watchOS 10: MacStories preview

Apple itself is hailing watchOS 10 as the biggest software update since the introduction of the Apple Watch. Not sure about me Enough OK with that characterization, but it’s certainly the biggest update we’ve seen in many years. The tenth iteration of watchOS includes an exciting new take on some of its core interactions, including a reassignment of the hardware side button and an all-new widget interface. Apple today released the public beta of watchOS 10, which you can access as part of the Apple Beta software program.

There’s a lot to dig into here, but we’ll leave most of the digging for my official watchOS review later this year. For now, let’s take a look at the highlights of watchOS 10, what exactly has changed, and what seems to be working after a few weeks of use.

The first thing you’ll notice after installing watchOS 10 is the new post-update onboarding experience. It’s unskippable, which initially bothered me before I realized the extent of the interaction changes.

After greeting you with a full-screen “Hello,” your Apple Watch will prompt you to press the Digital Crown as you explain what it’s doing (opens the view to all your watchOS apps). Once you do this and view the app screen for a few seconds, the onboarding experience returns and tells you to press the digital crown again to return to the watch face. Next, it will ask you to rotate the Digital Crown to access the new widgets view and finally to press the side button to access the Control Center. I don’t have an Apple Watch Ultra, but I’m assuming the experience would also go through the Action button if you have one.

I was initially bummed by the onboarding experience that required me to slowly press the digital crown twice, with seconds lagging in between, to get to my apps screen and back. These interactions haven’t changed and so I already knew what was coming. Once I got to the digital crown and side button, I was really grateful that watchOS forced me to take these actions slowly, reading exactly what they were going to do, because otherwise I would have been confused when my hardware buttons no longer function as I expected them to. . Instead, I actually figured out exactly what the update had changed without having to experiment a ton to try and figure it out.

Hardware reassignments

It’s not the first time we’ve seen hardware button reassignments on the Apple Watch, but it’s the first time in several years. Rotating the digital crown hasn’t played a significant role on the main watch face since time travel was dropped and the latest side button reassignment was to switch between the friends interface and the Apple Watch dock . Both of these changes occurred in watchOS 3.

The tenth version of watchOS is the best time ever to rethink these hardware interactions once again. I’ve never found the Apple Watch Dock particularly useful, and having the Digital Crown do nothing but trigger some fun but frivolous watch face animations has always been a waste. I’m not sure if the new interactions are perfect, but at least it’s good to see Apple experimenting with the Apple Watch again.

In watchOS 10, Apple assigned Control Center to the side button. This moves it from its previous location just below the watch face, opening up that spot for the all-new widget interface that Apple has dubbed the “Smart Stack.” The Smart Stack can be accessed by swiping up on the watch face, just like Control Center used to be. However, it can also be accessed by turning the Digital Crown up, a new interaction for the watch face that Apple presumably added to improve the new interface’s discoverability.

This shuffle replaced two other interactions: the handful of watch face animations that were triggered by turning the Digital Crown and the Apple Watch dock. The former is still available on watch faces that support it, but now you only need to manually tap the watch face once to switch to an animatable mode, at which point rotating the Digital Crown will control the animation rather than opening the Smart Stack.

The Apple Watch Dock, while still available, was relegated to a double-click of the Digital Crown in watchOS 10. I think Apple could let this feature live solely as a convenience for power users, because that interaction wasn’t even covered in the Apple Watch Dock. onboarding experience. Additionally, at various points in Apple’s marketing materials for watchOS 10, the Dock has been stripped of all honor and title and is simply referred to as a list of recently used apps. The “Dock” settings section in the iOS 17 Watch app has also been removed, meaning you can no longer manually set which apps appear in it — it’s now always just a list of recent apps.

I still need some time to sit down with all these hardware changes, but my first impression is that I really like the placement of the new Smart Stack, but I think Control Center is still taking up much more valuable space than it deserves. I’ve been debating this since Control Center was first added in watchOS 3 seven years ago, and every word of that original argument still stands today.

In particular, I still wish Apple would bring back the old Now Playing screen and place it at the top of the Control Center interface, just like on iOS. This would elevate Control Center from a feature I only use occasionally (just like in 2016, I still use Control Center almost exclusively to ping my iPhone when I can’t find it) to one I use frequently every day.

