WWDC Wish List: watchOS 8

With two weeks to go until WWDC 2021 kicks off, Apple officially confirmed yesterday the date and time of their opening keynote and it’s Monday, June 7th at 10am Pacific / 1pm Eastern. Exactly as predicted.

watchOS is set to turn 8 this year and we’ve heard very few rumours about what to expect for this next release. I’ve worn an Apple Watch regularly since the Series 0 was released in 2015 so I’ve been along for the ride over the years as Apple has refined the purpose of the Apple Watch and refocused watchOS to match.

There’s no major reinvention I’m hoping to see for watchOS this year but who knows what surprises Apple may have in store for our wrists. I’m hoping to see more customization options for Apple’s most personal device alongside refinements and new features for some of the Watch’s core functions.

More customizable watch faces

Developers have been hoping for years that Apple would open up the ability for custom designed watch faces, and I for one am starting to believe that will never happen. Apple has always viewed the watch as a fashion item and fashion is all about opinionated design.

In lieu of fully custom-designed watch faces, I’d love to see Apple expand the modularity of some of their watch faces to make them even more customizable. On watch faces like Infograph Modular, Photo, and Timelapse, the digital time is currently pinned to the top right corner but allowing users to move that around would be a great start.

Along with that I’m imagining a grid system similar to the iPhone’s home screen that would let users place complications of any size wherever they want on a watch face. For example, you should be able to place a row of three small complications across the center of the Infograph Modular face where the large rectangular complication is currently located. Perhaps Apple could even offer pre-made complication grids to give users a starting point. The ability to arrange a grid of complications on a Photo face paired with custom background wallpapers would open up a world of possibilities.

Improvements to Fitness and Sleep Tracking

I’ve been using Apple Fitness+ daily since January and I’m including it in this wish list since it requires an Apple Watch to use. In fact, opening up Fitness+ to non-Apple Watch owners is one thing I think Apple could change, though I suspect that’s more a business decision than a technological one. Keeping Fitness+ exclusive to the Apple Watch is a value add and helps them sell more Apple Watches.

Fitness+ feels like it was rushed out the door last year – understandable as it’s the perfect service for a world full of people stuck at home. As a result the Fitness+ UI is missing some key features I hope to see added this year.

First and foremost is difficulty levels for each workout. When I was starting out with Fitness+, I frequently started a workout only to learn a few minutes in, unable to catch my breath, that the specific workout was too advanced for my skill level. Labeling workouts as beginner, intermediate, or advanced seems like table stakes for a fitness app.

Workouts should also display a moves list along with the course description. Fitness+ already displays the Apple Music playlist for each video so it’s baffling that they don’t show you upfront what moves you’ll be doing in that workout. Take it a step further and include animations or short videos of the instructor doing each move as a preview.

All of that should also be searchable so you can filter courses by difficulty level, specific moves, or targeting specific areas of the body. Currently it’s impossible to search for a chest day workout, for example, if you know that’s what you want.

On the Apple Watch itself, I’d like to be able to browse Fitness+ courses in the Workout app and start them remotely on my iPad, Apple TV, or iPhone. It would also be nice to be able to browse previous days in the Activity app on the Watch as you can on the iPhone.

I don’t use Sleep Tracking on my Apple Watch but I have friends who do and I’ve heard from them how basic the feature is compared to third-party alternatives and competitors like Fitbit. Apple’s Sleep Tracking is more about awareness, tracking how much time you spend asleep. I would like to see further investment in this feature with more in-depth tracking of sleep cycles, restlessness, and quality of sleep.

Find My app

A Find My app for Apple Watch is something I’ve seen conceptualized recently and I think it’s a great idea. Why not make AirTags trackable from an Apple Watch, using the same arrow UI from Find My on iPhone. It would be cool to track down a lost iPhone the same way using an Apple Watch – they both have U1 chips, after all, and it’s time the Apple Watch could do more than audibly ping a lost iPhone to help you find it.

Widgets

Remember Glances? You probably don’t. The original Apple Watch in 2015 included a feature called Glances, basic widgets located to the right of the Control Center. You’d swipe up from the watch face to open Control Center, then swipe left or right to scroll through your Glances.

Glances died with watchOS 3, but I think it’s time to bring their spiritual successor to watchOS: Widgets! watchOS already excels as a glanceable dashboard, and widgets could expand on the utility of complications. I’d propose putting widgets “below” the watch face, accessible by scrolling up on the digital crown with an interface similar to the watchOS dock. Currently the digital crown does nothing on most watch faces so I think it would be the perfect way to have instant access to your widgets at any time for more information than a complication can display. Maybe you could even set complications to open that app’s widget instead of the full app if you don’t need it?

As watchOS continues to evolve, it’s difficult to predict where Apple might take the platform next. A continued focus on Fitness is a given, but beyond that there’s still plenty of room for watchOS to grow and mature.

T-minus 13 days!