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The Apple Watch Is Great, but I Want More in 2022

Side view of a gray Apple Watch Series 7
The Apple Watch Series 7 is a refinement, but I'm hoping for bigger changes in the Series 8.
Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

What's happening

The Apple Watch is an excellent smartwatch and fitness tracker, but I'd like to see more wellness tools, longer battery life and additional uses for its U1 chip.

Why it matters

Apple is a leader in the wearables market, but competitors like Fitbit and Oura are ahead in certain areas.

What's next

Apple is expected to announce new Apple Watch models in the fall.

The Apple Watch did little more than send iPhone alerts to your wrist when it launched in 2015. Now, roughly seven years later, it's evolved into a powerful fitness tracker and communication device. That said, there are plenty of ways Apple could improve its smartwatch. 

While the Apple Watch's wide selection of workouts, intuitive software and addictive Activity Rings have made it my favorite fitness tracker, I often find myself wanting more. Other gadget-makers, like Oura and Fitbit, are outpacing Apple in certain areas, particularly when it comes to workout recovery. It's time for Apple to catch up, and I'm hoping its next smartwatch helps the company get there.

Apple typically releases new Apple Watch models in the fall. But we got a preview of the new WatchOS 9 software coming to the Apple Watch Series 4 and later at Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference in June. Here's what else I'd like to see.

Apple Watch Series 7

The Apple Watch Series 7 can charge faster, but I also want longer battery life.

Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

Longer battery life

Battery life has long been the Apple Watch's Achilles' heel. While the Apple Watch can usually get me through about a day and a half, Fitbit trackers and watches can last multiple days on a single charge. The Fitbit Sense, for example, can typically function for two to four days before requiring a charge, while the Fitbit Versa 3 has lasted up to six days according to CNET's reviews. (But remember that battery life will always vary depending on usage.)

I'd love to see multiday battery life from the Apple Watch, even if it's only three days. That would be enough to take my Apple Watch on a weekend trip without having to worry about plugging it in or packing a charger. It would also make the Apple Watch a more viable sleep tracker. I haven't been using the Apple Watch to track sleep very often because I find its exercise and activity tracking to be a more valuable use of its battery. But extending the amount of time between charges could change that.

To be fair, Apple has worked around this by improving the Apple Watch's charging speed with the Series 6 and 7. And that is helpful to some degree. If you wear your Apple Watch overnight, you can top it off during your morning routine and still have enough juice to make it through the day. 

For most people, that's an adequate solution. But since I'm so obsessed with closing my Activity Rings, my Apple Watch remains strapped to my wrist for as long as I'm awake. I also rely on it to keep me on schedule as I'm getting ready to leave the house in the morning, so I'd rather have it sitting on my wrist than its charger.

Apple might have another battery workaround in its pipeline that could debut with the Apple Watch Seres 8. The new watch might include a new low power mode that would enable the Apple Watch to run some apps and features while preserving its battery, according to Bloomberg. It sounds like the new feature will allow for more functionality than the watch's current power reserve mode, which only shows the time. Bloomberg previously reported this feature would arrive in WatchOS 9, but there was no mention of it at WWDC. 

Read More: A New Apple Watch SE Actually Sounds More Exciting Than the Series 8

the Oura ring next to a phone showing its accompanying app

The Oura app's daily Readiness score, a combination of multiple measurements.

Scott Stein/CNET

Workout recovery features

My Apple Watch can tell me a lot of things, like how many active calories I've burned and long-term progress toward my fitness goals. But one thing it can't tell me is whether I need a rest day.

Since I'm usually very fixated on closing my Activity Rings, I sometimes push myself to work out when I probably need to take a break. There are also times when I know I can push myself harder, but I still opt for an easier workout. It would be great if the Apple Watch could help me navigate those decisions based on bodily signals, my recent activity and sleep. 

Fitbit daily readiness score

Fitbit's daily readiness score.

Screenshot by Lexy Savvides/CNET

Oura and Fitbit already offer metrics like this: readiness scores. As the name implies, a readiness score indicates whether your body is rested enough to tackle a heavy workout, or if you should skip the gym and rest up. Both Oura and Fitbit also offer advice and can adjust your fitness goals based on your score. For example, these apps might tell you to pay attention to how you're feeling and get some rest if you receive a low score. And if you receive a good or average score, they might suggest a moderate workout. 

The Apple Watch can nudge you to move if you haven't made much progress toward closing your rings. It can also congratulate you when you've had a particularly active day. But it doesn't have a specific metric that prioritizes recovery like Oura and Fitbit's readiness scores. The Mindfulness app and Apple Fitness Plus' mediation programs certainly help, but it would be nice to see recovery built into the Apple Watch's goals and metrics in a meaningful way.