Barring an addition to the Now Playing screen, I’d like Apple to consider moving Control Center to a split swipe down approach, where swiping down from the left side of the watch face would open Notification Center, while swiping down from the left side of the watch face would open Notification Center, while swiping down from the the bottom right side would open Control Center. I don’t necessarily love the subtlety of that interaction, but I think users would find it familiar since it would directly mirror iOS. This would keep the Control Center accessible while freeing up the side button to become a customizable action button just like on the Apple Watch Ultra (Ultra users would then get two different customizable buttons instead of one).

Smart stack

With the interaction jolt out of the way, let’s take a quick look at the interface. The Smart Stack is explained quite easily to any longtime watchOS watcher: Apple has taken all the good ideas of the old Siri watch face and put them into a new interface that is readily available from every other watch face. This essentially erases all the disadvantages of Siri’s face: its boring look, lack of complications, and card sorting based solely on machine learning. Looks and complications no longer matter since you don’t have to choose this as your actual watch face, and the Smart Stack lets you manually pin the widgets you want to always be available near the top.

In a word: excellent. I love the Smart Stack, and I think this new feature will open up a wave of increased Apple Watch app usage across the system. That said, at this point in the beta cycle, I still have mostly first-party watchOS apps in my Smart Stack. Not being able to view data from the many third-party apps I use every day is a significant drawback in evaluating this feature’s usefulness.

My only real complaint about the Smart Stack so far is that it shows an analog or digital time based on which watch face you’re currently using. I generally like digital time, but I also generally prefer analog watch faces for their visual appeal (I usually add digital time as a complication somewhere). I wish Apple added a setting to manually set the Smart Stack to show analog or digital time, regardless of which watch face you’re currently using.

Once third-party apps hit the Smart Stack, I think there’s huge potential for this feature to usher in a new era of watchOS. I can’t wait to see how it evolves moving forward, and I’m sure I’ll have a lot more to say about it in my watchOS 10 review later this year.

Redesigned apps

Across the system, watchOS 10 introduces a new design language to Apple’s proprietary apps. The interfaces have been expanded to make much better use of the larger displays of modern Apple Watches. Apps feel more spacious and include new buttons that hug the rounded edges of the display. These buttons are positioned similar to the angular complications we’ve seen on watch faces for years now, which makes them feel instantly familiar as UI elements.

Again: excellent. Across the board, these changes have resulted in better app interfaces that feel almost luxurious in their designs. I love it for first-party apps, and I’m so excited to see third-party developers start working with these new building blocks.

Look at the faces

At least so far, there are only two new watch faces in watchOS 10. Palette is a simple watch face with concentric circles of various colors that change further as the second hand spins. Snoopy, however, is a truly wacky new experience.

Snoopy’s face won’t be for everyone, probably including me, because it only supports analog time and doesn’t include any complications. However, Apple has outdone itself here. Snoopy’s face shows animations of Snoopy and Woodstock every time you raise your wrist, and these animations actually interact with the hands of the watch. Snoopy might fall asleep on a clock hand before slipping off it, or throw a crumpled piece of paper that bounces off one of the hands. There are dozens of animation options – I’m still finding new ones after days of using this watch face full time.

There are a few color options for Snoopy’s face background, and the colors are delightfully named using references to the Peanuts comic. The default is “Sunday Surprise”, which appears to be identical to the “Newspaper” color. However, I have not yet worn this dial on Sunday, and as such I am looking forward to next Sunday to see what the magic of Snoopy and Woodstock has in store for me.


I love looking at the radical new interface and interaction changes, which makes watchOS 10 the most exciting update I’ve seen in years. I’m still not sure Apple made all the right decisions, but this is definitely an improvement over where watchOS was before. The Smart Stack in particular is a promising new interface that I think will propel the Apple Watch to new levels of utility. I can’t wait to get my hands on more third-party widgets and put its “smart” sorting to the test.

There’s a lot more to cover in watchOS 10, including the usual batch of awesome new health and fitness features, a few improvements to communication apps, and an app grid that now only scrolls on a single axis so it can be scrolled with the Digital Crown. I’ll be hitting all of these and more in my watchOS review later this year.

In the meantime, if you want to try out new Apple Watch features, the watchOS 10 public beta is available today.

You can also follow our Summer 2023 OS preview series through our dedicated hub or subscribe to its RSS feed.

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