Introducing TimeBuzz, an Apple Watch App that Allows You to Tell the Time Using the Taptic Engine

watchOS and Apple Watch Apps


A few days ago I released a new Apple Watch app that makes it possible to feel the current time through vibrations of the Taptic Engine on the Apple Watch. The app is designed especially for visually impaired people to allow them to discretely get to know the current time without the need for the time to be pronounced. The app itself is also completely VoiceOver accessible.

If you open the app on the Apple Watch there will be a large button with the text 'Tap to buzz the time'. When you tap this button the app will start buzzing the current time. It will translate the time into a pattern of long and short vibrations whereby it will first buzz the hours and then the minutes. In between every sequence of vibrations there will be a short pause to be able to separate the hours and minutes from each other. You will feel a distinctive vibrating buzz when opening the app and when you start the buzzing of the current time so that you know when you opened the TimeBuzz app or tapped the button on the screen.To make it easier to start the app you can select a TimeBuzz complication on your watch face so you can start the app directly from the watch face.

The patterns of the vibrations can be chosen by selecting a buzz pattern which are named after famous clocks around the world. They range from simple to understand to more advanced shortened vibrations. See the explanation screen in the app or visit the website: (available in Dutch and English) for more information about the buzz patterns.

View the app in the Apple App Store:

This app is developed in collaboration with the Bartiméus Sonneheerdt Association, Bartiméus Foundatation and Royal Visio in The Netherlands.

If you have any questions or comments feel free to send them through the website or by replying here in this forum. I welcome all feed back about this app.

Kind regards,

Marco Miltenburg



Submitted by Will on Tuesday, December 22, 2015

hi all, the website has no english equivalent and surely even if the app is a complication you still need to wake up the watch to get to the complication thereby hearing the time audibly anyways? still like the sound of it though

Submitted by David on Tuesday, December 22, 2015

I was thinking the same thing as I read this. How do you get to the ap without having to have VO speak? But then I thought, I guess the nearest one could get to it is to use the digital crown double click to switch to the last run app. So as long as this app was the last thing you used when you wake your watch, you can double-click the crown to bring it up. However, I don't see how you can have the watch wake without speaking the current time anyway.

If Apple ever allow custom watch faces, then perhaps this might work. But just as a complication, I don't see the benefit.

Submitted by Tree on Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Hey everyone. I have been bata testing this app for several months now and it has totally changed my relationship with my Apple watch.

Like many of the above commenters I, at first, did not see how this app could be useful. Of course it would be amazing to tell time tactilely, but I couldn't think how this would be done without something like a custom watch face.

however, let me explain how this can be done and how I use my Apple watch with the Time Buzz app.

First of all I changed the setting on my watch so that instead of always waking up to the stock watch face, it wakes up to the last app I was using. You can do this in the settings of the companion iPhone apple watch app.

That solves the problem of having a custom watch face. however, you still will have the problem of voice over yelling at you every time you wake up the watch. There are two different ways to deal with this; you can keep voice over turned all the way down, or you can just turn off voice over with a triple click of the crown. I like keeping voice over off, because I find triple clicking the crown easier then turning up voice over when I need to hear something.

The final thing you need to do is to go into the watch iPhone app, scroll down to the Time Buzz app, and then go in and turn off the option that makes the app buzz every time the watch wakes up. This is very important, because the app will be very annoying if you do not turn off this setting.

So with this setup my watch is silent, and whenever I give the screen a tap I feel the time.

There you go, with this set up you can have a totally silent haptic apple watch.

Of course the major downside of this is when you want to use voice over you have to click the crown and wait a moment, but for me this is well worth it.

Before I started using this app I had just about given up on my apple watch, now with Time buzz I would not trade my watch for anything; its my favorite way of telling time and I really hope others find this app to be as awesome as it has become to me.

Submitted by Sean Terry on Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Hi, I haven't yet been able to either check out or even purchase an Apple Watch. But I have a suggestion for this app. What if the developer was able to allow the app to automaticallytell you the time every quarter hour, every half hour, or every hour?

