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watchOS 7 wishlist — What's next for Apple Watch

I've written a bunch of columns about why I think the Apple Watch is the most important device Apple has ever made, the most important consumer electronics device ever made, and basically the gadget of the last damn decade. Because it saves lives by design.

A lot of the credit for that goes to watchOS — the software that drives the watch hardware. It's what's given us those life-saving features like heart rate notifications, fall detection, and the ECG app.

And, while the current watchOS 6 bits are, of course, the best ones yet, there's still a lot more I'd like to see with watchOS 7.

Better always-on

Always-on is great. It finally lets the Apple Watch work as, you know, a watch. But there are still a couple of things that would make it better for me.

First, the ability to handle basic interactions even while in always-on mode. Right now, if I don't move enough to trigger a wake-up, I try to swipe down to see a notification and nothing happens. Then I typically swipe again. Then I remember to tap to wake it up. Then I swipe again to finally see my notification.

It would be great if a swipe would also wake the display up. I mean, it would be greater if it would wake it up and also show the notification, but at least adding swipe to the wake-up gestures would mean my second, reflex swipe would show the notification and save me not only time by so many eye-rolls.

What would also be great is if always-on extended to ultra low power mode. I mean, I know that sounds contradictory, but the way low power currently works, you have to press the button to get the time. A version that keeps the time on, even if it doesn't last as long, would be great for travel if you forget your charger and need to survive but also need to keep time.

Watch Faces

I know some people still want a Watch Face store as well. Apple would never allow or be able to allow the wanton copyright abuse that happened on a lot of other watch stores over the years, so it would probably end up like the iMessage store.

That wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. Baby Yoda all the faces. But, what I'd love, even more, is the ability to better customize my own faces.

This one has been on my wish list for years. Give me a face where I can set a background image or series of them, and then a full suite of infograph-level complications — analog or digital — I can customize on top of them.

Then I can make my own Baby Yoda face, or Superman face, or anything else I want.

Time Travel

Shortly after the Apple Watch was introduced, Apple added Time Travel. With it, you could use the Digital Crown to scroll backward and forwards through data sets. See what was and what would be.

But, shortly after that, Apple took Time Travel away from everything but the Solar watch face.

And I'm still super salty about it.

Every time I look at my next event on the Infographic face, and try to scroll to see what's next, or what was earlier, and nothing happens, and nothing happens. It just stays stuck there, part of my childlike sense of wonder just stays stuck there with it.

Ideally, every large-sized complication would have a list function that could be easily scrolled through with the Digital Crown.

Because any watch face where you use the Digital Crown and nothing happens is just a waste of the watch's most unique interactivity mechanic.

Apps

It's funny. For a company like Apple that prides itself on continuity of experience, the iPad and Apple Watch have always been lacking some of the iPhone apps that would allow exactly that type of experience.

Last year, with watchOS 6, we markdown asterisk finally asterisk got voice memos and calculator. But still no Notes.

Sure, there are phenomenal third-party alternatives like Drafts, where you can dictate right into the watch and then edit and extend on the iPhone or iPad or whatever.

But, Drafts does so much more as well, and that basic functionality should also be default functionality for people who use the default Notes app. And that means we need the default Notes app on the Watch.

Every default app should just be everywhere, otherwise, it compromises their full value, that continuity of experience, everywhere.

Sleep tracking

The Apple Watch launched with basic exercise coaching and tracking and it's been improving ever since. It added breathing in short order. Nutrition aside, about the biggest feature still missing is sleep tracking and coaching.

There are a bunch of apps that do provide it on watchOS, including Beddit, which Apple bought back in May of 2017, but nothing built-in.

Even more importantly, nothing power efficient.

I can imagine Apple putting out an entirely new Watch that's optimized for sleep tracking, where it goes into an ultra-low power mode overnight and does nothing but track sleep, along with even faster charging when you do need to top up.

But I'd love to see that mode also come as a watchOS software update to all recent devices, and an API — application programming interface — so that any sleep tracking app can use it.

iPhone free

This is, of course, the big one. And now, with always-on handled last year, this year it's moving to the top of my list: Apple Watch independence.

Right now, if you want an Apple Watch, you need to have an iPhone as well. Not just in general, to use to set up your Apple Watch, but in perpetuity to handle some of the telephony and other features, and updates going forward.

The iPhone and iPad used to be like that as well, tied to iTunes on a Mac or Windows PC. But, with iOS 5 and iCloud, they were set PC free.

The Apple Watch is a far more limited and constrained device than even the earliest iPhones and iPads. It just can't carry the power and doesn't have the screen size necessary to manage everything on-device the way those devices can.

But we're getting there. We even got an on-device App Store last year. Now, because the Apple Watch screen is so small, I don't want Apple to tear all the functionality out of the iPhone Watch app. It's just so much easier to use. In fact, I'd love an iPad Watch and Activity app as well. Hell, an Android one just like iTunes for Windows which made all this halo effect possible to begin with.

