I've been using the Apple Watch Series 6 for a week and wanted to share my thoughts on it. Who should upgrade? How does the blood oxygen sensor work? Is that always-on screen noticibly brighter outside? Watch to find out!
I've been doing big reviews of watchOS since the beginning, and for the first time, I'm venturing into video! The full text of the review is below, but frankly, the video is the primary version of the review, so if you can I'd love if you checked that out if you can (something something like and subscribe).
Anyway, not matter how you want to take in the review, I'm glad you're here, so let's go!
watchOS 7 is not the flashiest release ever, but that's to be expected of an operating system on its seventh major release. After a few years of feeling out where the Apple Watch fit in people's lives, Apple seems to have a good grasp on what makes people love their Apple Watches and has made changes targeted at making those people even happier.
watchOS 7 doesn't change anything fundamental about the Apple Watch experience, but it does add several features that line up well with its focus as a health and fitness device, all while making some good old fashioned improvements to the user interface that make watchOS a better experience. If you were expecting things to fundamentally change, then I think you're just setting yourself up for disappointment as that is not the phase the Apple Watch is in right now.
With that in mind, let's take a look at the three major changes Apple made this year that landed the hardest with me after a summer of using the new update, as well as all of the little things that changed that I appreciated.
Without question, the headline feature of watchOS 7 is sleep tracking. We’ve been hoping this would be added for years, and this year Apple finally did it. Their implementation is as integrated into the system as you’d hope, as this sleep tracking ties directly to the “bedtime” feature the iPhone already had. If you’re wearing your watch when your bedtime rolls around, then the watch will detect when you go to bed and when you wake up and log it in the Health app on your phone.
The first caveat is that while the watch does a good job of guessing when I lay down to go to sleep, it does not do a good job of detecting when I wake up in the morning. It’s detection is tied directly to the alarm, so as soon as you dismiss your alarm, the watch counts you as getting up, even if it’s Saturday and you fall back asleep for another hour or two. According to my watch, I wake up at exactly 6AM 7 days a week. This is close to accurate on weekdays, but it’s not always true on weekends, but I have no record of this.
On the plus side, if you wake up before your alarm, you can tell your phone you’re “getting an early start” and it will mark you as waking up early. I really am surprised there isn’t a similar “I slept in” option for when you dismiss your alarm but then don’t move for an extended period.
Unfortunately, you can not manually update these sleep times either if you know that it got the tracking wrong. If you got to the Health app, you can see your sleep stats, but you can not change them. Maybe there is a third party app that lets you modify existing Health data, but I’m not familiar with it, nor would I argue this is the sort of thing you should rely on the third party to provide.
Another caveat is that the tracking is simply not always that good. For example, last night (as of writing this section of the review) I got up for about 10 minutes around 4:30AM to take the dog out because his bladder could not make it through the night(fn). According to my watchOS sleep data, I slept like a log from 11PM to 6AM without a break at all. I don’t need to see every single second of my sleep chart, but I would kinda expect to have me getting out of bed, walking around for 10 minutes, and getting back to sleep would show as at least a blip. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t.
Back on the good side, and maybe the best update that sleep tracking brought with it, is that when you’re in your “bedtime” window, your watch face goes into a new mode, conveniently called, “bedtime”. This basically acts like Theater Mode, but is more specific to sleep. Series 5 watch owners will be happy to know that it turn off the always-on screen, which is way too bright to wear in bed, and for the last year has had me manually enabling Theater Mode every night. And all Apple Watch owners will be happy to know that this makes you tap the screen to see anything, and when it turns on the screen, it uses a super low brightness, special watch face that makes almost no light and does not disturb the person next to you.
The system integration and Bedtime mode for the watch face are reasons enough for me to keep using it, but if you care about getting the most accurate sleep data that ebbs and flows with your actual sleep behavior, I really recommend sticking with something like Autosleep or Sleep Cycle, both of which I think do a better job of tracking your sleep and giving you more useful information about your sleep habits.
This is a little nerdy, so it’s not at the top of the list of new features, but it’s pretty awesome and people who like Shortcuts are going to love this!
You now have access to some Apple Watch functionality in Shortcuts, including:
- Setting a specific watch face
- Toggling Theater Mode on and off
- Toggling silent mode on and off
- Pinging your iPhone
- Toggling the always-on screen on and off (Series 5/6 only)
- Toggling water lock on and off
Additionally, all of these are available in the automation tab of the Shortcuts app, so you an have these things happen based on all of the triggers you can use for iOS automations. And as a bonus, iOS 14 allows you to set automations to run without the need for user approval. That means that in iOS 13 you had to see the automation notification and tap it to make your automated shortcuts run, but in iOS 14 you can set these to just run and do their thing without bothering you. You still get a notification that the automation happened, but it’s just in your notification shade and you can ignore it if you want.