Submitted by Steve Sawczyn on Tuesday, December 22, 2015

I am super happy to hear about your app as I have wanted this sort of thing ever since the Apple Watch was released. I have two questions though. First, can a feature be introduced that automatically causes the watch to vibrate at specific intervals, i.e. every hour, every 30 minutes etc...? Second, is there an English page that describes the vibration patterns, the one you mention seems to be only available in Dutch.

Thanks again for coming up with this app, I am going to get it right now.

Submitted by Froglet on Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Thank you so much for developing this app. I have been considering purchasing the Apple Watch, but have been waiting for something like this, because silent time-telling is an absolutely critical function of a watch for me. So much so that I haven't been willing to buy the watch without an option for silent time-telling. Now I can seriously reconsider.

I, also, would like to see an option for time to be announced at regular intervals.

Thanks again for creating this app!

Submitted by TimeBuzz on Tuesday, December 22, 2015

In reply to by David

I would definitely prefer to turn the app into a custom watch face but Apple does currently not allow third party developers to create custom watch faces. As soon as they do, I will certainly develop a watch face version of the app and this will indeed make it much more useable. However, read the comments of "Tree" how he set up his watch to make it work for him.

Thanks for the idea Sean. It's on our "wanted feature list" but I'm still looking into it if it's possible to implement at the moment given the possibilities / restriction of watchOS at the moment. It's certainly not possible for an app to use the taptic engine when it's in the background, only foreground apps are allowed to use it. This is also kind of logical as you would otherwise potentially get multiple apps using it at the same time and get confusing vibrations.

Submitted by Megan on Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Thank you so much for developing this app! My Apple Watch's usability just went from an 8.5 to a 10! The main reason I was waffling between this watch and the Tissot Touch was because of the touch's ability to more discreetly tell time. Now that I have This app, I'm so glad that I ended up with the Apple Watch! Awesome job!
I am curious about one thing, though… How in the world did you manage to get approval from Apple for this app? A colleague and I were looking at developing something similar, but we couldn't figure out how to do it without using private APIs that Apple wouldn't allow us to use in published apps. We were also concerned about the requirements that specified that the app must be able to do something else besides tell time. I'm a little worried about this app going away within the next couple of days for that reason, but I really hope it doesn't. I'm greatly looking forward to seeing what you do with it in the future!
Many thanks!

To be honest we were a bit concerned about Apple disallowing the app as well. It does not use any private API's, all functionality is implemented with public API's. But since it's using the taptic engine for something it was not intended and indeed it's a clock app (in a way), we were also a bit worried. It's therefore that we also don't display the time on screen. But the app went through review a few times during the development period, several times for external beta tests and twice for public release in the app store and was never denied nor did Apple have any comments or problems with it. So I would be surprised if it would get pulled out of the store.

Submitted by Matthew Bullis on Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Hello, I've read through the web site about the differing vibration patterns. I'm wondering if the pattern could be set like the Meteor timepiece from Alexandra Vision? With there watch, a long vibration indicates a unit of five. So for six thirty-five, I get long and one short when I press the hour button, then three shorts when I press the middle tens button, then one long for the five on the single digits button.

All patterns except Big Ben work like that. They shorten a unit a five into a longer vibration. We have no separate buttons for the hours and tens and single digits of the minutes. The time is buzzed in one sequence, with pauses in between the hours and minutes. Most patterns separate the minutes into tens and single digits but the Notre-Dame pattern does not. It indicates the minutes as one complete number. E.g. 17 minutes is indicated by three longer vibrations (= 3 x 5) and two shorter vibrations. Every pattern is different and we can easily add more patterns.

Submitted by Dave Nason on Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

Like some of the others, I love the idea of this app. In fact when Apple first announced the Watch, I was hoping they would include such a feature.
I totally understand the limitations the developer is working with, but unfortunately I'm not sure if I can get full use of the app as a result. I'm impressed with @Tree's ingenuity but I'm not willing to go to those lengths. I like to have the watch wake up to the simple watch face, and have access to complications. Having VoiceOver switched off would drive me crazy, if I had to toggle VoiceOver on every time I got a notification or wanted to do anything else. The fact is I only really want tactile time telling when it's not possible or convenient to check it with VoiceOver.
What I am going to try is having Timebuzz as the top right complication, relatively easy to locate, as well as using the double-press of the Digital Crown, to access the app. Hopefully I can find a VoiceOver volume level which is high enough for when I need it, but low enough that others won't hear it if I wake it up slyly in a meeting! :)
Thanks to the developer though for creating this app and hopefully the limitations can be reduced over time. This kind of app by the way in my opinion should not only be marketed to visually impaired people, as there are plenty of times when it is not convenient or possible for sighted people to look at their watch too.

