 30s or 40s.

  5. Kirk,
    There are some very popular styles for both men and women in which the watch is square. Some of them date back over 100 years. I don’t think it’s an automatic that it should be round. Actually before the Apple Watch I used to fancy getting one of the vintage square ones from the 1920s 30s or 40s.

  6. Kirk,
    There are some very popular styles for both men and women in which the watch is square. Some of them date back over 100 years. I don’t think it’s an automatic that it should be round. Actually before the Apple Watch I used to fancy getting one of the vintage square ones from the 1920s 30s or 40s.

  7. As you note, Kirk, the Apple Watch is more a wrist computer than a watch. It’s almost as much of a misnomer to call the Apple Watch a “watch” as it is to call the iPhone a “phone.” I don’t use my iPhone much to make or receive calls and don’t use my Apple Watch much to tell time. I use it primarily to see notifications. A round screen on the watch face would limit the amount of information the Apple Watch is able to display—I do rely on the full rectangular screen to read text messages, notifications and reminders.

    While I understand your aesthetic concern with making the Apple Watch look more watch-like, for me, making the watch face round makes as much sense as making my iMac screen round. For my purposes, the Apple Watch is more functional as a rectangle.

    Then again, I always did aspire to get one of those Casio calculator watches. I thought they were cool, but I couldn’t afford it back then.

  8. As you note, Kirk, the Apple Watch is more a wrist computer than a watch. It’s almost as much of a misnomer to call the Apple Watch a “watch” as it is to call the iPhone a “phone.” I don’t use my iPhone much to make or receive calls and don’t use my Apple Watch much to tell time. I use it primarily to see notifications. A round screen on the watch face would limit the amount of information the Apple Watch is able to display—I do rely on the full rectangular screen to read text messages, notifications and reminders.

    While I understand your aesthetic concern with making the Apple Watch look more watch-like, for me, making the watch face round makes as much sense as making my iMac screen round. For my purposes, the Apple Watch is more functional as a rectangle.

    Then again, I always did aspire to get one of those Casio calculator watches. I thought they were cool, but I couldn’t afford it back then.

  9. Raging personal opinion: I like the round watch. I don’t like the square watch.

    That said, one issue is that, as others have noted, our “watches” do a lot more than tell time. If I’m doing text along a line from left to right (or right to left), I’m actually losing space.

    Now, this is an interesting UI/UX question: How do I optimize information on a round display?

    While I love the idea of a round display, there’s going to need to be a lot more research into how to display text information in a reasonable fashion before I could really say, “Yeah, this is a good idea.”

  10. Raging personal opinion: I like the round watch. I don’t like the square watch.

    That said, one issue is that, as others have noted, our “watches” do a lot more than tell time. If I’m doing text along a line from left to right (or right to left), I’m actually losing space.

    Now, this is an interesting UI/UX question: How do I optimize information on a round display?

    While I love the idea of a round display, there’s going to need to be a lot more research into how to display text information in a reasonable fashion before I could really say, “Yeah, this is a good idea.”

  11. I agree, I like the esthetics of a round watch, and it wouldn’t hurt to make it larger, which would allow them to make it thinner. Older people like me have a harder time reading small watch displays. Apple’s watch faces are also pretty boring, but developers are barred from making watch faces. For example, compare Apple’s offerings to those of Emerald Chronometer, http://emeraldsequoia.com/h/index.html.

  12. I agree, I like the esthetics of a round watch, and it wouldn’t hurt to make it larger, which would allow them to make it thinner. Older people like me have a harder time reading small watch displays. Apple’s watch faces are also pretty boring, but developers are barred from making watch faces. For example, compare Apple’s offerings to those of Emerald Chronometer, http://emeraldsequoia.com/h/index.html.

  13. Love the amount of discussion around this topic. Personally, I hate the square face of the Apple Watch. It wasn’t until it was gifted to me that I decided to use it.

    But I wanted to ask about that friend of yours. What do you mean that a round watch shows you what time it isn’t? Is it by showing that, say, it’s 10 minutes to 12, therefore it’s not 12 yet?

    I ask because that’s a beautiful way to look at time and I congratulate your friend for thinking thus. 🙂

      • I think the “what time it isn’t” hits it on the nose. Most of the time (no pun intended) you only need a sense of the actual time. For that reason, it takes a lot longer for me to comprehend a digital display than an analog.

        • My solution to that (comprehending time on a digital display) is to repeat the time to myself after looking at it once. That way, I understand what the time is instead of just looking at it 😀

  14. Love the amount of discussion around this topic. Personally, I hate the square face of the Apple Watch. It wasn’t until it was gifted to me that I decided to use it.

    But I wanted to ask about that friend of yours. What do you mean that a round watch shows you what time it isn’t? Is it by showing that, say, it’s 10 minutes to 12, therefore it’s not 12 yet?

    I ask because that’s a beautiful way to look at time and I congratulate your friend for thinking thus. 🙂

      • I think the “what time it isn’t” hits it on the nose. Most of the time (no pun intended) you only need a sense of the actual time. For that reason, it takes a lot longer for me to comprehend a digital display than an analog.

        • My solution to that (comprehending time on a digital display) is to repeat the time to myself after looking at it once. That way, I understand what the time is instead of just looking at it 😀

  15. Sorry Kirk, but your dead wrong. First: watches and clocks are not round because the earth travels around the sun They are round because the movements have required round gears in order to function.

    The Apple Watch does not have gears and requires as much space as serviable to display information, hence: a square face.

    • They could certainly be square with round gears behind them. Come on, the face is round; the disposition of the hours is circular.

  16. Sorry Kirk, but your dead wrong. First: watches and clocks are not round because the earth travels around the sun They are round because the movements have required round gears in order to function.

    The Apple Watch does not have gears and requires as much space as serviable to display information, hence: a square face.

    • They could certainly be square with round gears behind them. Come on, the face is round; the disposition of the hours is circular.

  17. I doubt that watches were made round to fit the gears. All the pocket watches I took apart as a kid had gears much smaller than the case, that were well removed from the edge. Other than a circular clock face, I think it was just easier to machine, and less likely to get caught on clothes.

  18. I doubt that watches were made round to fit the gears. All the pocket watches I took apart as a kid had gears much smaller than the case, that were well removed from the edge. Other than a circular clock face, I think it was just easier to machine, and less likely to get caught on clothes.

  19. Also, the next iPhone should be round, and the next iMac should be round, and the next iPad should be round, and the next MacBook should be round…

    Apparently round is the new shape for personal computers, whether they are on your desk, in your hands, or on your wrist.

    Mechanical watches has been (mostly) round in shape because the gear movement drives two hands (a big one and a little one) in a circle, to point at numbers in a circle.

    But… A “smartwatch” isn’t really a “watch”… It is a computer that you wear on your wrist like a “watch”. This is the same as a notebook computer not REALLY being a “notebook”, but a computer that you hold in your hand like a “notebook”.

    A computer has a rectangular screen (not a round screen) for a very simple reason, the things that run on a computer that you look at or read are aALSO rectangular (like web pages, photos, office documents, videos, etc.).

    Android “smartwatches” are round, and NONE of them sell anywhere close the huge numbers of Apple Watches sold! Do we want Apple to all of a sudden be illogical, and emulate Android smartwatches??? (I sincerely hope not!!!)

  20. Also, the next iPhone should be round, and the next iMac should be round, and the next iPad should be round, and the next MacBook should be round…

    Apparently round is the new shape for personal computers, whether they are on your desk, in your hands, or on your wrist.

    Mechanical watches has been (mostly) round in shape because the gear movement drives two hands (a big one and a little one) in a circle, to point at numbers in a circle.

    But… A “smartwatch” isn’t really a “watch”… It is a computer that you wear on your wrist like a “watch”. This is the same as a notebook computer not REALLY being a “notebook”, but a computer that you hold in your hand like a “notebook”.

    A computer has a rectangular screen (not a round screen) for a very simple reason, the things that run on a computer that you look at or read are aALSO rectangular (like web pages, photos, office documents, videos, etc.).

    Android “smartwatches” are round, and NONE of them sell anywhere close the huge numbers of Apple Watches sold! Do we want Apple to all of a sudden be illogical, and emulate Android smartwatches??? (I sincerely hope not!!!)

  21. “almost as clunky as those old Casio calculator watches with the tiny buttons”

    Hey, that was my favorite watch of all time! The interface was beautifully functional and I wore out three of them (about two years each, and those buttons all got used a lot) before I sadly wasn’t able to get a replacement (should have stockpiled some). I never did get another watch, because if something on my wrist can only tell time, it’s isn’t worth having. One of the big selling points of the Apple watch for me is the pCalc app. Maybe next year…I’m holding out for more and/or better physiological monitors.

  22. “almost as clunky as those old Casio calculator watches with the tiny buttons”

    Hey, that was my favorite watch of all time! The interface was beautifully functional and I wore out three of them (about two years each, and those buttons all got used a lot) before I sadly wasn’t able to get a replacement (should have stockpiled some). I never did get another watch, because if something on my wrist can only tell time, it’s isn’t worth having. One of the big selling points of the Apple watch for me is the pCalc app. Maybe next year…I’m holding out for more and/or better physiological monitors.

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