Apple this week introduced the rugged Apple Watch Ultra—with a larger, brighter 49mm screen, an extra hardware button, a bigger battery and better speakers—made for more extreme outdoor conditions. But I believe that the $800 smartwatch can be used in another way: to watch TV.
Wait, wait, wait, listen to me; it’s not a new idea. In 1982, Japanese watchmaker Seiko . debuted a wristwatch that can receive UHF and VHF channels, although the actual receiver came in a huge strap package that you had to connect to the LCD screen on your wrist. The idea never really caught on (except in the James Bond movie octopussy), but it introduced an exciting and futuristic television experience that we still haven’t nailed.
When the original Apple Watch came out in 2015, references were made to the Seiko TV Watch. It was, after all, a futuristic Bond-esque wrist computer. But seven years later, hardly any video viewing functionality has been added to the device. The two ways I’ve found to watch any kind of video is for someone to send me a clip via iMessage and then watch it from my Apple Watch or download a third-party app called WatchTube, which is a bit buggy and lacks many video playback features. None of these methods come very close to the experience of television. With the upgrades to the Apple Watch Ultra’s screen, speaker, and battery life, video support is now a more justified request.
Not sure if I watch prestige TV like House of the Dragon or movies like Top Gun: Maverick would be a great experience on a watch, but what if we could watch something like… a baseball game right off our wrists? An ambient but active television pastime. It’s the future the Seiko TV Watch promised: to have the most portable hands-free television live in the blink of an eye. I’d love to go for a walk in my neighborhood with the Yankees game on my arm without having to constantly unlock my phone or take it out of my pocket to see what just happened. I just heard Aaron Judge hit a flyout into left field; how fast can i check the screen to see if someone sees it?
I think one scenario is usually enough to justify a software feature, but I’ll share a few more. What if you’re kneading dough for your outdoor pizza oven and you want to watch the government debate? Maybe you’re shoveling asphalt at the Indy 500. You’re running hard in the morning and like The Drew Barrymore Show. The elevator is stuck and you have to call maintenance, but it’s already late in the fourth quarter and the Giants are driving down at four o’clock. Diving during the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games? Who needs picture-in-picture mode when you can watch? The Tonight Show on your phone and The late show on your watch at the same time? Oh my gosh, what if you get one of those little Apple Watch stands that looks like an old Macintosh and watch the US Open on your desk while you work? I would like to keep Emily in Paris playing on my portable TV while throwing a frisbee on the beach. Forget the classic sitcom situation about the dad having to go to church during the Big Game. Who knows, but maybe Quibi could have saved the streaming service by looking on your wrist.
The customizable action button on the Apple Watch Ultra would be great for switching channels on a linear TV app like Pluto TV or YouTube TV or rewinding a video 30 seconds to catch a clip from Apple TV Plus’ Friday. Replay Night Baseball coverage. A hardware button makes playing, pausing, fast-forwarding and captioning a little easier with a small screen. The brighter screen would make it easier to watch in bright outdoor environments, such as tailgating at a concert. The upgraded speakers allow you to watch without your AirPods for family viewing.
While the technology is there, the Apple Watch Ultra still won’t let you do it. Is it because it would reduce the device’s already short battery life for a feature few people would use? Is it because Apple wants you to see the watch as a health device and not a television? Probably. But the dream is still alive. There’s a reason someone made a third-party YouTube app for the watch, and I’ve seen a few weird gadgets on a small screen people have tied themselves around their wrists. As batteries last longer and processors get faster, we’ve reached the point where you can watch TV anywhere. Time to watch TV on my watch.