Have you ever thought about the difference of digital watches versus analog ones? I'll tell you: Digital ones are better at their job and here's why.

The analog 12h time format sucks

What could be the fastest way to tell which hour of the day you are talking about? Surprisingly it's simply telling somebody which hour of the day you are talking about.

Hey Bob let's meet at the 14th hour, okay?

Sure makes more sense than this:

Hey Bob let's meet at the 2nd hour of the day - the one after noon.

Nobody talks like that? That's because it's so complicated that people invented a way to shortcut it by appending a.m. or p.m..

Think of your standard analog watch. How does looking up the time work?

  1. Find your watch. (Most of times at your wrist.)
  2. Find one of the hands.
  3. Find the second hand.
  4. Find out which is the small and which is the big one.
  5. Find one of the hands and know the hour/minute.
  6. Find the other hand again and know the minute/hour.

So that means in your head it works probably something like this:

Okay one is pointing here, is it the big one? Where's the other one… okay it's pointing between 2 and 3 and it's smaller indeed. That means it's 2 something. Where was the first arm pointing at again? Okay so its 2:35. The 2:35 in the morning or the one in the afternoon?

Digital doesn't make you search quite as much:

  1. Find your watch. (Probably still at your wrist.)
  2. Look at the part before the :.
  3. Look at the part after the :.

Which turns into a inner monologue like this:

Okay the first number is 14 so it's 2 in the afternoon and the second number is 35 so its 2 in the afternoon and 35 minutes.

How to change that

Now there are things about analog watches that are quite nice and should be kept if possible. The spirit of the classic watch probably is that it makes you think "Well, this isn't magic after all. If I had some time I could probably build one myself." Keeping that in mind you can't change the analog watch so radical that it seems too complicated to get.

On the other hand you want to overcome the 24h problem and try to make the eye search as little as possible. This can be achieved by splitting hour and minute display into two separate areas. Now you still have to search the two faces for the hands, though.

The simplest solution is often the best one: Don't move the hands but move the number display below them. And while you are at it add an indicator for a.m. and p.m. or even better, change the hour display to 24 instead of 12 hours.


Now we have a watch that combines inner workings that are still simple enough to get with the effectiveness of 24h digital watches. And that's my idea of a better analog wrist watch. If you happen to know where I can get something like that (for less than an arm and a leg) let me know.

Discussion at Hacker News.


2011-10-16: Seems the Fortis B-47 Big Black is a pretty good example of what I tried to describe. Don’t look at the hands but look at the way the day and date are displayed. Now imagine you do would put both windows for day and date on the same side and make them show not day and date but hour and minute.

That way you would take away your eyes need to search for the hands because the hour and minute could always be found in the exact same place. Like with digital watches. And there you go.