5 Features I Wish to See in watchOS 11

In Short
  • The first Developer Preview of watchOS 11 is expected to make its debut at WWDC 2024.
  • I would love to see a programmable Side button, a new Nightstand mode with AOD, better sleep tracking, and easier access to steps count.
  • It would be great if Apple offered a watch face store in watchOS 11.

From being labeled as a fashionable piece of tech to establishing itself as a feature-rich health wearable, Apple Watches have come a long way. While Apple adds some new features to its watchOS updates every year, those advanced health sensors aren’t explored to their full potential. Next year is Apple Watch’s 10th birthday, and I have high hopes to see a big new hardware upgrade along with top-notch software to boost up the blend. Let’s keep the hardware for some other day, here are 5 watchOS 11 features I would certainly love to see in 2024.

1. Programmable Side Button

The first feature I want to see in watchOS 11 is a programmable side button. Ever since Apple launched watchOS 10, it changed the way how users could access the Control Center & App Switcher. It instantly gained a lot of negative reviews. Users were confused about how to access the Control Center in watchOS 10. In fact, many users didn’t welcome this change. Of course, users won’t like Apple to mess with their long-developed habits.

Side Button on Apple Watch.

The Apple Watch Ultra and Apple Watch Ultra 2 have an additional programmable Action Button. But the standard Apple Watch series lacks this feature. Rather than moving the functionality across the side Button, swipes, and the Digital Crown, it’s nice to have a programmable side button on the Apple Watch. For instance, I could press the side button once to start a workout. Also, since I use Stopwatch way too frequently on my smartwatch, I could map that action to the side button.

I also dream of customizing the side button with double presses. For instance, I can single-press the side button to open the Control Center and double-press it to launch the Workout app. However, since Apple didn’t offer this functionality on the iPhone 15 Pro’s action button and Apple Watch Ultra models, I don’t see the double-press feature coming anytime soon. Still, we can dream, right? That said, a programmable side button in watchOS 11 isn’t too much to ask for.

2. Redesigned Nightstand Mode with AOD

The other watchOS 11 feature I’d love to see is an all-new Nightstand mode. Since its inception, the Apple Watch had a monotonous Nightstand Mode that just shows red/green icons battery symbols, a Digital Watch, and upcoming alarms. I truly think we’re done with that boring, not-so-useful Nightstand mode. The 2024 Apple Watch update should bring an all-new Nightstand mode that can be customized.

I would love to have an analog watch in Nightstand mode. Also, it would be super cool to decorate the night mode with photos. In true essence, I want watchOS 11 to offer something similar to what we’ve seen with StandBy mode on iOS 17. I can add widgets and customize the Nightstand mode to suit my preferences.

Moving on, I want watchOS 11 to add Always-On functionality to the Apple Watch Nightstand mode. As of now, the nightstand mode is activated when the Apple Watch is charging. The screen stays on for a few seconds and then turns off automatically until you tap on the screen again. With watchOS 11, Apple should add an Always-On Nightstand mode that shows glanceable information all the time.

Since the Apple Watch Series 5 and later models have the Always-on feature, blending it into the Nightstand mode shouldn’t be an issue. After all, when these smart watches can handle AOD while it’s on your wrist, why can’t they do it when connected to a charger? I’m not asking Apple to come up with a brand-new feature, I just want it to extend the Always-On functionality to the night mode. Of course, there should be an option to dim the brightness so it won’t disturb light sleepers. Also, just like the iPhone 14 Pro and 15 Pro models, there should be an option to disable the Always-On StandBy mode altogether.

3. Deeper and Easy to Understand Health Insights

I believe the Apple Watch and watchOS have evolved over the years. That said, it lacks some advanced features that should have arrived by now. Also, one thing that I feel about the Apple Watch is that it offers cluttered information that’s difficult to understand by a casual user. Sometimes, I’m stuffed with plenty of information that I can’t even decode on that small screen. I hope watchOS 11 makes everything smoother and easier.

I would love to see the following health features in watchOS 11. Let me walk you through them.

Better Sleep Tracking

Apple introduced sleep tracking with watchOS 8 and improved it considerably in watchOS 9. However, I think that Apple is still behind the competition when it comes to sleep tracking. Apple Watch gives you insights into different sleep stages (Deep, Core, REM) along with resting heart rate and respiratory rate. But, is this tracking sufficient and smart enough? If you don’t have a fixed bedtime and wake-up routine, you won’t get accurate data. Also, the current sleep tracking in Apple Watch doesn’t take into account naps and short breaks as these don’t happen in night sleep schedules.

I hope watchOS 11 brings smarter sleep tracking that automatically adapts to my routine and offers better insights into whether I’m sleeping properly. Also, it should tell me if I slept enough to be ready for my next day’s workout or hectic routine.

