My Thoughts on Matt Birchler’s watchOS 7 Concept

Matt Birchler published a well-designed wishlist for watchOS 7 earlier this week.

Here are some of my thoughts on it, starting with sleep tracking.

Sleep Tracking

I’m going to keep asking for this until it happens, but I think Apple should add native sleep tracking into watchOS.

I’m not sure whether Apple’s acquisition of Beddit was for patents, developers, or future integration opportunities, but Mark Gurman has reported that 2020 will bring first-party sleep tracking to the Watch:

The company has been using the sleep-tracking feature for several months with testers at secret sites . . . If the functionality is successful in the testing stages, the company plans to add it to the Apple Watch by 2020, according to one of the people.

Benjamin Mayo’s thoughts on charging the Watch:

Currently, Apple recommends charging Apple Watch overnight — which obviously precludes sleep tracking. A future Apple Watch may offer more battery life that makes this issue go away, or the Watch software could enter a lower-power ‘sleep mode’ for overnight use.

Power Saving

That “sleep mode” power-saving idea is interesting and ties in nicely with the “weekend getaway” mode Birchler proposes later in the post:

You will be able to raise your wrist and see the time, basic complication data, and messaging notifications are they come in. It’s pretty basic, but for many people I bet it wouldn’t be too big of a change from how they use their watch most of the time. The biggest hit would come from activity tracking disappearing, but if you’re going to be out of town for a few days (and you’re not obsessed with your streak), that might be worth sacrificing.

Rest Days

…any solution that makes it so [Activity] streaks don’t terminate after a single bad day would be great…

Interestingly, the only way to view your current Activity streak is through the “Longest Move Streak” award, so I hope that the first-party “History” view would also come closer to David Smith’s wonderful implementation of streaks for Activity++.

Better Response Suggestions

At the bottom of every iMessage thread, there are dozens of options to reply with a single tap. I love these sometimes, but they’re not always useful, nor do they match my style of speaking in messages.

While you can set up custom replies, there’s an opaque sorting scheme that makes me wonder if it’s trying to be at least a bit clever1. I agree that adding some short-term context would be a huge help.

Data Portability and Encryption

I don’t think Apple will do this, but it would be great to have a way to see my activity data from, and while I’m there, how about a way to export my activity data into a CSV? . . . If I want to download my data as a CSV and run my own analytics on it, I should be allowed!

Currently you can use the Health app to export all your data as an XML file and there are third-party solutions that claim to produce customizable CSV files. If Apple were to implement a similar feature, Shortcuts actions to automate such local backups would be great, because manual backup processes don’t work for long.

I believe the fact that Activity data is tied in to Health means Apple is less likely to produce a web interface2, as turning on two-factor authentication makes Health data end-to-end encrypted and back-tracking on encryption will likely be met with criticism, given recent news.

Choose Your Rings

I think this year not only will Apple let you customize these rings more than before, but they’ll also add more rings. Want to add sleep or mindfulness: go right ahead.

I wonder how this would work with third-party Activity apps. I’ve been prototyping something small with HKActivityRingView, which takes an HKActivitySummary full of HKQuantity objects for the three rings. If Apple were to allow the user to change which quantities were actually displayed, they should expose that somewhere in the public API (at least in a read-only fashion) to improve context in other apps.

Better Wireless Speeds

This is another technical issue that has plagued the Apple Watch forever, but for whatever reason, the Apple Watch takes forever to transfer data. Updates take forever and syncing podcasts and music is an exercise in frustration.

Exactly, but I wonder what’s to blame here: underpowered networking hardware or exteremly low-priority data transfers (kind of like issues with background refresh)?

iPad and Android Sync

. . . I think the Apple Watch should get some more freedom from the iPhone. I don’t know if it’s ready to run entirely on its own, but it would be great to be able to pair it with different devices.

Setting up a Watch without an iPhone and likely without an Apple ID would be complicated to say the least. It’s worth mentioning that Apple recently added in-app purchase support to watchOS 6.2, which is another step on the long road to complete independence.

Unfortunately Android’s fragmentation only brings more challenges if Apple doesn’t want to port all of Health as well. Perhaps they could make a lightweight Activity app for storing data on Android, which would have the added benefit of making that decryption decision easier because it would only apply to a subset of the “Health” data.

Oh, and making the Apple Watch work with Android sure feels a lot like Apple making the iPod work with Windows. It’s a “halo device” that gets people in the door with an Apple Watch purchase this year, and maybe an iPhone the next…

Steve Jobs was a lock-in kind of guy, so he didn’t initially approve of Windows support for iPod. I wonder what Tim Cook’s Apple will do (or not) in this regard.

Third-Party Watch Faces

This is their “most personal device ever” after all.

The fact that Apple is holding on to this part of the watchOS stack makes me think of how version 5 shipped with full-screen faces designed for the larger-screen Series 4; perhaps there’s a minimum quality standard they’d like to enforce that evolves in lockstep with the hardware (which is a tightly-kept secret).

That standard should be loosened quite a bit though; it’s not like Apple told every app developer about the iPhone X form factor so they could prepare for the new status bar. It’s normal that developers have to adjust to hardware changes in major releases (that’s why betas exist), so why should the Apple Watch’s relationship to watch faces be any different?

That’s all from me, folks

If you made it this far, thank you, and I hope you gained some interesting context from this post.

If you haven’t already, you should definitely click through to the original post to see epic mockups and read about more future prospects of the best smartwatch.

What would you like to see from next year’s Apple Watch?

  1. Occasionally my custom responses will show up above the default ones. ↩︎

  2. Here’s a link to the archived store page depicting the 256 GB 15-inch base model. ↩︎