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Six Apple Watch features we'd love to see in iPhone 7

Apple has been working on its smartphone for over a decade, and iterating on that work going on eight years. Come this fall, we'll almost certainly see a new generation of iPhone models — let's call them iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus, to stick to pattern — and next year, iPhone 7.

The Apple Watch, in contrast, has undergone related but distinct development for just about four years now. It's Apple's signature hardware — but wearable — and more importantly, it's iOS, rethought for the wrist. Jony Ive, Kevin Lynch, and the teams working on the Watch have come up with features that could be, with the proper translations, just as compelling in the hand with your iPhone. Here are our top six we'd love to see brought over from watchOS to iOS this fall and beyond.

Complications

iOS 8 brought widgets to Notification Center; some want them on the Lock screen as well, but the security and privacy implication of that much data and interactivity moving from the Touch ID and passcode system could be problematic.

Complications, on the other hand, can provide great informational density with minimal interactivity. Everything you need to see is beyond glance-able — it's glimpse-able. Activity level, next events, and more could all be easily seen, and quickly accessed. They couldn't and shouldn't be as watch-specific as classic complications, but they could and should be the iPhone equivalent — dense bits of information available and accessible right from the Lock screen.

Staged notifications

With notifications on Apple Watch, you first see a "short look" notification that shows you the app icon and a brief bit of information like the sender's name or the type of alert. Then — either a moment later if you keep it elevated or after a tap if you have privacy enabled — it expands into a "long look" that gives you the full message. Sure, the Apple Watch has skin-contact-powered security so that it's sure you're the only one doing the looking, but it would be great if the iPhone 6s could optionally do the same on pick up — short look on Lock screen, raise or tap to get long look.

Night theme

Unlike the iPhone, the Apple Watch interface is based on a black background. It makes sense for the OLED technology used in the Watch display, but it also works great at night, in dark rooms, and in a variety of other circumstances. iBooks already has a night theme. So does Maps. So does the new Apple Watch app for iPhone — presumably to match the Apple Watch. The iPhone doesn't have an OLED display — at least not yet — but either way, a systemwide dark mode would be great.

Force Touch and Taptic Engine

Force Touch makes multitouch multi-dimensional. It lets you not only tap the Apple Watch display or MacBook trackpad, but press firmly into it to trigger a range of different responses. On the Apple Watch, Force Touch is almost exclusively used as a "second click" to bring up context sensitive menus. On the trackpad, it does everything from accelerating zooming to previewing documents, web pages, and maps. The "second-click" functionality would be good enough, but some sort of pervasive pressure sensitivity, especially on the now larger screens? That'd be fantastic. As would the haptic feedback that comes with it...

Digital touch

There's certainly cachet in making Digital Touch an Apple Watch-only feature for now: It creates an exclusive club that you can only join by getting an Apple-made smartwatch. But that same exclusivity could also spread to the iPhone 6s, and make iPhone 6s owners part of the same club. That's the value to Apple. For us, we could have our Friends list on more devices, and be able to sketch and tap on a bigger screen (and under a wider range of conditions). Scaling everything properly might take a little finesse, but Apple's usually pretty good about that.

Clear all notifications

The iPhone has gone years without giving us the ability to clear all alerts from Notification Center. The Apple Watch has given it to us on day one. Yes, it's a massively destructive action protected (somewhat) on Watch OS by requiring Force Touch to activate, but a similar level of intent should be able to be implemented on iOS.

Your wish-list?

Maybe you want the Apple Watch "Friends" app and the sketch and tap communications made available by Digital Touch. Maybe you want those 3D emoji. Maybe you even want stainless steel and gold options, or fancier leather cases. Whatever your wish may be, let me know what it is!

Rene Ritchie
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.

