Apple Watch Ultra’s customizable action button can launch shortcuts, plus more

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Apple Watch Ultra's customizable action button can launch shortcuts, plus more
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Later this week, Apple will launch the Apple Watch Ultra, a more rugged, capable smartwatch aimed at explorers, adventurers, and athletes. One of the many unique features of the $799 watch is the addition of a third button called the Action Button. This article previews what you’ll be able to do with it.

apple watch ultra orange alpine loop action button 220907 large

action button location

The colored, indented, pill-shaped action button in “International Orange” is located next to the display on the left side of the titanium case of the Apple Watch Ultra, between the dual speakers and the siren.

activate the siren

Pressing and holding the action button will activate the built-in 86-decibel siren, which can be heard from 600 feet (180 m) away, and is used to attract help during an emergency.

ultra siren clock

custom actions

The Action button is also customizable, which means it can perform any action the user has configured for it. ‌Apple Watch Ultra users are able to choose a starting function for the action button when setting up their device. Later, they can adjust this option in Settings, where a new section lists the apps that support the button.

apple watch ultra action button

Examples from Apple include what the button can be configured to do, including starting a backtrack (which uses GPS data to track where you’ve been so you can retrace your steps), a workout Getting started and taking a dive.

Action buttons can also be assigned to system-level functions, such as turning the flashlight on and off, marking a compass waypoint, or starting a stopwatch. In addition, Apple Watch Ultra users can pause existing functions by simultaneously pressing the Action and Side buttons.

assigning shortcuts

Because the Action button is powered by the new App Intent API that Apple released at WWDC in June, Apple Watch Ultra users will also be able to assign shortcuts, bringing great potential for customization, like the ability to control smart home accessories .

Assigning a dedicated shortcut for an action button can pave the way for additional, adaptive functionality. For example, shortcuts with location- or time-based actions can allow action buttons to perform different tasks throughout the day.

Multifunction use with aftermarket press

Depending on which app is being used to control the action buttons, Apple Watch Ultra users will in some cases be able to select additional actions for subsequent presses.

Apple envisions people using action buttons without looking at the screen, so subsequent button presses should flow logically from the first press, while also making sense in the current context.

action button mark segment

For example, a workout app might let a user start a triathlon with the first button press and switch to another segment with subsequent presses.

It’s worth noting though that apps won’t be able to assign functions for long presses of the action button, as watchOS 9 preserves this interaction for the Emergency SOS feature.

final thoughts

Apple’s decision to add a third physical control to the Apple Watch Ultra in the form of an action button does not allow for quick access to a range of functions not provided by the system. It also gives third-party developers a new tool that enables them to bring important app features to users at the press of a button.

Whether Apple intends to bring action buttons to its more affordable Apple Watch series models in the future is an intriguing question, the answer to which may depend on how versatile and indispensable it proves to be in the hands of Ultra users.

apple watch ultra 2

Priced at $799, the Apple Watch Ultra is available in one 49mm size, with Trail, Ocean, and Alpine band options available. The new smartwatch can be pre-ordered now and will launch alongside the second-generation AirPods Pro on Friday, September 23. For more on the design and features of the Apple Watch Ultra, be sure to check out our dedicated roundup.

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