Stress and Anxiety tracking

Talking about my watchOS 11 wishlist, one of my top requests is stress and anxiety tracking. I feel mental health is equally, if not more important than physical health. Stress and anxiety affect overall well-being. It can hamper our ability to be emotional, mental, and physical best. While the Apple Watch can track your fitness levels with the Activity app, it doesn’t have any solid mechanism to track mental well-being. I hope watchOS 11 can detect stress and anxiety levels, and alert users in case of high stress. It should also show ways how to calm down.

While you can find some third-party watchOS apps that can track stress levels, I crave a built-in functionality that offers a more holistic view.

Smarter Rings

Since 2014, Apple Watches used activity rings to determine how healthy or active your lifestyle is. It’s 2024, but those rings have remained the same. I don’t want to be harsh, but I believe the 3-ring fitness system is toxic, aggressive, and doesn’t narrate the whole story. It monitors your achievements, and when you meet your goals, it suggests more challenging ones.

While this may help some users, the system is of no use for athletes or other fitness enthusiasts whose focus is on building muscles or gaining weight. I mean, where’s rest and recovery? Also, an Apple Watch does not understand the intention, like what the users’s focus is.

Now, that’s one. The other thing currently missing in watchOS is the ability to maintain a streak when you take a day off. Everything is nice when you close your rings every day; you’re tired one day, and your rings are messed up. This isn’t fair at all. Apple Watch should have something similar to Fitbit’s Daily Readiness Score that better understands your body and gives personalized workout intensity and recovery recommendations.

I strongly believe that Move, Stand, and Exercise goals shouldn’t be the only health metrics. Apple Watch should also take into account mental illness, rest & recovery, and sudden life changes. In short, I want watchOS 11 to introduce smarter rings that aren’t constantly pushing you for more.

There should be a way to manually add break days or get personalized rest day recommendations. Come on Apple, rest is important! Rather than throwing alerts to step out & exercise, I would be happy if watchOS 11 would send some motivational quotes and applaud me for making it through the day when I almost feel like quitting.

AI-generated health summary

I’m super-excited for the upcoming iOS 18 and smarter “Siri 2.0” based on generative AI. With that in mind, I want watchOS 11 to take advantage of AI and offer easy-to-understand health insights. Right now, Apple Watch offers information in the form of graphs and reports. It sometimes feels too scarce, and sometimes too much. But, one thing is common- they aren’t easy to understand.

I wish to see an AI-generated heath summary feature in watchOS 11 that offers an easy-to-understand summary that covers all the essentials, without any jargon. Imagine how easy it would be to understand the ECG graphs and super-long sleep-tracking reports. Even better, I could ask Siri to show my sleep or workout summary.

4. Quick Access to Steps Count

If you ask me one thing that I don’t like about Apple Watch, it would be the complicated access to the steps count. I mean why do I have to head to the Activity app every time I wish to see my steps? I know, it won’t be an issue for someone who doesn’t track steps or do it once in a while. However, for someone like me, who sees those numbers a dozen times a day to stay on top of the steps goal, this is definitely a headache.

There’s a step challenge going on in my office, and I can’t have a quick glance at my step count because my Apple Watch doesn’t allow me to do so. I should be able to see my daily step count, right there on the watch face. What’s the point of having a smartwatch if it can’t show me the basics at my tips? I want Apple to chuck away these annoyances with quick access to steps count in watchOS 11.

5. A Watch Face Store

Well, it’s not only me, a watch face store would definitely be on every Apple Watch user’s wishlist. It’s almost been a decade since Apple launched its smartwatch lineup, and users still have to settle with first-party watch faces. The demand for third-party watch faces has been in the conversation since 2015 when the Apple Watch 1 was released. To quieten things and please its users, Apple adds a couple of new faces with every watchOS release. While we get some nice options, the desire for third-party watch faces and customization options is still there.

I wish to see a watch face store in watchOS 11 that allows me to personalize my watch face. There should be third-party watch face support that allows users to design & customize their watch faces or download the ones created by other users. It would be a one-stop solution to share faces, download customizations, and more.

I know that’s unlikely to happen, especially when Apple issued a similar statement last year that third-party watch faces might ruin the watchOS functionality. Well, I see it as an excuse, rather than a valid reason. There should be a way to take these into account and come up with something solid. Until that happens, I want Apple to at least add some flexibility to the first-party watch faces.

It would be fun if I could add a complication to a watch face, or if watchOS suggests some useful complications on my usage habits or the apps that I use the most on my smartwatch. Even if a watch face store is unlikely to be a watchOS 11 feature, I still want to have it super soon. I hope you’re listening Apple!

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