33 Comments
  • Good list. I'd add the health features that the Apple watch has. Seems like a big oversight that they don't exist on the iPhone.
  • I've not sampled the Watch or the new MacBook, so I've got no experience with Force Touch. I understand what it does in theory, but do you think it'll enable Apple to ditch the physical Home button on iPhones and iPads? Not sure how they'll incorporate TouchID without Home buttons, but I read they have a patent for some sort of fingerprint reading on touchscreen displays or something along those lines. Also Wondering if we'll be seeing a watch-like dial on iPhones one day as well. The Verge reviewer did mention that he'd subconsciously search for a dial on his iPhone after some time with the Watch.
  • The way you have described them, there is no difference between a Complication and the type of Android-style lock screen widget a vocal minority has been requesting.
  • Read my comment :)
  • I actually was not trying to start an iOS or Android flame war - I honestly don't see what the differentiating factor of a Complication is - glance-able vs glimpsable may be marketing speech, but if there is an actual distinction, I'd like to hear it Sent from the iMore App
  • 1. Available on Android with custom lock screens.
    2. Available on Android lollipop with expandable notifications, the information on which you can hide if you please.
    3. Available on certain Android devices with theme engines.
    4. No, because these are standards that Apple invented and prevents them from using, thereby not having it be a standard.
    5. This is the only legitimate reason on this list, because this is the kind of integration that Apple can achieve by offering no other hardware options than their own.
    6. Available on Android since the dawn of time. Remember that article you wrote, Rene, about the Galaxy S6? You said that if people want an iPhone but hate Apple, they should get an S6? It sounds like you want an Android phone, but you love Apple, so you got an iPhone.
  • So the wishlist is basically all android features coupled with the fact that Sasmung will be making screens and CPU for the next iphone....say hello to the next generation of """"innovative"""" apple phones: iGalaxy.
  • So you're switching to BlackBerry is what I'm reading?
  • Why would I do that and how would that imply that I'm switching to blackberry? I get that it's supposed to be some sort of sarcastic quip or something, but I just don't get it. Also, is there something wrong with BlackBerry? The Passport is actually a pretty cool phone. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • not all - or even any features are created equal, Stinky. Feature check lists are nice, though a clean, elegant implementation is more important, IMHO. Yes, this is an article on features, though I do think it misses my main point.
  • Am I the only one that thinks 'Complications' is a horrible feature name?
  • Yes, it sounds odd, but it is a traditional name for a watch feature: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Complication_29
  • I agree. I thought it was terrible until I realised its a nod to traditional watches.
  • It's also good for developers to keep in mind — every feature makes something more complicated, so it should be really well thought out.
  • it should be something like power us features, or something hidden deep in the settings haha
  • Clear all and the dark mode is what I would love.
  • yes, dark mode is king, when done right. I think my iPhone is a bit stupid with the light levels on the screen - though I've seen it better than most other phones. I guess its all because car lights are insanely birght and so are monitors/TVs with their stupid shiny, reflective surfaces.
  • Yep, I agree. Bring them all over. Why not eh, heck even Windows Phone has several of them already.
  • Nice article but I think most of these points are not thought out very well. For the most part these functions wouldn't work at all on the iPhone and for very obvious reasons. 2) and 6) are definitely possible, but are minor things that I personally don't see adding much utility or personally care about, but the rest of these are either irrelevant or impossible. In particular: 1) Although mentioned by the author, it bears repeating. Complications are literally *impossible* on the iPhone unless you anticipate Apple removing the "slide to unlock" functionality. While that's something I've been hoping for since the first iPhone, it seems very unlikely given the immense trouble Apple has gone to, to NOT remove "slide to unlock." 3) Night or "black" theme is a good idea that's been talked about a lot, but it's really nothing to do with the Apple Watch per se, so I'm not sure why it's even on this list. It would also look like crap on Apple's current screen technology. 4) Force touch would be a good edition if it's possible, although if it requires Apple switching to OLED screens (as it seems currently it would), then I'm against it for the reason that adding force touch is not balanced out by the negative of a crappy OLED screen. The "haptic engine" already exists in the iPhone, and it's already used in ways that make sense on a phone. There also really aren't any aspects of the different ways the haptic engine is used in the Watch that could be applied retrospectively to the iPhone. You don't wear the phone on your wrist. 5) Digital touch is literally *impossible* on the iPhone because again, the iPhone isn't something you wear on your wrist. I don't see any way around this rather obvious problem. You could have a separate app to perform some of the functions like the "send a drawing" thing, but why would you do that? It would make more sense to roll the drawing thing into "Messages" on both the Watch and the phone. No one would use a separate app even if it existed.