The best use case for this automation is setting your watch face based on time and place. I have a bunch of these set up:
- Set my information-dense Infograph Modular face when I get to work
- Set my Solar Dial face at 5PM so I can see how much sun is left today
- Set my Numerals Duo face at 9PM so I can have a minimal face before I go to sleep
- Set my Numerals Duo face Saturday morning so that I have my classy weekend face ready to go
This gets us the “I want a different watch face at home and at work” feature we’ve wanted for years, and while it’s still a bit nerdy to set up a Shortcut, it’s now there for people who know how to set it up, and that’s great.
I thought hand washing detection was a clever feature to add, and is the most quintessentially 2020 feature in this update, but I underestimated how much I’d end up loving it. Here’s how it works.
Basically, when your hands start making a hand washing motion for about 5 seconds, your watch will buzz and show a 20 second countdown to make sure you wash for the recommeneded 20 seconds. If you do it congratulates you, and if you don’t then it will ask if it was a false detection, if it was “a quick rinse”, or if you just failed to do it right, you filthy animal. This hand washing data is added to the Health app and you can see a log of each time you wash your hands and for how long.
In my experience, this works shockingly well, and it detected me washing my hands close to 100% of the time, and I never in the entire summer of testing got a false positive. I’ll also note that while I mentioned above that it takes about 5 seconds to detect the action and show the 20 second timer, it still only needs you to wash for 20 seconds total. When the timer comes on screen it will have 14-16 seconds remaining, depending on how long it took to detect your washing.
Another nice touch is that this is, as far as I can tell, the only new thing to get to use the always on display of the Series 5 Apple Watch. This is really convenient when there is a mirror in front of you and you can see the timer count down in your reflection. The bubble timer UI is also a genius bit of work and I love this sudsy design language!
And one more note, in the beta period, this feature was off by default, and I needed to go into the Settings app on my phone, scroll all the way down to Hand Washing, and turn on the detection. I don’t know if this will be different in the public release, but if you never get this, check the Settings app to make sure it’s on.
The ultimate compliment I can give this feature is that it has genuinely changed my behavior. In March and April I was religious about washing my hands for at least 20 seconds, but I’d fallen off after that. When I installed watchOS 7 and activated this feature, it was jut enough of a dopamine hit to get me to do the full 20+ second wash almost every time.
All the Small Things
watchOS 7 has a ton of smaller changes that add up this year, and while I can't touch on all of them, these are the ones that stuck out the most to me over the past 3 months.
7 New Watch Faces
watchOS 7 comes with 7 new watch faces for anyone with an Apple Watch Series 4 or newer. These include:
- Chronograph Pro
- Count Up
I'm personally drawn to the Typograph watch face, as wel las the GMT one for work since I work for a company with people in 4 time zones. I also created a green and gold one in Stripes that I am thinking of using Shortcuts to automatically switch to every day there's a Packers game.
Watch Face Changing and Sharing
Edit watch faces gets a little easier this year as the whole UI for changing faces and editing complications/colors has be rebuilt. The new UI is more obvious what's going on, which is nice. It also makes selecting complications much easier than before.
This is good, because now apps are able to offer multiple complications of the same size and type. What does this mean? Well, look at weather apps. The Apple Weather app has always let you put the current temperature, UV index, or other values in the same spot on a watch face, but third party apps were only able to show one of those. Now all apps get the special permission Weather had before.
Finally, there's watch face sharing, which lets you share your current watch face, complete with complications and colors, with whomever you'd like. It shares the watch as a
.watchface file, not an iCloud link, so you are not able to share these over social media, but iMessage or email work well.
Customize Your Activity Goals
This was added literally hours before watchOS 7 shipped, and it's something I've been asking for for years, so I'm super excited (and surprised) to see this come in watchOS 7.
To get tothis new setting, open the Fitness app on your watch, scroll to the bottom of the first page, and tap "Change Goals". You can then change all three rings to whatever works for you. The exercise ring maxes out at 60 minutes, and the stand ring must be between 6-12.
Animations are Way Faster
This one really works better in the video, but animation speeds for things like opening and closing apps is about 2x faster this year. There is less of a delay in how long it takes for the animation to start, and the animations themselves are also noticibly quicker. This makes it feel like you're getting a hardware upgrade for free.
Tapping on the Always on Screen
Along with the animation speed increase, they've also made it so that tapping on a complication from the always-on screen just takes you into the app right away, rather than first turning on the screen and then tapping again to open the app.
Much like the iPhone, the Apple Watch is now more careful with how it charges. if you're charing overnight, it will hold the battery level around 80% most of the night and then fill it up to 100% right before you wake up. Presumably this will increase the lifetime of your watch's battery.
Additionally, there is a Battery page in the watch's settings app where you can see your battery health. I'm at 92% on my Series 5 after a year of use.
And finally, iOS will display an alert as soon as your watch hits 100% charge so you know when it's good to go. This will be especailly useful when you put it on the charger in the evening to get it to 100% before wearing it to track your sleep.
This one is pretty basic, but welcome. You can ask for directions somewhere and select Biking as your trasit mode.
You can ask Siri to do translations for you in a bunch of different languages. She will both display the result on screen and pronounce the translation for you.
Fitness is the New Activity
The Activity app is no more, it's now called Fitness, and as you'd expect from Apple given their services push recently, it's making room for a new Fitness+ service laster this year.
Beyond the change in name and a new premium service, the app also changes the layout by combining your daily fitness stats, workout history, and fitness trends all on one page. This could easily be crowded, but it's actually very well done and I think is an improvement over the previous layout.
So Long, 3D Touch
Just like the iPhone before it, 3D Touch has been removed from watchOS in this reelase. Even if you are on a watch that has the feature, it will no longer work after updating to watchOS 7.
Here's what's important to know:
- All of Apple's apps have been updated to remove 3D Touch elements. In most cases, this means moving the "secret" functions you would get to by pressing into the screen to regular old visual buttons in the UI.
- Third party apps are expected to remove this 3D Touch behavior when they build their apps for watchOS 7. You should see third party apps change a bit to account for this in the coming weeks.
- None of your existing apps will break. If an app has not been updated, then 3D Touch will be simulated by long pressing on the screen. You don't have to press hard, just hold your finger on the screen and you'll see the additional options appear.
Control Center Customization
Finally, there is a new "edit" button at the bottom of Control Center, allowing you to remove most of the toggles that you don't need. Wifi, cellular, battery, and airplane mode are the only ones that can not be removed.
watchOS 7 is a strong release for the Apple Watch. There are some serious improvements, and no real regressions that I can think of. The platform has matured nicely, and Apple has a very clear vision for the product. The updates we got today line up very well with that vision, and I think it's a very good update.
The sleep tracking features are flawed, but have come with several features that make sleeping with your Apple Watch better overall. The Shortcuts support is a godsend and makes the watch markedly better for nerds who know how to use Shortcuts. Hand washing detection is likely not everyone's cup-o-tea, but it's implemented really well and has had a meaningful impact on my behavior this summer. And then all the new watch faces and smaller updates make this a really good package.
In closing, this new ad for the Series 6 Apple Watch, released yesterday, really struck a chord in me.
I feel like every recent review I've done for watchOS says something like "it doesn't change a ton" but when you add all of these up and say them togeter, as they do in this ad, it's really remarkable how much power there is in this little computer on our wrists.
3 days ago I made a bunch of predictions about what we'd see from the new Apple Watches and today we saw everything. Let's see how I did:
Apple Watch SE
I made 9 total guesses, and I got it more right than I ever would have expected:
- It will look like a Series 4/5 - nailed it
- It will not have an always-on display - right on
- It will start at $249 (I'd be shocked if they hold the $199 price point of the Series 3) - not quite, but only off by $30
- It will not have a cellular option - incorrect
- No 3D Touch - nailed it
- No ECG - nailed it
- It will have the same SOC as the Series 4 - technically not what they said, but considering the Series 4 and 5 shared the same SOC with minor differences for the always-on screen, which the SE doesn't have
- Event recaps will say, "it's basically a renamed Series 4" - not quite, but largely since Apple said it had the Series 5 SOC
- The think the "SE" name is more popular than ever, and Apple will want to frame this the same as the iPhone SE: a couple years' old design for a great price. - freaking nailed it before the big names were committed to it
Apple Watch Series 6
I took more gambles here
- Same body shape as the Series 4/5 (not necessarily down to the millimeter, but to the naked eye) - nailed it
- No 3D Touch - nailed it
- Higher battery capacity, with Apple proudly commenting on how much better it is than last year's model - nope, was actually surprised by this
- New screen technology that allows them to take the screen even closer to the edges than before - nope
- An exclusive new watch face - nope
- A new health sensor, likely a pulse oximeter - nailed it
- A new material/finish for at least one of the models (maybe a shiny aluminum) - nope, in fact they removed the ceramic
- A new color, likely a dark blue/green - nailed the blue, didn't expect the red
- New watch band style, as well as new colors for the new season - 3 new styles!
- Shipping this month (likely Sept. 25), pre-orders as soon as the event is over - nailed it
- Same pricing as current models ($399 aluminum, $699 stainless) - nailed it
I'm actually shocked how close I was on the SE model, but I missed a bit on the Series 6. I am most proud of the guesses about the name of the SE and guessing the blue color for the Series 6. I just got a little greedy on the Series 6 getting a new design too soon in the cycle, and I'm genuinely surprised they didn't say anything about battery life improvements.
