Apple Watch X: The Biggest Upgrades I Want to See - CNET

With the Apple Watch Series 9and WatchOS 10, Apple's smartwatch took minor but still important steps forward. Apple introduced a new gesture called Double Tap for the Series 9 and Ultra 2, which is significant considering Apple doesn't add new controls to the Apple Watch very often. The new widget-centric interface in WatchOS 10 also makes it easier to see bits of information at a glance.

But Apple may have big plans in store for this year's Apple Watch, if a report from Bloomberg turns out to be accurate. Apple could break away from its typical naming convention and call its next smartwatch the Apple Watch X (read as 10) in honor of the device's 10th anniversary, similar to the iPhone X, according to the report. 

The so-called Apple Watch X, which may debut this year or in 2025, could reportedly have a thinner design, a new mechanism for attaching bands, a microLED screen and blood pressure monitoring, Bloomberg says. The new watch may also be more power-efficient thanks to a new type of OLED display panel, according to Korean news outlet The Elec

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However, we may learn more about what Apple has in store for the Apple Watch next week at the company's Worldwide Developers Conference. While a new Apple Watch model isn't expected, Apple usually showcases new software features for its product lineup -- including the Apple Watch -- during the event. 

There are plenty of ways Apple could improve its smartwatch. The company could turn its watch into an even smarter and more helpful health assistant with more AI integration. Since Double Tap is relatively new, there's a lot of opportunity for updates and optimizations that make it more convenient than actually tapping the screen. Changes like these could be particularly important as Apple faces fresh competition from Google's Fitbit, which plans to launch new AI-powered features this year, and Samsung's upcoming Galaxy Ring. 

Then there are the upgrades I've been wanting for years, like longer battery life, workout recovery metrics, more customizable activity goals and additional sleep insights. I still hope to see these improvements arrive either in a new model or through a software update. But here are some additional ways the Apple Watch could evolve in 2024. 

More AI smarts, especially for health-related features

A screenshot showing Siri + Health from Apple's September 2023 event.

Siri will be able to answer health-related questions on the Series 9, thanks to a future software update.

Apple; screenshot by James Martin/CNET

Apple gave the Apple Watch Series 9 an AI boost by making it the first model that can process certain types of Siri requests locally. Queries that don't require an answer from the internet -- such as setting alarms or timers -- can be carried out on the device itself without pinging the cloud, speeding up the whole process. Siri can also respond to health-related questions in this way, enabling it to answer requests about your sleep from the night before and about Activity Ring progress. 

But Apple could make its watch an even more intuitive health agent, and it feels like this new Siri functionality is just one step in that direction. The rise of generative AI has opened up new possibilities for making data easier to understand by delivering answers in a more conversational way. 

Google's Fitbit, one of Apple's competitors in the health-tracking space, is already experimenting in this area. In October, Fitbit teased a new program, called Fitbit Labs, that'll arrive this year. It'll initially connect the dots between certain data points and use generative AI to answer questions such as why you were more tired than usual after your morning run. The company also thinks AI can be helpful for helping users set realistic fitness goals, as Google's Ajay Surie recently told CNET. 

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That type of insight would go beyond simply logging data and turning it into a graph or chart. It would make it easier to actually change your habits based on the information coming from your smartwatch. The Apple Watch's Activity Rings already encourage you to get up and move or take a few extra steps. Now imagine how much more motivating it could be with observations like these. 

Future Apple Watches could indeed include more AI-powered health tools. Bloomberg reports that the tech giant is working on an AI-fueled coaching program that'll provide Apple Watch wearers with tailored suggestions and advice. Apple is also said to be working on a more sophisticated version of Siri, says another Bloomberg report and The Information. A more recent report from Bloomberg also suggests that this Siri upgrade could make it possible to control iPhone apps using Apple's voice-enabled helper, but it's unclear how or if that functionality would translate to the Apple Watch. 

More Double Tap functionality

Apple Watch Series 9 on a wrist as someone double taps

To Double Tap on the Apple Watch Series 9, you tap your index finger and thumb together. 