I'm hopeful that Apple will eventually allow third party developers to make better use of the watch. For example, I would surely like to create my own vibrations. At the moment developers are limited to the standard vibrations that also used for e.g. notifications or other signals. Custom vibrations could be quicker and also without sound by default

We could also imagine using the friends button (that's the long thin button below the digital crown) to open your favorite app instead of the friends feature.Hopefully Apple allows this to become configurable (I never use the friends feature), either a single press or double press (which is now unused).

And of course we're hopeful that it becomes possible to create custom watch faces. This would solve a lot of problems in accessing the app.

Submitted by Greg Wocher on Friday, December 25, 2015

I just received my apple watch yesterday. I actually purchased this app a couple of days before receiving my actuall watch. Even though there are limitations, I can still see how I can effectively use this app. Having to turn voiceover off is no big deal because most places I will need to use this app I will have voiceover off anyways. Great job on this app. I was watching for something like this ever since the watch came out.

Greg Wocher

Submitted by Tree on Friday, December 25, 2015

So the process I'm about to explain is a bit tricky, and it's not 100% foolproof; so I apologize in advance if I calls anyone's watch to go off and make noise during a meeting. Let's say you're wanting to check the time, but you realize that you didn't turn voiceover off and you're in a place where you can't have your watch speak. One option is to do the following

Step one quickly tilt your wrist up to wake up your watch.

Step two triple click the crown without touching the screen. This should turn off voiceover, and on my watch as long as you don't touch the screen It actually won't say anything or make any noise . Of course, it should say voiceover off, but on my watch at least, if you triple click the home button before ever touching the watches screen voiceover will toggle off without making any sound. This is The key reason that this process can work, however it's very important that you tilt your wrist to make sure that the watch is awake before you triple click the crown.

Step three hit the time buzz complication that you have on your primary watch face, or double click the crown if that was the last app you were using. You then should be in the time buzz app and you can check the time.

All of this can be done without any audible feedback if you get good at it. However, it's obviously a somewhat tricky process and as I said it's not 100% foolproof. I have been able to do it every Time I have tried it, but since I am typically keeping voiceover off all the time anyway it hasn't been a process I found myself having to do often.

The only problem is that you won't be able to turn voiceover back on silently. No matter what I have tried voiceover will always speak when you turn it back on. However seeing as how this method would primarily be used in the context where you wouldn't be using voiceover, like a meeting, you shouldn't need to turn voiceover back on until you're in a place where it is fine to receive audible feedback.

I hope this makes sense If anyone has any questions about anything I would be happy to try and answer them

Submitted by Greg Wocher on Saturday, December 26, 2015

Hello all,
I am using the times square pattern and I am noticing that the time that is buzzed is in 24 hour time instead of 12 hour time. So for example 3 PM comes out as 1 shourt buz then a longer buz to indicate 15 instead of 3 normal taps to indicate three. Is this the way it is suppose to act?

Greg WOcher

Hi Greg, this is indeed a bug and has already been fixed for an upcoming bug fix release. Due to the Christmas close down at Apple I'm not able to submit updates to the App Store though. You can expect this update towards the end of the year or early 2016.

OK. I thought it might have been a setting I was misssing. The app still works quite well and it was money well spent purchasing it. It just takes me a second or two to convert the 24 hour time into 12 hour time. Have a good holiday.

Greg Wocher

Submitted by TimeBuzz on Thursday, January 7, 2016

In reply to by Greg Wocher

Due to Apple's holiday close down it took a little longer, but the TimeBuzz v1.0.1 update is available in the Appstore today. This fixes the problem that Greg Wocher mentions and a few other smaller issues.