Anyway, this was fun and doesn't matter at all, so let's just enjoy the new products!
Apple's event this coming week is expected to bring new Apple Watch models, and I wanted to get what I'm expecting out there now so I can be a good Apple rumor guy who brags if I get it right and never talk about it again if I get it wrong.
Apple Watch SE
There are strong rumors that a lower end Apple Watch is coming out to take a spot of the now three year old Series 3 model. My expectations are:
- It will look like a Series 4/5
- It will not have an always-on display
- It will start at $249 (I'd be shocked if they hold the $199 price point of the Series 3)
- It will not have a cellular option
- No 3D Touch
- No ECG
- It will have the same SOC as the Series 4
- Event recaps will say, "it's basically a renamed Series 4"
- The think the "SE" name is more popular than ever, and Apple will want to frame this the same as the iPhone SE: a couple years' old design for a great price.
Apple Watch Series 6
The main event, and my predictions are going to be a little more adventurous with this one.
- Same body shape as the Series 4/5 (not necessarily down to the millimeter, but to the naked eye)
- No 3D Touch
- Higher battery capacity, with Apple proudly commenting on how much better it is than last year's model
- New screen technology that allows them to take the screen even closer to the edges than before
- An exclusive new watch face
- A new health sensor, likely a pulse oximeter
- A new material/finish for at least one of the models (maybe a shiny aluminum)
- A new color, likely a dark blue/green
- New watch band style, as well as new colors for the new season
- Shipping this month (likely Sept. 25), pre-orders as soon as the event is over
- Same pricing as current models ($399 aluminum, $699 stainless)
These of course are not based on any inside info, just guesses based on rumors and general expectations, so we'll see how close I am in a few days.
I've been using the Apple Watch Series 5 for almost a full year now, and wanted to look back on how that watch did in its first year. When you ship with what amounts to one real new feature, that one feature really needs to hold its own, so does the Series 5's always-on display do that? Watch the video to find out!
Unlike other wearables such as the Fitbit or Oura, which measure how much time you spend in the various sleep phases and even give calculated sleep quality scores, Apple's sleep tech is more simplified. It just tracks duration of sleep, movement disturbances and heart rate. The content of your sleep isn't analyzed much at all. Instead, Apple's placed a big focus on the time you go to bed and what you do while you wind down.
I think this is a good start for them, as I often look at my sleep data through tools like Autosleep or Sleep Cycle and don't know what to do with it other than go, "looks like I was a little restless at this time for no reason".
My biggest complaint with the new feature is that it doesn't seem to have a way to edit your sleep history. This would be a minor problem, but I've also noticed that it always counts you as getting out of bed at your alarm time, whether you get out of bed or not. I can snooze the alarm a few times and it still shows me getting out of bed at 6AM on the dot. This weekend I slept in all the way til almost 9AM, but the watch says I got up at 6AM. This doesn't feel like a beta bug or anything, but a decision for this release, and I'm not a fan. Submitted feedback saying as much, so fingers crossed this is added.
Ok, so this is a kinda vague request, but it’s something that’s bothered me more since I’ve adjusted my watch notifications while going through this COVID-19 mess. Let me try to explain…
Default Notification Behavior
All notifications are mirrored to your watch. This means that everything that buzzes your phone will now tap your wrist. Effectively, you will never feel your phone vibrate because your watch is doing it all for you.
I like this because it makes it so that when I’m wearing my watch, I have one place to get notifications, and when I take it off to charge, my phone seamlessly takes over.
Getting Watch and Phone out of Sync
In order to stay a little more disconnected, I’ve turned off watch notifications for a bunch of apps. Twitter notifications, for example, are not important enough to tap my wrist, but I still want to get them, so I show them on my phone.
The problem here is that now my watch taps me for some things and my phone buzzes for other things. This is not what I personally want, as this introduces two devices that are trying to get my attention.
What I Want
What I would love is for any app that I do not have sending notifications to my watch to switch to “deliver quietly” while I’m wearing my watch. Still send them to my phone and let me see them on the lock screen, but don’t buzz for each one. Then when I take off my watch, start buzzing for all notifications again.
I could accomplish this by making all the notifications I don’t put on my watch deliver quietly, but that’s a decent amount of up front effort and ultimately isn’t what I want all the time, so I don’t think it’s quite right.
This is not a fully formed idea, and there are surely complexities around this, not to mention people who like the current behavior just fine, but for me this is something that annoys me and I wish I could improve more easily.
I’ve been home more in the past 2 weeks than any point in my adult life, and in that time, I’ve come to appreciate the Apple Watch more than ever.
