watchOS 6: Rumors, analysis, and more

I started working on a watchOS 6 column a couple of weeks ago but, absent any real rumors, it was as more of a wishlist or, like some of my other early-days videos, a list of missing features I think would help round out a product.

Then, Mark Gurman happened. And now we have proper spoilers to contend with as well. But, since the rumors don't completely overlap my wishlist, I'm going to combine them, Voltron-style, with what I was already working on, and cover both what's coming and what still needs to come.

Rather watch than read? Hit play on the video above!

watchOS 6: The rumors

May 6, 2019, Mark Gurman writing for Bloomberg:

Apple is adding the App Store directly onto the Apple Watch so users can download apps on the go, making the device more independent. Users currently install new apps via the Watch companion application on their iPhone. 

There are still fundamental questions about the nature of Watch apps that need to be sussed out, but plenty of them are great already and having them on-demand, especially if you're out and about without your iPhone is even greater.

It took until iOS 5 and iCloud for the iPhone to begin to break its tether to iTunes on Mac and PC. It's taking longer for Apple Watch, but given the technical and usability constraints of a device that small, it's hardly surprising. Still, steady, step by step progress like this is terrific to see.

Apple is bringing the Voice Memos app from the iPhone, iPad, and Mac so users can record voice memos from their wrist.  Apple is also planning to add Animoji and Memojis stickers to the device that synchronize from an iPhone.The Watch will also get an Apple Books app for listening to audio books from the wrist and a Calculator app. There will be two new health-related apps for the Watch: one dubbed "Dose" inside Apple for pill reminders and another called "Cycles" to track menstrual cycles. 

About damn time on Voice Memos and Calculator. The later because it's just what every geek with a calculator watch expected to see on Apple Watch day one. The former because for a device where voice is often the primary input system, not having Voice Memos was just a glaring omission.

Pcalc, Just Press Record, and Drafts all filled the gap, and can still offer functionality well above and beyond the base, but covering the basics was Apple's job to begin with. Same with a Notes app, which is still MIA.

As for the health features, yes please, and the more the better.

Apple is adding more watch face "Complications," which show additional snippets of information beyond just the time. There will be one that shows the status of audio books, another showing the battery life of hearing aids, and others that measure external noise and rain data.

The more complications also the better. I'm still hoping we see some form of dynamic, context-aware complications as well. There's a lot to be said for spatial permanence, where we always know exactly where to look to get exactly what we want. Weather, for example, always being top left on the display means we never have to waste time or stress over finding it exactly there when we need it.

But other complications you may just want or need in specific situations, like the workout app every morning or whenever you arrive at the gym. Maybe the outer ring of infographic could be static and the inner complications dynamic? I don't know, but I'd love for Apple to figure it out.

The company is also planning several new watch faces: a "Gradient" face that makes a gradient look out of a color the user chooses, at least two new "X-Large" faces that show jumbo numbers in different fonts and colors, a "California" dial that looks like a classic watch face and mixes Roman numerals with Arabic numerals, a redesigned "Solar Analog" watch face that looks like a sundial, and a new "Infograph Subdial" one that includes larger complication views like a stock market chart or the weather. 

The gradient Hermes face that came out earlier this spring is cool, so a general gradient face should be cool as well. So should the other ones.

I know some people still want custom, third-party watch faces for the App Store, but that still seems as likely as custom, third-party launches for the iPhone. Never say never, don't build up any large scale expectational debt either.

What would work for me, though, is simply the photo face with a ton more complication options. Like Infographic level complication options. Let me turn off any I don't want obscuring my photo and turn all the others into anything I want. That way, I could have a picture of someone I love, a Superman Watch, heck, pretty much any background I want, and not have to sacrifice all the useful, glanceable data I need just to get it.

As with complications, I'd also love to see some smarts with watch faces. Day and night faces that switch when I get to or leave work, or on a schedule. Workout faces that take over when I arrive at the gym or a travel face when I hit the airport. It could be brilliant or it could all go horribly wrong, but it feels like there's a lot of room for Apple to play around with intelligence beyond just the Siri face.

watchOS 6: The potentials

I've been harping on this one for over four years already but, in all that time, the Apple watches beginning remaining failure is in just that — telling time. It's a watch that just doesn't work as a watch unless you tap the screen or twist your wrist, which means you just can't see it if your hands are full, and you can't be wicked obvious about it if you're in polite company and would prefer to be discreet.

Apple Watch 4

Apple Watch 4 (Image credit: Rene Ritchie/iMore)

Now, always on displays, even ultra-low power ones, even on OLED display technologies, can hit a battery hard. Batteries are the currency of mobile and every feature we get we pay the price for in battery life.

So far, Apple has chosen to spend battery life on things like faster launching apps and better wireless communications. But, for a product that's literally named a watch, re-budgeting on current hardware or adding in future hardware enough headroom for an always-on display seems more than just a nice-to-have.

Likewise, you can get sleep tracking apps for Apple Watch, and they integrate into the Health app, which is great, but there's no built-in functionality for it, and no integration with Apple's system-level coaching system for breathing and moving, the other pillars for a healthy, happy life. There is a bedtime mode on the iPhone but it only tells you when to sleep and when to wake up. It has no idea if or how you slept during those periods. Adding sleep tracking data from the Watch would only improve it.

Comfort could be considered another issue, but I think the sport loop is already comfortable enough. It's basically the watch equivalent of yoga pants.

Charging is an issue, of course. If you're wearing your watch overnight, you can't charge it at the same time. But, anyone already using it for sleep tracking is already compensating for that by, for example, charging it first thing in the morning while taking a shower, or similar.

Getting enough battery life to just keep wearing it for a few days without charging probably isn't realistic, at least not any time soon, especially since Apple keeps spending battery efficiency improvements on other features, and anything high-demand, like workouts and cellular, will reduce even the most efficient watch battery.

And getting an even smaller accessory, like a ring for the watch the way there's a watch for the phone, something you just wear to collect data while you sleep, is something already being done by third parties but just doesn't seem like anything Apple would prioritize for now.

But, basic sleep tracking, tightly integrated, would still be terrific.

No fitness or workout rumors yet either, but there's a bunch of stuff I'd love to see there. Like the ability to take a rest day or cheat day on Activities, even if it's for travel or personal obligations, without blowing all your streaks. Also, workouts for Taiij and martial arts, more winter workouts, and I'm sure all of you have your own list of what you'd like to see there.

And, of course, the holy health grail. The ability to tap to share medical information with medical centers, so we never have to fill out forms or histories, list out medications or allergies, or waste time in any way when we need attention.

That's probably years off and will require partnerships and privacy safeguards of massive proportions. But, when I hear Tim Cook say that, one day, Apple's biggest contribution will be to health, that's the kind of stuff I see coming.

watchOS 6: See you in June!

Tim Cook gets up on the Worldwide Developer Conference stage, talks about what Apple has been doing with the Watch, and then introduces head of Watch software, Kevin Lynch, to talk about what they'll be doing next.

Or, yeah, brutally tease a teleportation feature no-one outside of Apple has gotten to even try yet. Why, Kevin? Why?

This year, kicking off on June 3rd, WWDC 2019 should be no different. And I'll be there to bring it all back to you, live.

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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.