It sounds minor, but tips like this go a long way. On days when I'm feeling tired, a low readiness score along with a reminder to take it easy provides further validation that I don't need to commit to a full workout if I don't feel up to it. The Apple Watch's mindfulness reminders don't go far enough since they're easy to ignore. The readiness score usually correlates more closely with how I'm feeling based on my sleep and activity, so it feels more meaningful than a reminder to take a deep breath.

The Apple Watch's Workout app is getting new metrics in WatchOS 9 like heart rate zones and the ability to customize recovery intervals during a session, which could make it easier to manage your intensity during a workout. But the Apple Watch still won't have an alternative to the readiness scores found in apps from other fitness device makers. 

The Apple Watch already does a good job motivating me to move. Now it just needs to remind me to rest.

Read more: Apple, Google and Samsung May Have Exciting Smartwatch Plans for 2022

Apple Watch next to Fitbit Versa

The Apple WatchOS 7 sleep app shows just overall sleep time, while devices like the Fitbit Versa 2 (right) show estimated light/deep and REM phases, plus a sleep score.

Scott Stein/CNET

A sleep score

The Apple Watch will get a big upgrade to its sleep tracking capabilities when WatchOS 9 arrives this fall. Apple is finally bringing the ability to measure different stages of sleep to the Apple Watch, a long-requested feature that other fitness devices from Oura and Fitbit have offered for years. While this is a major improvement, it looks like the Apple Watch still won't provide the level of sleep coaching found on other devices. 

Oura, Fitbit, Samsung, Amazon and Withings all offer a sleep score that asses the quality of your sleep to help you make more sense of all the metrics these devices gather overnight. Similar to the previously mentioned recovery feature, these scores help me contextualize my sleep and help motivate me to get more rest when I need it. Samsung and Fitbit also offer sleep coaching programs that make observations about your sleeping patterns over a period of time to provide more targeted advice.

The Apple Watch can already record data about sleep duration, time spent in bed, sleeping pattern trends and respiratory rate. The addition of sleep stages is a big step toward making the Apple Watch feel like an even more well-rounded wellness device, but I'd still like to see more. 

Apple Watch showing activity goals

I'd love to change my Apple Watch's activity goals depending on the day.

Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

Different activity goals for specific days of the week

It's rare that any given day is exactly the same when it comes to exercise. Factors like how much sleep I got the night before, social plans, what I've eaten that day and whether I'm commuting to the office all impact how active I am. That's why I wish I could adjust the Apple Watch's goals according to each day of the week.

You can change your move, stand and exercise goals on the Apple Watch by opening the Activity app and tapping the Change Goals button. But there aren't any options for tailoring those goals to specific weekdays. I'd love to increase my move goal on days when I know I'll be heading into the office, since my commute involves a lot of walking. 

Read more: Why Apple Should Launch an iPhone Subscription Plan

HomePod Mini

The HomePod Mini uses the U1 chip to improve the way audio is transferred between devices.

Apple

More uses for the U1 chip

The Apple Watch Series 6 and 7 as well as the iPhone 11, 12 and 13 have Apple's U1 ultra wideband chip. If you're not familiar, ultra wideband is a wireless short-range protocol that allows for precise location tracking. But don't think of it as an alternative for GPS. Rather, UWB is often used to help devices communicate with nearby gadgets within the same room. It makes Apple's AirDrop sharing feature work more quickly since it can locate other nearby iPhones with more precision. 

Ultra wideband, or UWB, also improves the way the iPhone and Apple Watch models function as digital car keys. Compatible cars can recognize your device when it's nearby, meaning the car will unlock as you approach it rather than requiring you to hold your phone or Apple Watch near a key reader. 

This is a promising start, but I'd love to see even more clever use cases for the U1 chip. In theory, UWB could give our devices another layer of intelligence that essentially enables nearby gadgets to react to your presence. My colleague Stephen Shankland came up with some ideas for how UWB could be practically useful when he wrote about the technology last year.

Imagine if your TV could automatically switch to the right Netflix profile once it recognizes that your phone or watch is nearby. Or what if your smart speaker only gave calendar alerts relevant to the people in the room? Apple seems to be moving in this direction as evidenced by the HomePod Mini, which can provide certain haptic effects when transferring audio to an UWB-equipped iPhone. I'm hoping to see even more functionality like this built into the Apple Watch.

We'll likely have to wait until the fall to learn what's in store for the next Apple Watch. Based on Apple's history, it seems plausible to expect routine upgrades like a new processor. But since the Series 7 felt more like a refinement of the Series 6 rather than a generational upgrade, I'm hoping to see bigger updates in the near future.