In the years since its launch, the Apple Watch has become a well-rounded fitness tracker and useful smartphone companion. But there are a few ways Apple can make it even more useful in both areas, and I hope to learn more about how Apple is doing just that at its Worldwide Developers Conference.
The Apple Watch now has a range of exercise options and can measure more health data than I personally know what to do with. Yet it still lags behind the competition when it comes to providing information related to sleep and exercise recovery. Fitness aside, I’d love to see more UI changes that make it easier to get information quickly without requiring multiple taps and swipes.
Apple rarely discusses products or updates before officially announcing them, but it traditionally unveils new features for the Apple Watch at its developer conference. Software updates have become even more important to the Apple Watch in recent years, bringing upgrades that are arguably more significant than new hardware — like more current metrics and a low-power mode.
But there’s plenty of room to further refine the Apple Watch’s software, especially by making sense of all the health data it can collect.
Your Apple Watch can show how long you slept and how much time you spent in specific stages of sleep, such as deep and REM sleep. But brands like Oura and Citizen aim to take that a step further by issuing a chronotype based on your sleep patterns and other data.
The term chronotype refers to whether your body has a natural preference for mornings or evenings. Oura measures this by analyzing your activity, sleep-wake cycle and body temperature; while Citizen collects sleep data and alertness scores (which are generated after taking an in-app test).
I don’t expect Apple to mimic this approach exactly, but it would be useful to see more insights into how sleep patterns relate to my overall energy levels throughout the day. Apple could do a lot more when it comes to sleep tracking in general. While the introduction of sleep stage recognition was a much-needed addition last year, I’d still like to see some sort of sleep score that summarizes the quality of my rest at a glance.
The Apple Watch is effective at getting me moving — maybe a little too effective. I am obsessed with closing at least one Activity Ring on a daily basis. But as I’ve written in the past, the Apple Watch could use more features aimed at exercise recovery.
Apple Watch can encourage you to relax, go to bed on time, or start moving when you’ve been inactive for too long. However, it doesn’t have any meaningful insights into how much rest you might need after a hard workout or a night of insufficient sleep.
Oura, Whoop, and Fitbit offer some type of recovery metric to help you know if you’re ready for a big workout or need to take a day off. They typically do this by examining sleep data, activity and heart rate variability, among other factors. In the past, results like these have helped me shake off the guilt that comes with skipping a workout on days when I just don’t feel up to it.
More personalized activity goals
My workout routine and activity levels vary from day to day depending on how well rested I am, my workload, whether I commute to the office, and other factors. I wish I could adjust my activity goals to match. While you can easily change your activity goals by simply tapping the Change Goals button at the bottom of your watch’s activity summary, there’s no way to customize it by day. For example, I’d like to set a higher goal on days when I know I’ll get more steps (i.e. days I work from the office), and on times when I’m usually well-rested (weekends), and reduce it otherwise (ie my work from home days).
More QWERTY keyboard support
The Apple Watch Series 7 felt very similar to the Series 6 when I reviewed it in 2021. But there’s one feature that debuted on the Series 7 that I miss when moving to older watches: the QWERTY keyboard. Yes, I know typing on such a small screen seems like more trouble than it’s worth, but hear me out.
There are many times I’d like to quickly reply to a text without reaching for my phone, such as when I’m waiting for the elevator at the office and my phone is buried in my bag, while running, or when my phone is on the other end of the room. The QWERTY keyboard has surprisingly become my favorite way to send a quick text under these circumstances.
The QWERTY keyboard is currently available on the Apple Watch Series 7, Series 8 and Ultra, as these watches have larger screens. While the larger screen certainly makes tapping and swiping easier, I can imagine the keyboard fitting well on the 44mm version of Apple’s older watches. This is the one feature I really miss when going back to an older watch like the Series 6. After all, even the Pixel Watch, which has a relatively small screen, has an on-screen keyboard.
Additional applications for the temperature sensor
Apple debuts nighttime temperature reading in Apple Watch Series 8 and Ultra. Currently, the technology is primarily used to provide retrospective ovulation estimates and improved period predictions. You can also see overnight temperature changes on your wrist in Apple’s Health app, though there’s no way to actually understand those numbers.
Apple should explore other ways to link temperature data with new metrics. Oura, for example, uses temperature as one factor in determining the aforementioned doneness score. While I wouldn’t expect Apple to clone exactly what other gadget makers are doing, it would be interesting to see it somehow tie the temperature readings to other insights.
Before the arrival of the Apple Watch Series 8 and Ultra last year, Bloomberg reported that the Series 8 would be able to detect cracks. We haven’t seen such functionality yet, but if Bloomberg’s report is accurate, it suggests that Apple is certainly thinking about future use cases.
The Apple Watch has been around for nearly a decade. While Apple has made many tweaks and additions to the software over the years, the overall user interface remains the same. You still have two options for how apps are displayed, either in a list or in a honeycomb format. Many interactions come in the form of either responding to a notification, tapping an app or complication, or dictating a request through Siri.
In 2023, it’s time for a change. Exactly what that change is has yet to be determined, but I’d like to see some kind of improvement that makes it easier to get things done with fewer taps and swipes. I also think the software could be more proactive. Imagine if your watch could offer new personalized watch faces adorned with complications based on your usage habits? The iPhone has gotten better at intuitively displaying apps, contacts, and other content, and I’d like to see more of that flow into the Apple Watch software.
Bloomberg reports that there may indeed be some changes in WatchOS 10. A report from April said that Apple is planning a major update that will make widgets a core part of the operating system, with the goal of making it easier to see information at a glance.
Apple already does a lot of things right with the Apple Watch software; this is one of the reasons why it is the most popular smartwatch in the world. But additions like these can make it even easier to use while making it a more capable health tracker.