I love the activity tracking for helping me make sure I maintain a healthy amount of activity throughout the day.
I love the stand notifications, yes the stand notifications, for letting me know how much less I get up from my desk chair while working from home. Office work is not very aerobic, but apparently it’s a workout compared to sitting in one’s office all day.
I appreciate the breath notifications because yeah, despite being pretty darn calm most of the time, there have been a a few times these weeks where a couple minutes to collect my thoughts was a welcome reminder.
I love having weather on my wrist and being able to see a t a glance that “hey, it’s pretty nice out now, I should take a walk to get some air and maybe fill those rings.”
I love being able to partially disconnect from Twitter and the news more easily by leaving my phone in the bedroom while I go about other things around the house. If an important notification comes through, I get it on my wrist and can reply either right away or go get the phone if it’s going to be more than a quick reply.
I love being able to have a productivity-based watch face that I can look at at any time and see my next task in Things available if I just need a reminder of what I can work on next.
I love that if I don’t want to have all that productivity stuff front and center then I’m a simple swipe away from my numerals duo watch face that just tells me the time in the most beautiful digital numbers I’ve ever seen on a watch.
Maybe this isn’t fair, but I love seeing notifications of messages from friends and family on my watch. I know, they’re also on my phone, but there’s something about seeing them on my wrist that makes them feel more personal somehow. I can’t logically explain this one, but it’s a thing.
And as an odd thing, I of course enjoy seeing the time on my Series 5 model without raising my wrist. You can lose track of the day when you’re outside your normal rhythm and while many devices in my life have clocks on them, none as as readily accessible as the one on my wrist.
The currently world is a mess, and we don’t know when things will get back to normal. There are also so many things more important than a watch going on right now, from doctors, nurses, other medical professionals, scientists, couriers, mailmen/women, delivery drivers, grocers, pharmacists, police, firefighters, retail workers, and more all making sure that the world keep functioning. These people are doing more than my watch will ever do for me, but my niche is the Apple Watch, and even with all this going on, my appreciation for it continues to grow.
It’s no secret that I think the Apple Watch is a great product and that I believe Apple has done a very good job of evolving it over the years to be the premier smart watch on the market. Frankly, if you are using an iPhone, I think there is no question on which smart watch you should get. And if you’re on Android and are debating which smart watch to get, I suggest converting to the iPhone and getting an Apple Watch instead of dealing with that mess entirely.
But this lead isn’t permanent, and it’s not something Apple can hold onto by standing still. We’re obviously going to get watchOS 7 this autumn and Apple will have an assortment of new features they’re pushing to all of our wrists. Below is basically what I would pitch to my boss if I worked on the watchOS team at Apple on what I thought we should be doing. Since I don’t work there, though, this is my public wish list for the platform and I hope you agree and pass this along so it’s more likely to get in front of someone on the actual team as inspiration.
Also worth noting here that this is the 5th year I'm doing a concept like this. Check out the past versions below!
- The Best Health, Better Apps, and Outstanding Communication: My watchOS 3 Pitch
- watchOS 4: A Modest Pitch
- watchOS 5: A Relatively Modest Proposal
- watchOS 6: The BirchTree Concept
As has been clear since the very beginning, the Apple Watch thrives as a fitness device. As most Apple Watch users what they like about their watch, and almost everyone will tell you something about filling their rings, losing weight, or learning how little they stand throughout the day. As they do every year, Apple should work on enhancing the fitness offerings of the watchOS platform.
As a quick note, there could be more they can do here by adding hardware to the Series 6 hardware that surely will come out this fall, but this article won’t hypothesize about those features.
I’m going to keep asking for this until it happens, but I think Apple should add native sleep tracking into watchOS. Apps like Autosleep and Napbot already do this, but there is so much headroom to do more in the space. I think Apple did an amazing job of moving the conversation from steps, a fine, but often unhelpful measure of health, to that of activity tracking. Their red “move ring” isn’t perfect either, but it’s a whole hell of a lot better than steps.
I’m simply going to resubmit my idea from last year since Apple did nothing since then and the requirements for human sleep have stayed, well, the same.
Customize Your Activity Rings
Since the very beginning, the Apple Watch has had 3 rings:
- Move: user-customizable number of “active calories” burned everyday
- Exercise: 30 minute goal of “active” minutes
- Stand: stand for at least 1 minute during 12 different hours
I think this year not only will Apple let you customize these rings more than before, but they’ll also add more rings. Want to add sleep or mindfulness: go right ahead.
The Apple Watch face is only so large, so I think they’ll have all 5 of these rings available, but you’ll have to choose which 3 show up in your rings. Maybe you want the traditional 3, or maybe you want to swap out the stand ring for sleep. Maybe you find 30 minutes to be too easy to hit each day, and setting your activity ring to 45 minutes might be more useful. Any combination would be possible in this new Activity app.