I'm just hoping we've reached a point where anyone, iPhone or no iPhone, can buy an Apple Watch, slap it on, and get up and literally running with other devices as beneficial enhancements. Not limitations. But real, full freedom. That's what it's all about.

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Rene Ritchie
Contributor

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.

7 Comments
  • Great wishlist.
    You can also wake the screen by “Crown Up”. Kinda neat that it starts super dim then the brightness increases as you continue to turn. Great when used with Theater mode if you want to check the time without going full brightness. I want a few UI changes:
    1. The gesture for “Dismiss Pop-up notification” should NOT be the same as “Open Notification Center”. Dismiss Pop-up Notification should change from [swipe down from top] to [swipe left from right]. Too many times I will feel the buzz, raise my wrist, see no notification, swipe down to open the Notification Center the instant the notification shows up resulting in a dismissal.
    2. The tiny little dot at the top is useful when you have a new notification, but it’s now being used for too many things. It will cycle through (I’ve seen up to) four things: New Notifications, Walkie-Talkie, Now Listening, Maps Directions. Theater mode shows up there too, which disables walkie-talkie. In order to tap to shortcut to the app you want, you have to wait for its turn in the cycle, and 9/10 times I’ll tap one of the three complications next to it (Infograph face). There’s got to be a better way of presenting these “In-session” apps when you turn your wrist, even if they were larger icons that took over the complications for a few seconds, then faded back to the normal complications. I know the real estate is extremely limited, so I can’t really think of another way.
    3. Maybe as a compromise to replacing the complications, just revamp the “Dock” when the side button is pressed. I’ve never been a fan of scrolling lists, especially when they are overlapping cards with information I can’t read bc they are overlapping. It’s a cute UI trick when the cards are real-time and they just animate out of the way to show the one chosen in fullscreen, BUT I’d prefer a small grid of 4 or 6 icons of the in-session apps & favorites. MAYBE the option for more which would result in a scrolling list.
    4. Bluetooth / AirPods. I really wish there was a way to stop my AirPods from connecting to my watch FIVE SECONDS after I was just connected to my iPhone for the past hour! Its so frustrating when it just won’t connect, even when I’m tapping them as the audio destination in the clunky audio picker pages. Sometimes I have to turn off Bluetooth on the watch in order for them to connect to the iPhone. It’s got to be a simple IF statement: if the watch is connected to the iPhone via Bluetooth, the AirPods connect to the iPhone instead of the watch. I rarely connect my AirPods to my watch; why can’t “machine learning” figure this out???
    5. Watch faces.
    A. Infograph is 99% perfect analog face for me. That 1% change to perfection could easily be achieved if there weren’t twice as many minute/second dashes! Count them. There are NINE dashes between each hour/5-minutes mark. WTF??? This makes it nearly impossible to tell the current minute. I put up with it be I love having so all the complications.
    B. I still want a digital time that shows in the format I prefer. (Top row) YYYY-MM-DD (bottom row) HH:MM:SS ... so (top row) 2020-02-16 (bottom row) 09:15:35. I was able to do this with the original Pebble, why can’t I with my $500 Watch?
    C. Make the analog watch hands semi-transparent when they are over information, like the date. Utility is the worst when it’s XX:15. The minute hand completely covers the day/date.
  • One simple request - bedside mode to stay on (i.e. visible) permanently. And why has this not happened already? If it has enough power to provide "always on" when the watch is on my wrist, surely bedside mode can stay on when the watch is being charged. A real bedside clock does not have to be touched to tell you the time in the middle of the night, so why not the watch too?
  • Non cellular aluminum or steel and sapphire crystal option.
    Body only option.
    Time/clocks that displays seconds.
    Number pad entry for the Stop Watch instead of the dials.
  • I just want one thing for WatchOS: implement the “Time Zone Override” switch which is in the calendar settings on iPhone and iPad. Some use this, some don’t. (It allows you to write “9am” in your diary for an appointment at 9am local time, whether you are in Hong Kong or London or whatever..) But for those who do, it is extremely infuriating that calendar items display on the watch times that are hours before/after they appear on the phone. And implementing a major feature on some apple platforms and not others is bad (or lazy) design.
  • For me, I want to be able to use a keyboard, such as the excellent FlickType keyboard or better still an Apple version of it, to reply to emails. If I am out and about it maybe inconsiderate to use Siri, inaccurate or not possible due to the content being private. I also want to be able to create new emails (rather than just reply). Also it would be useful to have the draft emails folder on the watch. You can then draft the emails on iPhone/iPad/iMac that you want to send, then send them at the correct time from the watch.
  • I would like it to work with other platforms, I even wrote to Tim Crook about it. Even if I had a Android phone if they announced that the watch would be compatible I would be in front of the Apple store to get one the day it was launched. My Apple co-workers think I am nuts, but I see so many on Android Central say egad I have to have a iPhone for work purposes but I use my Android phone more and they would like to see the watch cross platforms. Come on Tim there is money to be made by crossing platforms with your watch
  • The ability to calculate VO2 max during any vigorous workout. Not just running.