Four ways Apple could make watchOS 4 even cooler and more convenient

Apple Watch clock
Apple Watch clock (Image credit: iMore)

It's hard to believe we're already approaching watchOS 4. In just about a month, Apple will host WWDC 2017 in San Jose, California, and unveil what's next for the Watch. The teams have been hard are work on it since just after the last version shipped, so it's a little late for wish lists. But, it's never to late to sum everything up that I'd like to see and get a jumpstart on June!

Here's my short list.

1. Ambient time — so Apple Watch actually works as a watch

I love my Apple Watch dearly but one of the biggest ways it still falls down hard is... as a watch. When I glance at a traditional watch, at any point, from any angle, I can still see the time. When I glance at my Apple Watch, unless I rotate or lift it sharply, mostly all I see is a blank screen. And so, instead of being all cool and casual, it's wicked obvious I'm looking.

With watchOS 3, Apple spent some of Watch's RAM and power budget to provide quick-launching apps. With watch OS 4, I'd love to see Apple spend some of that budget on ambient time instead. Subtle, low-power, always-on time that we could check without looking so much like we're checking.

2. A carefully curated watch face store, because Superman

Hey, iOS 10 gave us stickers, right? The odds of Apple opening up an Android Wear-style bazaar, where anything and everything can be uploaded, copyright be damned, is somewhere between zero and nil. But, the odds of Apple providing templates so everything from classic characters to the latest movies could have watch faces all their own?

The way Apples handling faces now can't scale. Adding Donald Duck or Wonder Woman as one-offs just isn't workable. Instead, imagine a few Watch face templates that can take special animated images, and those images are available from within the Watch app much like stickers are available in the iMessage app. A FaceKit, so to speak, for watchOS 4.

3. Proactive complications and dynamic watch faces

A couple of years ago, Apple started making Siri proactive. Instead of waiting for us to ask for stuff, Siri would start offering it up when time, location, and past behavioral patterns indicated we might want it. It's great, and would be even better on Watch.

For faces with the large complication, it would be easier — the smaller ones a bit trickier. But, imagine workouts didn't permanently take up a scarce and valuable complication slot, it simply appeared just before the times you most often worked out, or if a tap to message complication showed up when you usually signaled your significant other you were on your way home, or if you suddenly saw the Reminders complication just when you parked at the supermarket and needed your list.

I wouldn't want all complications popping in and out all the time, because that's the path to madness. Just let me pick a complication slot or two as "proactive" and then have at it.

4. Watch Apps, take 2 (or, let extensions be extensions)

The Home screen on Apple Watch

The Home screen on Apple Watch (Image credit: iMore)

When you have the most successful app platform in history, everything looks like an app. So, it's little wonder Apple Watch tried to mimic the iPhone and iPad model. But, a device that's meant for brief, frequent, important interactions may not have been the best fit for traditional binary app blobs.

Notifications work great. So do complications. Apple nailed that with the original watchOS. Who needs a Clock app when you can access a timer or stopwatch from the watch face or via Siri? That's the post-app, functionality-set-free approach I hope we see more of in watchOS 4 and beyond.

Your watchOS 4 wish-list?

There's a lot more I'd like to see in watchOS 4, including Notes, Voice Recorder, Podcasts, and News extensions so I can get down and retrieve important bits of information on the go; trusted object for multi-factor authentication; leaderboard for activity sharing friends, and more. But, this is about you now, not me. As we head towards WWDC 2017, what's top of your Apple Watch wish-list?