Manage Workouts from the iPhone
One of the things I run into on a semi-regular basis is forgetting to stop a workout after I’m done, and then getting a 60 minute workout on the books when I actually just walked for 20 minutes. Auto-stop should catch this, but it doesn’t always, and if you miss the notification that confirms you’re still working, then you can have an abnormally long workout.
Other times, I wish I could tell my watch I started walking or running a few minutes ago. There is a workout detection feature that was added a couple years ago, but it waits up to 10 minutes to ask you if you’re working out, so sometimes I’m 5 minutes into a walk, want to get credit for the walk, and have to decide, “do I start the workout now and lose the last 5 minutes, or do I wait and hope it asks me in a few minutes and potentially lose even more?”
I should be able to start a workout and tell the app that I started X minutes ago. it should use either my GPS data or extrapolate from my average speed/intensity to tell how much distance and calories to add. Along the same lines, after a workout I should be able to go into the Activity app on my phone and chop off the start or end of my workout to capture only the time I want.
Finally, and this is a small one, but I would love to be able to perform the basic mid-workout actions from a notification on my iPhone as well. I’d have this live as a persistent notification on my lock screen with some interaction, similar to the Now Playing controls. This is rarely an issue since the watch is already on my wrist, but sometimes it would be easier to use the phone.
A Web UI and Data Export
I don’t think Apple will do this, but it would be great to have a way to see my activity data from iCloud.com, and while I’m there, how about a way to export my activity data into a CSV? Again, probably not something Apple has any interest in doing, but it would be nice to not feel like my workout data is so tied to Workouts. If I want to download my data as a CSV and run my own analytics on it, I should be allowed! If I want to start using RunKeeper and transfer my run history over there, I should be able to do that too.
A Damn Day Off
This has been a request for a long time as well, but the Apple Watch should allow us the ability to be human and take a day off every once in a while. People get attached to their streaks, and breaking one because you’re either sick or in a situation where you can’t work out should be more okay. Activity++ addresses this by giving you a rest day every week so you can take a break on Sunday and get back to it on Monday and not lose any active streak. This would be completely fine by me, but any solution that makes it so streaks don’t terminate after a single bad day would be great.
Tell me if this sounds familiar to you:
I feel a tap on my wrist, I look at my Apple Watch, and see a new iMessage has come in. I read the message and immediately drop my wrist to grab my phone so I can actually respond.
I feel like this is how 90% of my message interaction is on the Apple Watch and I think it’s a huge opportunity for improvement. In terms of interacting with a 2 inch screen, I get that there are limitations, and Apple has done a good job of expanding the number of ways you can input text into it, but I think it’s still too hard and they could make things better in both easy and exceptionally hard ways.
Better Response Suggestions
At the bottom of every iMessage thread, there are dozens of options to reply with a single tap. I love these sometimes, but they’re not always useful, nor do they match my style of speaking in messages. Here’s a great example: my wife just texted me “my head hurts” and the top reply options are:
- Thank you
- Talk later?
- Hold on a sec…
None of these are right, and some of them are going to result in a conversation with my wife later if I accidentally chose one of them.
First, watchOS should look at the last few messages in a thread and offer suggestions that are tailored to what is going on. I’d expect to see something like:
- I’m sorry
- Oh no!
- I’m so sorry
- How long has it hurt?
- Feel better!
All of these would be more helpful than “Thanks!”
Second, watchOS should tailor the style of these messages to how I typically write messages. If I never capitalize my first letter or call my wife by a nickname, it should know that. Maybe that changes the responses to:
- I’m sorry, boo!
- oh no!
- I’m sooooo sorry!
- aw, boo, how long has it hurt?
- hope u feel better!
This is obviously really hard to do right, and I might be asking too much, but I don’t think it’s wildly out of reach, and I think a lot of what Siri does with context detection must be useful in determining messages’ intents better than the totally generic stuff we have today.
Scribble with Autocomplete
One of the nice things about iOS’s keyboard is that it suggests words to you as you type. Want to type “suggestion”? Type out s-u-g and the keyboard will almost certainly have the word there so you can tap it to finish the work quicker. Scribble on the Apple Watch is the fastest way to type something into the Apple Watch, but it still isn’t quick enough.
Apple should start suggesting words on screen as you scribble out your letters. Once you see the word you want, tap it and start scribbling the next word.
You may be asking, “how can we improve battery life without new hardware?” I’d answer that the Apple Watch needs a “low power mode”.
The simple truth is that the Apple Watch does far more than most people ever use it for, so I think there is room to cut functionality without creating too detrimental an experience for many people. Additionally, while I’m generally fine with charging my watch everyday, there are some cases where it would be nice not to have to worry about charging for 2, 3, or even 5 days.
