What color is it?
May 18, 2017 2:14 PM   Subscribe

I want to write a very simple app for a smartwatch-type device that will display the time as a color. What's the easiest way to do this?

All I want is a small, full-color, semi-high-resolution screen that I can strap to my wrist. I would like to program this screen to display, fullscreen, an RGB or HSV color that depends on the time, and have it transition nicely just as in the ColorTime link. It would be nice to have a mode that displays the hex code of the color, as well as the actual time, but that's not essential. I'm willing to pay a decent amount of money to make this happen.

I do not care about having a full-capacity smartwatch or any other apps. I'm comfortable programming, though I've never written an app. It looks like there's nothing like this in the App Store.

I looked into the Apple Watch (my friend has one I can borrow), but to get my custom app on the watch, I'd need a $99/year developer membership. Plus, writing an iOS app and making and signing custom builds seems like a huge hassle.

Most of the open-source smartwatches I've seen have very low-res screens that can't display color.

Some of the Pebble watches can display color, but it looks like they can't display arbitrary RGB/HSV. It seems that they can display only one of 64 pre-chosen colors.

I'd rather not build my own watch, but could if I had to.

One easy solution might be for me to clone the existing ColorTime code, modify it to remove the time and hex, serve it on a website, point an Apple Watch web browser at it, and just leave the browser open while wearing the watch. But it seems difficult to even get a browser working on Apple Watch.

Here's the blog post on how ColorTime works. (Isn't it great? I didn't write it, by the way.)
posted by glass origami robot to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
OK, that is awesome. What I would do is go Aliexpress and find a cheap Android smartwatch and then just whip up a very simple Android app. If you don't want to upload the app to Google Play you don't even have to pay the 25$ (lifetime!) developer fee.

I am honestly sold on this idea and am going to be looking into a color watch of my own. Thanks!

(Btw not advocating that watch, I just randomly chose one from the site, there are zillions of them)
posted by Literaryhero at 2:34 PM on May 18, 2017

Pebble time is open to develop against and since they went out if biz the time can be had fir like 50-60 bucks on amazon.
posted by chasles at 5:11 PM on May 18, 2017

I've got a Garmin vivoactive, and they have an API for user created watchfaces. Might be worth it if you can make use of the sports stuff anyway!
posted by Jon Mitchell at 7:03 PM on May 18, 2017

This is kind of off the cuff, but do you need it to be a screen as such, or can it just be a surface that lights up in a controlled RGB color? Because if the latter, it's possible you could get good mileage out of a single RGB LED and a microcontroller of some flavor.
posted by brennen at 7:04 PM on May 18, 2017

(Ah, sorry, I missed the bit about displaying the hex code.)
posted by brennen at 7:05 PM on May 18, 2017

I like the idea of getting a cheapo android smart watch for this. It actually sounds like a cool project I'd like to do if i had time! I definitely think android is the way to go tho -- apple is probably way more watch than you need plus the cost to even get an dev account if you don't already have one... bleh. You are correct in the fact pebble's palette is very limited and won't work for this.
posted by cgg at 7:05 PM on May 18, 2017

I've got a Garmin vivoactive, and they have an API for user created watchfaces. Might be worth it if you can make use of the sports stuff anyway!
Sadly, the vivoactive only supports 64 colors. Most Garmin watches can display 16 or 64 colors (see here).
posted by blub at 1:05 AM on May 19, 2017

I was looking at these Android smart watches and I think the biggest problem is battery life. If you get one and make the screen always on the battery will only last like a day or two, tops. If your screen turns off it kind of ruins the whole effect.

I don't know if either of those scenarios is a deal breaker for me, but I can't think of a better option that isn't outlandish. Since it looks like I can get a crappy watch for like 10 bucks I might try it anyway, but I'm not sure.
posted by Literaryhero at 3:01 AM on May 19, 2017

Further digging shows that those super cheap watches use something called DZ09 rather than Android, and apps come in .vxp files. I don't think that it is easy/possible to make these vxp apps, at least according to this post. . I will keep digging, but this is quickly exceeding the amount of time/money I am willing to sink into it.
posted by Literaryhero at 3:51 AM on May 19, 2017

I built this exact thing for an android smart watch a couple of years ago when I first got one. Can't remember how, and my implementation was terrible, but that's because I'm a crappy coder, not because it's objectively difficult. Anyway, totally doable with an android based watch.

As for battery, mine does only last a day with the screen on full color all the time, but I am just in the habit of putting it on its charger overnight like I do with my phone.
posted by lollusc at 4:07 AM on May 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh and if you don't want to write an app the traditional way, look at Watchmaker premium. You can do a lot with a little bit of LUA scripting, and uploading the face to your phone or even sharing it becomes super easy.
posted by lollusc at 4:10 AM on May 19, 2017

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