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • I'd love to be able to flip-flop the way the app switching and watch face switching works. I like how on Android Wear you can swipe through different screens without pressing any button. Additionally, I don't switch watch faces all that often so that would be a decent use of the side button. The second thing I would really like is in Workouts to have the side button start and stop an activity. When you're tired from a hard run the last thing you want to do is mess with a touchscreen to stop the activity. I know first world problems. Oh and automatic lock during activity because sweat will sometimes trigger taps on the touchscreen.
  • Good thoughts. Good point on the workouts. I know sometimes when I finish a swim that swiping on the screen can get finicky.
  • Yes, that's even more of an issue in water!
  • Please, add a baked in sleep tracker...... Thanks,
  • Yes!
  • Yes! I'm surprised sleep tracking wasn't in this list. I'd like a smart way to activate it, too. Let me tell the watch the times I typically go to bed and get up (they're the same pretty much 7 nights a week) and let it sense when I go to sleep. If it's after 10pm and before 6:30am, the watch starts looking for signs that I'm sleeping (ie. less movement) and sleep tracking automatically kicks in.
  • I'd love to have native sleep tracking. Sleep+ did (does?) a great job, but it hasn't worked for me since an update in January.
  • I wanted native sleep tracking until I tried AutoSleep. Absolutely the best way to track sleep. I have tried others and this is the only app that does as well as my FitBit did.
  • Love Autosleep. I know Apple just purchased a sleep hardware/App company but i can't imagine it being better than autosleep.
  • I lied, the app is called Pillow, not Sleep + :)
  • You may get your wish. Apple just bought a company called Beddit, who - you guessed it - makes sleep tracking devices.
  • I wholeheartedly second this list! Items #1 and #2 are the really big ones for me. I would love to have ambient time and a NY Islanders logo on the face (then it would be the smartwatch version of my old watch)!
  • I'd hope they could make the things that Apple Watch is good at, even faster. -Getting driving/walking directions through the watch can sometimes take up to a minute, when it should be as fast as on the phone.
    -Setting reminders now is actually as quick as on the phone
    -Sleep tracking
    -Alarm that wakes you up based on your sleep cycle
  • Custom sound notifications!!!! Every text and alert is almost the same. DING! Custom ringers. Since my iPhone no longer rings or dings I want my Apple Watch to duplicate the sounds my iPhone used to make.
    (And sleep analysis would be nice)
  • On that note, custom vibrations for notifications as well. I'd love for all notification sounds and vibrations to mirror my iPhone.
  • Oh yes, but i've prayed for that on the iPhone for ages!
  • I'd like to see proactive watch faces. I like certain watch faces when driving, at work, at home etc. Something we can setup based on GPS and time of day.
  • I'd like to see my current cell reception on the Apple Watch.
  • +1
  • I would love to actually use the answer feature. When i click to answer a call, it spins and spins and the call goes to voice mail before it picks up. The whole watch seems groggy. I guess faster response time in general would be nice.
  • 1. Better notifications. Ringtones that mirror the settings on my phone, so my custom message tone is the same on my watch. The ability to set sound on or off, haptics on or off, per application. 2. Complications that just display info. I don't want to be taken to the weather app if I tap it accidentally, I just want the info on the watch face. I'll open apps deliberately from the dock or home screen if I want to launch an app. 3. Yeah, I'd love an always on time display, somehow, even if it's low brightness.
  • Oh, one more thing: because so many people buying the Apple Watch are interested in fitness, and perhaps beginning a running program, I think the workouts app for running needs an interval timer, for people to do regular walk/run intervals (either by time or distance.) It's pretty common for people to start a running program this way, and it would be interesting to advanced runners as well who do interval workouts regularly.
  • I'd also like to see the "swipe to change faces" go away. I like my current watch face and I hate it when it accidently gets changed on me. What I'd most like to see is some stand alone GPS functionality for the Series 2. Not full blown Maps and stuff along those lines, but some very localized mapping ability. For instance if I'm out walking with friends and if we take a wrong turn I'd like to get directions back to my house or car, wherever I left my phone, without having to bring my phone with me. Also I deliver for Amazon Flex on my off days and a car-finder app or some sort of directional compass-like navigation back to my car or even my iPhone in my car would be awesome. I was delivering to an apartment complex the other day and had to go in on foot and since I have a little android phone I use to deliver with I left my iPhone in the car. Of course I had some trouble finding my way back to my car.
  • I want Force Touch in the messages app to add a DELETE ALL option. I text a lot of GIFS and meme's and I just want an easier way to clear out older junk. For now I have to swipe it to the side, hit the trash can, then confirm for every single person I text. It's madness. Make it Force Touch or let me delete it in the Watch app on my iPhone.
  • Definitely some form of an "always-on" display. I personally wouldn't mind trading a little battery life for that.
  • This definitely needs to happen, the wrist movement doesn't always work which can be incredibly frustrating
  • It's unbelievable that it's not there yet, but I'd like the watch to notify me when I leave my iPhone behind.
  • It does notify you. It's very subtle though. When you leave your phone behind, there's a red iPhone with a mark across it at the top of the watch face. Agree with you though. More can be done.
  • Yes this is a life saver that I have relied on with my Samsung watch for a couple of years. Quick vibrate when you get out of range. This should be enhanced for the next version of Watch OS to included a haptic feedback. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • My first Pebble had that feature YEARS ago. Come on Apple. Instead of just showing us that nearly invisible red rectangle why not add a really nagging vibration effect to tell us our expensive iPhone was left behind.
  • I'll be happy if they bring Google maps back
  • Talk to Google about that one.
  • I'd like a function that warns me the moment I'm out of range of my paired iPhone. That way (say if I'm out at a bar), I would know if I'm about to leave it behind. A form of geofencing might have to go with that - I wouldn't want the same warning if I leave my phone in my living room, when I'm taking the bins out.
  • And that would be so easy to implement with "safe zones" that depends on your WiFi coverage. I've seen that in other applications/devices and it's badly implemented; maybe Apple could nail that one!
  • My major complaint (especially my wife who refuses to use her Apple Watch because of it) is she cannot hear or feel when a text message comes in. When paired, the watch takes over from the text message sound on the iPhone (iPhone doesn't sound anymore). What I would like to see is an option (preferably easy to get to to turn on or off) that allows the iPhone to also sound and vibrate. I realize that if it isn't paired the iPhone will make sounds but that is not the way the watch should be used. If they don't fix this my wife is going to sell her Apple Watch Series 1 with bands and chargers. Too bad.
  • Please, Tim,Cook, give me a Modular face with a second hand, with talking time, and with MANY MORE slots for complications! Better yet – do a face that is ALL complication-slots, with one corner optionally reserved for the time and date.
  • Yes indeed! That and a FaceKit - I would buy tons of those!!!!
  • LTE! Wait! Don't get mad! I don't really care about placing a phone call without my iPhone, but I dream of the day when I will be able to leave my iPhone behind (when shopping, jogging, at work with the vending machines, etc.) and still use ApplePay, receive my notifications, setup reminders with Siri, find a song with Shazam, turning off my slow cooker, etc. Also the LTE turn on only when it looses the BT/WiFi connection with the iPhone, thus not killing the watch all day long by staying always on.
  • I'd also like to see pushing the stem stopping the Activity. I'd also like to see Steps on the Activity Tracking screen on the watch. Do the Active Calories correspond to the Move Calories? If not that is what I would like to see displayed as well on the Tracking screen on the watch.
  • Folks, remember that the proper place to make recommendations is here: