There have yet to be any major leaks on what Apple might be doing with watchOS 6; the operating system for Apple’s flagship wearable seems to be a better-kept secret than for the iPhone and iPad. This certainly hasn’t stopped Apple fans from coming up with their own ideas on what the next iteration of the Apple Watch’s software should include, however.
Matt Birchler is one such example, regularly posting concepts for the Apple Watch, and over the weekend he’s posted his latest thoughts on what watchOS 6 may include. Birchler suggests that it will likely be a smaller update, with next year’s watchOS 7 introducing “more fundamental changes” but looks at Apple’s recent trends, along with the few things we may know already, to provide some interesting ideas as to what we might see this year.
Redesigned Faces and Layouts
Another valid issue that Birchler raises is the need for changes to watch faces — the Siri watch face in particular — many of which could do for a redesign to take better advantage of the larger Apple Watch Series 4 (and presumably upcoming Series 5).
Birchler notes that the Siri watch face itself could use a facelift to make “it a little cleaner and a little more useful” by adopting the modular info graph complication style that debuted in watchOS 5, which would allow for more customization of the individual app cards that appear on the Siri watch face, as well as moving away from the unpopular blue/purple style.
The watch faces themselves are more generally in need of some improvements, and last year’s Series 4 Apple Watch actually created two distinct classes of watch faces — those designed explicitly for the Series 4 look odd on the older models, and the classic faces from the older models don’t look properly at home on the Series 4. Birchler points out that the new Series 4 watch faces also focused too much on data density — putting as much information on the screen as possible — so the hope is that watchOS 6 will see some more classic faces that take advantage of the larger screen.
The “Dock” on watchOS is something that Apple has played with over the years, and arguably hasn’t quite yet gotten right. The original iteration was a series of side-by-side cards with horizontal scrolling; this was later replaced by a vertical carousel of stacked cards.
I’m inclined to agree with Birchler that neither solution has ever felt quite “right” on the Apple Watch, so the suggestion of moving to a grid system is an interesting one — especially now that current Apple Watch models have larger screens.
This would allow for bigger touch targets and less scrolling to access recently-used apps, and remove reliance on the Digital Crown for this as well.
Birchler suggests that watchOS 6 could include sleep tracking, speculating that it could come as a new “Well Being” ring that combines sleep and meditation, essentially as an extension of Apple’s “Breathe” app. We’ve already seen rumours that Apple is working on sleep tracking for the Apple Watch, but it’s unclear if that will be ready for this fall’s model. Sleep tracking capabilities would likely require new hardware in the Apple Watch, as it doesn’t seem likely Apple would bake this feature into watchOS 6 only for the sake of third-party sleep trackers — even its own recently-acquired Beddit sleep monitor still relies on a separate app.
That said, Apple could of course also simply take the approach that it’s already used with the Bedtime feature in its iOS Clock app to simply track hours of sleep based on device use (or lack thereof), focusing on the quantity rather than quality of sleep. Current Apple Watch models also certainly have enough motion sensors to support some kind of sleep tracking without requiring additional hardware, but the wearable’s current battery constraints would be enough to discourage many users from wearing their Apple Watch to bed at night, making the feature a non-starter for most.
Birchler offers up a laundry list of smaller improvements that he suggests, including tighter continuity and integration with companion apps between the Apple Watch and the iPhone for keeping both devices more in sync with what a user is doing or wants to do. He notes that data syncing also needs some improvement as getting data to an Apple Watch can still be a slow and frustrating experience at times.
Not surprisingly, Birchler also reiterates two of the same requests that many of us have had for years: Always-on watch faces and the ability for third-party developers to create their own watch faces. Personally, since these requests go back to the original Apple Watch, I’m not holding my breath that Apple is going to come through on either of these any time soon, but we can always hope. Along with always-on watch faces, an always-on Nightstand mode is something that is especially perplexing, since there are no battery life constraints in that particular scenario.
Based on previous years, Apple will very likely unveil a preview of watchOS 6 this June at its Worldwide Developers Conference, although some features will certainly still be held back until such time as the Apple Watch “Series 5” ships later this year, but it will be interesting to see whether Apple now considers its wearable OS to have reached a point of stability and maturity, or is still willing to experiment with tweaking the overall user experience.