There are currently 2 power modes on the Apple Watch:
- Normal, which is what we all use
- Battery saver, which turns off everything and shows the time when you click a button
Normal mode promises 18 hours and typically gets a bit more than that for most people . Battery saver mode effectively makes the watch useless, even as a watch since it takes about 2-5 seconds for the time to even show up after you press a button, which feels like an eternity. There should be a new mode between these that makes the Apple Watch useful, but sucks up a lot less power.
Introducing Weekend Getaway
This middle mode would make the Apple Watch function with most capabilities disabled, but would allow a few things to happen so that it still felt like a smart watch.
First on the chopping block is of course the always-on screen. This only helps the Series 5, but I don’t see how a lower power mode exists without this getting cut.
Second, I think we disable the ability to launch apps from the watch. Complications can continue to work, but you can’t tap them to launch into their apps, nor can you go to the “app honeycomb” page to even see anything else installed.
Third, all activity tracking is disabled. This one is going to be a hard hit, but I think disabling the pedometer, GPS, and heart rate monitor is a big win in terms of making the overall watch last much longer.
Fourth, kill all other watch faces, so you can’t swipe between them anymore. Maybe there is even a watch face you are required to use when in this mode.
Fifth, disable all iPhone connections and notifications, with the exception of messages (iMessage, SMS, WhatsApp, Telegram, etc.) and phone calls.
With these things removed, that basically leaves your watch face and essential notifications. You will be able to raise your wrist and see the time, basic complication data, and messaging notifications are they come in. It’s pretty basic, but for many people I bet it wouldn’t be too big of a change from how they use their watch most of the time. The biggest hit would come from activity tracking disappearing, but if you’re going to be out of town for a few days (and you’re not obsessed with your streak), that might be worth sacrificing.
The use cases for a mode like this are plentiful. I was out of town for 4 days recently, and it would have been nice to be able to leave my watch charger at home. If I’m going out of town overnight, it would let me keep the watch alive without bringing a charger. Camping for a couple days would be really nice to leave the charging puck and external battery pack at home. Or maybe I’m just at home, but forget to charge my watch daily and would like a little more room for error.
Maybe the ideas above don’t move the needle too much when it comes to conserving power, but I think there is a lot of potential here to make the watch more than a 1-day product.
I think Apple could do everything above and have a killer release in watchOS 7 this year. But there is more that I’d like them to do, so here are a few other ideas for making watchOS better across the board.
The only real new feature in the 2019 Apple Watch was the always-on screen. As I wrote in my review, I think Apple has the best implementation in the game already, but there is definitely room for improvement.
First off, I’d like to drastically cut down on how often I see the generic always-on screen; aka the “a random app is on screen so I’m going to blur it out and put a white clock in the top right” view. Currently, you get a nice always-on mode when:
- On the watch face
- In the middle of a workout (in Workouts only, not Strava, for example)
That’s it, and that seems like a major missed opportunity. I get the argument for privacy and that you don’t want a notification showing to the world when you lower your wrist, but at the same time I feel like I see it far too often. My fix would be to add always-on support for a few more apps, and I think that would go a long way.
First, let’s add it to the timer and stopwatch apps. If you’re timing something, then you probably want to be able to see it at all times. Next, I’d add it to navigation in the Maps app so that I can see my next move on the always-on screen and not have to flip my wrist to see the next direction. Now Playing and all other media apps should get it so I can see what’s playing, as well as how far along in my book/podcast/song I am.
Along a similar line, I often get a notification, raise my wrist to read it, and then lower my wrist. When I do this, the weird “white clock on blurred background” mode stays active for about a minute, so when I go to look at my wrist again it looks janky. I’d like it to change so that if I raise my wrist to see a notification and then lower it, dismiss the notification in 5 seconds and return to the watch face.
And the other change I’d like to see is a bedtime mode for the watch. I use the always-on screen all day and love it, but I kind of hate it in bed. It’s quite dim, but in the pitch black of the night, it’s way too bright and it’s woken my wife up on a few occasions. I’d love it if it could get even darker, but in lieu of that, I’d be content with just being able to toggle a bedtime mode (link it with the downtime feature on iOS, even) that turns off the screen and only lets certain apps deliver notifications.
Third Party Watch Faces
How many times do we need to ask?! You know the reasons this would be good, so I won’t bore you with those, but if Apple wanted to breath some life into watchOS development, letting developers make watch faces (aka the main thing most people use) they could make opportunities for tons of people to express themselves in fun and interesting ways. This is their “most personal device ever” after all.
As an alternative, Apple could also ship some sort of “build your own watch face” tool on the Watch app for iPhone. While you can kind of do that already with the existing watch faces, maybe Apple could make a tool for dragging whatever complications and other elements around the screen to your heart's content. I don't know how useful this would be, but it could help people get closer to their perfect watch face.