Richard Peterson/CNET

Apple should double down on Double Tap by adding more customization options. The motion, which involves tapping your thumb and index finger together twice, currently lets you scroll through your widgets, answer a phone call, snooze an alarm, pause a timer and more. 

But I'd love to see more ways to personalize Double Tap. You can decide whether Double Tap advances your widget stack or selects a widget, or whether it pauses music or skips to the next track. While I appreciate this flexibility, I wish there were other options. For example, you should be able to select whether to repeat a timer instead of ending it, or snooze an alarm versus dismissing it. Right now Double Tap simply dismisses timers and snooze alarms, with no option to decide to perform the other action. I wish I could choose or perhaps triple-tap to perform the other option instead.  

Double Tap isn't meant to be a replacement for touching your watch, so its functionality is understandably limited compared with other gestures like tapping and swiping. If Apple does have updates in store for Double Tap, you may not have to wait for a new Apple Watch model. Apple could theoretically include changes like these in its next software update.

An updated design

The Apple Watch Series 9 in stainless steel (left) and aluminum (right).

From left: The Apple Watch Series 9 in stainless steel and in aluminum.

Richard Peterson/CNET

The Apple Watch has received a few design tweaks over the years, but it's the pricier Apple Watch Ultra that's gained more significant physical upgrades, like a bigger screen and more durable build. Though Apple shouldn't stray too far from the current model's look, I'd like to see some changes. Apple revamped the iPhone's design for its 10th anniversary, so I could imagine the company doing something special for the 10th generation Apple Watch -- like perhaps a new finish or color. 

Bloomberg reports that Apple may have some design changes in its pipeline for the rumored Apple Watch X. The company is reportedly working on a slimmer case and microLED screens for the Apple Watch, which would make its tiny display look more vivid. 

A new magnetic method of attaching wristbands might also be in development for a future Apple Watch, according to the report, though it's unclear if it would debut on the Apple Watch X. Such a change would likely come with advantages and disadvantages for Apple Watch owners, however. On the upside, it could make it easier for Apple to slim down the watch's case, since Bloomberg's report says the current attachment method occupies a lot of space. But it would also likely break compatibility with the past decade of existing Apple Watch wristbands. 

Design isn't always the most important element when it comes to tech gadgets. But smartwatches are the exception, considering they're meant to be worn in plain view all day long. It's one of the rare instances in which a fresh design may be enough to convince people with older watches to upgrade. 

An Action button on the regular model

Apple Watch Ultra 2

The Apple Watch Ultra 2 (pictured) and Apple Watch Ultra have an Action button. 

James Martin/CNET

Ever since the Apple Watch Ultra debuted in 2022, I've been awaiting the Action button's arrival on cheaper Apple Watch models. The Action button turned out to be a handy way to quickly launch a workout or jump between apps, and I've long argued that it should be a part of the default Apple Watch experience. When I tried the Apple Watch Ultrain 2022, for example, I loved using it to start an outdoor walk workout with just a couple of taps. Using the OnePlus Watch 2, which has a customizable shortcut button, also made me realize the value of having a dedicated key for certain tasks. 

Now that Apple has brought the Action button to the iPhone 15 Pro, I'm hoping it'll trickle down to other devices, like the expected Apple Watch X. Putting the Action button on premium products like the Apple Watch Ultra and iPhone 15 Pro was a good starting point, but it should become standard across the board -- even on cheaper iPhone models.   

Since widgets play a bigger role in how we generally navigate the Apple Watch's interface thanks to WatchOS 10, there's more room for physical buttons to shine when it comes to specific targeted circumstances, like shortcuts. And that's especially important on a screen as small as the Apple Watch's. The standard iPhone 16 models are also expected to get the Action button, according to Bloomberg and MacRumors, further strengthening the argument that it should make its debut on cheaper Apple Watches too. 

The Apple Watch has come a long way since its arrival almost 10 years ago. I'd like to see Apple push it to the next level by infusing more intelligence into health tracking. Apple could also bring the Watch up to speed with useful features we've seen in other products, like the Action button. And it could embrace the device's roots as a fashion accessory with a fresh look.


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