  • re: "complications" on the iPhone screen, Notification Center is already populated with various widgets, and notification banners appear on locked phones.. It's really a very small step to imagine adding "complications" to the phone API. I would not be at all surprised to see "complications" in iOS 9. Apple has a pattern of adding "features" that appeared first on the phone "upward" to the mac (i'm thinking about notification center), a feature migrating from the watch to the phone would be a similar "upward" move of a feature..
  • I would like to see Nested folders as an actual feature, and not just a ios 7 glitch that has long been gone. (i have a games folder with so many games that i made 7 sub folders for different types of games) A close all apps feature separate volume between different apps. Sometimes when i change the volume on certain apps i would like it to stay that way for that one specific app, instead of it being dependent on what i changed the volume to in another app. For instance, i might have the phone app and spotify set to 100, while i might have a game set to 40%. This could be another thing deep in settings for power users. Here are some other thoughts i sent in an email recently: I feel there is so much more iphone could do much more cleaner an efficiently than android, but apple keeps a tight lock on it. Ios8 allowed so many features that iphone could have been doing since ios5 when notification center was released, in fact they did allow sending tweets and facebook posts at a time. I honestly feel like they should let developers make power user features and unlock some things on the OS. To still keep the user experience simple and intuitive, they should put a "power user features" on and off dial deep in the settings, and ios8+ should come with it turned off. This way users like the imore team, myself and many others could turn it on and have a lot more flexibly to make iphone much much more personal, and efficient to our taste. I have had an iphone since 3gs (soon as i could afford it), and there have been so many things i wished it could do, and know it can do. I have not jailbroken my phone and I won't, because I appreciate apples security. However, jailbreakers do have really amazingly awesome features and app, that i believe apple should surely allow to the power users.
  • If the watch battery was better, I'd say sleep tracking. Sent from the iMore App
  • Love the contextual quick replies with Watch..... put them on the iPhone please!
  • Already on the phone in one respect.. phone calls can be responded to with pre composed text messages..
  • I think it would be awesome for the iPhone to have the same sort of home screen that the watch does with the ability to scroll in all directions and maybe even the right round icons Sent from the iMore App
  • where do these animations (such as lock screen widget photo) come
    from? Sent from the iMore App
  • I would like to have all of the list, but I hope all the issues with IOS 8 get solved first. I would also like a more effient way of updating IOS. They can add updates as pieces, or snippets of info. Do a gradual update, not one large one especially to IOS 9. I would like the opinion to do my apps in the dots or honeycomb look like the  Watch home screen. I have mentioned before, but I believe they can decrease the size of the iPhone 6+ by trimming down the bezels around the screen. Force touch and taptic engine would be useful in this size drop, as well as eliminating the home button. I believe they both can be used in an edge to edge screen. They could put the home button under the screen, and both could give the feedback you are touching the home button without a real button. What about Touch ID? The whole screen could do it, or the button under the screen. It could light up with hand gestures, just wave over it. This is just my ideal how they could use both technogies to change the hardware, not just the software.
  • Why does everyone seem to want to eliminate the damn home button already???
  • What I really would like is to decrease the over all size of the iPhone 6's, or increasing the screen size with out increasing the size of the phone. My ideal is to hide the home button under the screen. And giving the screen itself more real state, without increasing the size of the iPhone. Using the Macbook kind of edge to edge screen. Iphone 6 plus has large bezels around the screen. If you can elimate some of this, the phone won't look as large. When compared to Note 4 w/5.7" and the LG G3/G4 w/5.5" screens the Plus is taller and overall size looks larger. This because the Androids have thinner bezels around the screen. And with force touch and Taptic could make this easier to do.
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  • Should not be on the next iPhone, it should be in the next IOS update, iPhone 6 was one of the hugest invest in phone ever and we still love it, powerful and amazing, of course there should be new iPhone, but all that should be in IOS not new hardware :)
  • I stated what I would change myself above, but I agree with you. The iOS needs more work to clean up some of the bugs people are still having. Better stability and a increase in the update cycle. Small undates, let's stop these large incommential updates that crash devices, and make people update shy. Start updating things like apps, not OS. I believe that the 6s version will probably show up in September, with incommential changes fast processors, camera, maybe 2 GB'S of ram, force touch & taptics. But this won't be enough for me to update. My next iPhone will be 7 or 7S. And I hope to see some or all these features they are speculating.