Submitted by Chris on Thursday, January 7, 2016


The idea behind this app is fantastic! However, I don't have or really want an Apple Watch. Would it be possible to extend the existing app to the iPhone? I'm thinking this would be very simple to implement, assuming Apple's iOS APIs allow you to control the vibration motor in the iPhone. I would buy this if such functionality were added. It would be great if I could turn off VO on my phone, press the home button, and then hold for touch ID and enter the app to have it vibrate. Would this be possible?

While I'm talking about this app, would it also be possible to add a mode to alert you to the time based on certain intervals like 15 minutes, 30 minutes, etc? As I said before, I think this app has potential even past the Apple Watch. I hope this post made sense. What are your thoughts?

Submitted by Tree on Thursday, January 7, 2016

In reply to by Chris

In responce to the person who asked about an iPhone app for tactile time telling, search this site for an app called pocket time.

Submitted by Greg Wocher on Thursday, January 7, 2016

This great. The time is working great for me now. I just checked it and it gave me the longer buz for five and then a short buz for one indicating it was six o'clock. Thank you for such a useful app on my watch. I use it all the time when I am in places that are either too loud to hear it or I need the watch quiet.

Greg Wocher

Submitted by Bingo Little on Friday, January 8, 2016

I don't have an Apple Watch, but this app goes a long way to resolving the deal-breaker for me. I would rather not fiddle about with turning Voiceover on and off, relying on this app being the last one I ran and so fort, but I really hope that Apple sees the benefits of this and allows the creation of custom watch faces. Looks like the number of people who need their watches to be silent is larger than I tthought, so hopefully this need will register with apple.

Submitted by TimeBuzz on Saturday, January 9, 2016

In reply to by Chris

Unfortunately Apple does not have any public API's for using the TapTic engine in the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. I'm aware of some private API's but using those will most certainly get the app rejected sooner or later during the Appstore review.

The only kind of vibration available to developer is a simple single vibration.Actually the first prototype of this app (developed in May 2015) was using the iPhone to vibrate the time and the Apple Watch was just a remote control. So a tap on the watch, started the vibration of the time on the iPhone. It had no support for buzz patterns, it worked similarly to the Times Square pattern.

Although the code of the app has changed dramatically since then, it's not hard to add it back into the iPhone app.But as the iPhone only supports a single type of buzz, there's no way to make a distinction between a 1, 5 or a 0 buzz as used by the buzz patterns.

Another problem is how the user would start the buzzing of the time on the iPhone. I don't think it's a good idea to always start buzzing the time when the app is activated or when the iPhone is unlocked and the app is still active. This can become quite annoying when you just want to open the app.
So I think it should at least be an option to enable that behavior. I'm thinking of a second screen so you can swipe between the first (the current main screen) and second screen and if the second screen is the last active screen, the app will always buzz the time upon activation. And maybe also buzz it again if you tap or double tap the screen. Not sure though if swipes are easily accessible, as the dots that indicate multiple screens are small and with voiceover enabled a swipe has to be performed with three fingers.

Ideas and suggestions are welcome although I see no solution yet to buzz a 5 and a 0 on the iPhone.

To add support for alerts at a certain interval (e.g. hourly chimes or every 10, 15, 30 minutes) is a common question I get. At the moment this seems impossible to implement on the Apple Watch. Apple does not allow third party developers to run the apps in the background on the watch and on top of that only foreground apps can make use of the TapTic engine. The only option I see are notifications but they come up as modal screens on the watch that need to be dismissed (or be ignored). And if the paired iPhone is actively in use, the notification might also show up on the iPhone and not in the watch itself.

Submitted by TimeBuzz on Saturday, January 9, 2016

In reply to by Greg Wocher

Glad it's fixed now Greg, thanks for reporting. It seems like an easy fix but in reality it wasn't. iOS and watchOS support well over 800+ different combinations of languages and regions and I wanted it to work for everybody. So I've made sure that the current implementation works for all of these combinations and it should use a buzz patterns that feels normal and natural to you.

Submitted by TimeBuzz on Saturday, January 9, 2016

In reply to by Bingo Little

A custom watch face is high on the priority list. As soon as Apple announces support for it, I'm on it!