The Apple Watch Ultra is expected to be a strong contender in the fitness smartwatch market, but it will need help from developers to get off the ground.
The Apple Watch Ultra has key features that appeal to a different audience than standard Apple Watch models, but without the help of third-party watchOS developers, the rugged smartwatch may not live up to consumer expectations. The regular Apple Watch models are more suitable for the average user, but the standard models were not suitable as a high-end fitness smartwatch. Power users wanted longer battery life from their Apple Watch, as well as a bigger screen and more buttons to help them with their workouts and outings. Apple has responded to many of these requests, but there is one main reason why the changes may not be enough for serious athletes.
Despite the larger display found on the Apple Watch Ultra, high-intensity athletes often prefer touch-sensitive buttons as opposed to on-screen toggles. With physical buttons, users can perform actions by quickly pressing buttons that do not require looking at the smartwatch. In addition, the touch buttons make it easier to control a smartwatch in extreme weather conditions. Rain or snow can make it difficult to see and control a digital touchscreen on an Apple Watch. Apple added a third action button to the Apple Watch Ultra to address this issue. Unfortunately, it is not taking off as users might have hoped.
The Action button is a rather large orange button on the left side of the watch that Apple says can be programmed for a specific function. Although the Apple Watch has a digital crown and power button that performs preset actions, these offerings don’t leave much room for customization. The action button allows users to access specific tasks by tapping an open app. There are seven preset options, the promising potential for third-party app integration, and plenty of customization options through the Apple Watch Ultra’s Shortcuts app. But when it comes to third-party integration, major apps still don’t support the Action button, even though it’s been a few months since the Watch Ultra was released.
Apple Watch Ultra users need third-party app support
Apple’s own fitness tracking apps come with action button support, but options are much more limited when it comes to third-party offerings. Apple’s native Activity and Workout apps on the Apple Watch are great all-in-one apps for the average person, but advanced athletes need more. Experienced athletes have likely found a pro app that best suits their needs, like Nike+ Run Club or Strava, which are mainstream running apps. Apple itself understands this premise, having outsourced the Apple Watch Ultra’s diving capabilities to a third-party app called Oceanic+.
With Action Button support, users of Apple’s Workout app can start and stop laps by simply pressing the Action Button during endurance-based training. During strength training in the Workout app, users can press the same button to mark the end of a set. Triathletes can switch between legs during a triathlon with the Action button. This is great news for users until they realize that their favorite third-party app doesn’t yet support the action button. While some apps support the action button – like climbing app Redpoint and stand-up paddleboarding app GoSUP – many others do not.
As currently implemented, the Action button would have a greater impact on the base model of Apple Watches, as those users are more likely to take advantage of native fitness apps. Power users who purchased the Apple Watch Ultra are more likely to use individual apps specific to their workouts, which may not support the action button. For the Apple Watch Ultra to become a rugged smartwatch for serious athletes, several third-party apps need to optimize their software for the action button.