With the Apple Watch Ultra, it seems pretty clear that Apple is targeting a very specific audience. The keynote announcement, marketing materials, and even the packaging all make clear this is a serious product designed for people who are into serious adventure. Divers, mountaineers, triathletes, ultra-marathoners.
After testing it out, the first thing that’s clear to me is that I’m very much not a part of that audience. I’m a professional writer. The most adventuresome thing I do is time my daughter’s cross country meets and keep track of how much time is left in our kids’ soccer games. For that, this watch is obviously overkill. The Series 7 I’ve been wearing for a year does just fine.
On the other hand, even if you’re not one of those extreme adventure type people, I can still think of three reasons you might want an Apple Watch Ultra. The first is that, if you really like the idea of having a larger screen, you’re going to love it. It’s much easier to read than even the largest Series 8. It’s the closest thing to having a usable computer strapped to your wrist.
Or, perhaps you want better battery life. I can imagine a lot of people who travel–or who would just rather not have to charge their Apple Watch every day–loving the battery life on the Ultra. It may not be measured in weeks, like some of its competitors claim, but it’s more than enough for someone who forgets to charge before going to bed.
Finally, maybe you just want the orange button. That is, after all, the entire reason I wanted to review the Apple Watch Ultra. Yes, I reviewed a watch because of a single button.
Apple calls is the ‘Action Button,’ and I think it’s brilliant. It allows you to assign an action that can be accessed with just a press of the button, which is very useful for reasons we’ll get to in a minute.
In fact, I think every Apple Watch should have one. It does seem like the type of feature Apple might “bring down” to the standard Series 9 next year, but it also seems equally likely the company could keep it exclusive to the Ultra. The latter possibility would be a shame.
You see, for a while, the worst thing about using an Apple Watch is that it’s not particularly easy to navigate. That’s not really the Watch’s fault, it’s just that the interface isn’t ideal for doing things like reading and responding to text messages or email, or using apps. Partially that’s because very few apps are anything more than a way to notify you about something on your iPhone, but it’s also because there’s only so much you can do on a screen that small.
The touch screen is fine, but the Digital Crown and side button just aren’t enough if you’re trying to do something that requires more than a few taps or gestures. The Action Button solves that because you can assign it to do a specific task without having to navigate through, well, anything.
Want to start a workout, instead of opening the app, selecting the one you want, and then waiting for the three-second countdown, you just press the Action Button. Or, want to start a stopwatch? You don’t even have to have it as a complication on your Watch face (who wants to look at a blank stopwatch all the time anyway?). You can just set the Action Button to start counting.
It’s hard to adequately describe how much better it makes using your Apple Watch. Even if you aren’t doing adventure things like setting GPS waypoints or trying to backtrack your route out of the wilderness, it’s a great feature to have.
There are limits, by the way. Currently, you can only use it to set up one of a few actions supported by first-party apps like start a workout, for example. Apple has said that third-party workout and diving apps will be able to offer users a choice to use the Action Button with their apps, but that’s still a pretty limited selection of options.
I think the Action Button has a lot more potential. Honestly, I’d love to be able to tap it to get your heart rate or to measure your blood oxygen. It would be great to press it and send a text message to a selected contact.
Think about how useful it could be for people who use an Apple Watch as a productivity tool. Imagine being able to start a timer with Timery when you start a project. Or, imagine being able to open the camera app on your iPhone and take a photo, just by clicking the Action Button.
Apple does allow you to select a shortcut, but I’m pretty sure the number of people who would find value in having more flexibility in terms of Action Button options is a lot larger than people who understand or use Shortcuts.
The Action Button, even with those limitations, is exactly the sort of thing you’d expect from Apple. It’s the sort of delightful feature that makes the experience of using a thing better than a single button should. We can only hope every Apple Watch gets one.