At the very least, let's make it easier to share our watch faces. If I make a watch face with a certain color combo and complication set and let me share that on Twitter so anyone else can get that instantly.
This one is pretty vague, but Apple should make a run through of the things you do on the watch and try to remove one tap from the process. This “one tap less” initiative would look at analytics for what people do on their watches most and would simply try to remove one tap from the process. We’re not rewriting the whole OS yet, but optimizing flows so people are more likely to do them on the watch than pull out their phone would help a lot.
Oh, and whatever is going on with Siri needs to be fixed. Most of the time Siri is great on my Series 5, but even now I get some occasions where I get the dreaded “I’ll tap you when I’m ready” messages. I’m not sure what the technical limitations are here, but they need to be sorted out so that Siri can be as fast as it should be.
Better Wireless Speeds
This is another technical issue that has plagued the Apple Watch forever, but for whatever reason, the Apple Watch takes forever to transfer data. Updates take forever and syncing podcasts and music is an exercise in frustration. Even the cellular watches that just talk to the cloud directly take much longer than my iPhone to download everything. This update may require hardware, but if there are any optimizations they can make on the software side, I’d love to see them.
Currently, I’m not able to do anything really with my Apple Watch from Shortcuts. I’d like to be able to have actions like:
- Toggle theater mode
- Silence notifications
- Open a specific app
- Start a specific workout
- Turn off the always-on screen
iPad and Android Sync
The Apple Watch has had a good run with the iPhone, but much like the iPhone and iPad broke free of the Mac, I think the Apple Watch should get some more freedom from the iPhone. I don’t know if it’s ready to run entirely on its own, but it would be great to be able to pair it with different devices.
First, and more likely, is the iPad. There is no reason I couldn’t see my watch data on my iPad, especially if I have a cellular Apple Watch that doesn’t need an iPhone around at all times to handle the cellular connection.
The more pie-in-the-sky option would be to have Apple release an Apple Watch app for Android that let you set up and manage your watch from the Android device of your choice. Samsung’s devices show how deep into Android you can hook into, and while this will never be as good an experience as it would be when paired with an iPhone, it would instantly be the best option for Android users the world over. If Apple is interested in giving Apple Watch sales a shot in the arm, then this is how they could do it.
Oh, and making the Apple Watch work with Android sure feels a lot like Apple making the iPod work with Windows. It’s a “halo device” that gets people in the door with an Apple Watch purchase this year, and maybe an iPhone the next…
There’s a lot here, and if you made it this far, thank you! Please share this as far and wide as you can so that Apple sees some of these ideas and takes them into account as they continue to work on this platform that so many of us love. Apple is full of smart people and they do great work, but I can’t help but put my thoughts out there. Mocking up these concepts helps me think critically about the Apple Watch as a platform, and I hope it gave you some of your own ideas for what the future of this product can be.
History suggests I’m going to be let down on getting the exact things in this concept. Apple has their own plans and I hope that the actual watchOS 7 has a handful of features and enhancements that surprise and delight me.
In my review of watchOS 6 last year, I said:
The Apple Watch is at its best when it’s helping you do things quicker than you expect, so I’d love to see a whole UI redesign that focuses on this concept. The current app-centric model has served them well, but I think the platform is ready to do more.
I guess what I’m saying is that Apple is moving the Apple Watch forward, but it feels like it’s advancing at a comfortable pace right now, and maybe that’s just a cost of being a successful, 4 year old platform with very little real competition.
I still think there is a chance for Apple to make a bigger change to the Apple Watch’s fundamental interface than what I proposed here. My concept is an evolution, not a revolution in smartwatch design. If Apple decides to make a more dramatic change this year, I’ll be on the edge of my seat, just like you.
I was looking at my Pixel 4 (like you do) and I noticed something I don’t often think about with the always-on screen: it moves.
This isn’t new, as basically all smartphones with this feature do this, and have for years. It’s done to avoid burn in, and usually manifests in the phone moving the always-on content a few pixels left, right, up, and down every minute. But what got me thinking is that the Apple Watch, another product that is always on, doesn’t do this at all.
Assuming there are not going to be massive burn in problems with Series 5 Apple Watches in a few months, I wonder why they’re able to do this while others are not.
The Apple Watch is also giving this mode more work than most phones. Most phones use the proximity sensor to turn off the always-on screen when it’s in a pocket or laying face down on your desk. The Pixel 4 even uses a radar system to sense when no one is around it so that it turns off then as well. Meanwhile the Apple Watch has its screen on 100% of the time it’s on your wrist, only turning off when it’s off your wrist.
Anyway, this post is really just me asking what the deal is.