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The Apple Watch Ultra should let you watch TV

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Apple introduced the rugged Apple Watch Ultra this week — with a bigger, brighter 49mm screen, an additional hardware button, a bigger battery, and better speakers — made for more extreme outdoor conditions. But I believe the $800 smartwatch can be used another way: to watch TV.

Wait, wait, wait, hear me out; it’s not a new idea. In 1982, Japanese watchmaker Seiko debuted a wristwatch that could receive UHF and VHF channels, albeit the actual receiver was in a huge belt pack you had to connect to the LCD screen on your wrist. The idea never really caught on (besides in the James Bond film Octopussy), but it introduced an exciting and futuristic television experience we still haven’t nailed yet.

The Seiko T001.
Image: Seiko

When the original Apple Watch hit the market in 2015, references were made to the Seiko TV Watch. It was, after all, a futuristic Bond-esque wrist computer. But seven years later, barely any functionality around watching video has been added to the device. The two ways I have found to watch any sort of video is for someone to send me a clip via iMessage and then view it from my Apple Watch or to download a third-party app called WatchTube, which is a little buggy and lacks a lot of video playing features. Neither of these methods is very close to the experience of television. With the Apple Watch Ultra’s screen, speaker, and battery life upgrades, video support is now a more justifiable request.

I’m not sure viewing 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 straight from our wrists? An ambient yet active television pastime. It’s the future that the Seiko TV Watch promised: to have the most portable hands-free television live at a moment’s notice. I would absolutely love to go on a walk in my neighborhood with the Yankees game attached to my arm without having to constantly unlock my phone or take it out of my pocket to view what just happened. I just heard Aaron Judge hit a fly ball into left field; how fast can I check the screen to see if someone catches it?

Here is a render I made of a possible TV watching scenario.

Imagine using the digital crown to scroll down the TV channel guide.

I think one scenario is enough to warrant a software feature most times, but I will share a few more. What if you’re kneading dough for your outdoor pizza oven and you want to watch the gubernatorial debate? Perhaps you are shoveling asphalt during the Indy 500. You are running track in the morning and love The Drew Barrymore Show. The elevator is stuck and you need to call maintenance, but it’s late in the fourth quarter and the Giants are driving down by four. Scuba diving during the Olympics opening ceremony? Who needs picture-in-picture mode when you can watch The Tonight Show on your phone and The Late Show on your watch simultaneously? Oh my god, 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 I am throwing a frisbee on the beach. Forget about the classic sitcom predicament about the father who has to go to church during the Big Game. Who’s to say, but perhaps having Quibi available to watch on your wrist would have saved the streaming service.

The Apple Watch Ultra kind of looks like a little TV.
Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge

The customizable action button on the Apple Watch Ultra would be great for changing channels on a linear TV app like Pluto TV or YouTube TV or rewinding a video back 30 seconds to replay a clip from Apple TV Plus’ Friday Night Baseball coverage. A hardware button makes play, pause, fast-forward, and closed captioning a little easier with a tiny screen. The brighter screen would make it easier to watch in bright outdoor environments, like tailgating at a concert. The upgraded speakers enable you to watch without your AirPods for family viewing.

Though the technology is here, the Apple Watch Ultra still won’t let you do this. Is it because it would diminish the already short battery life of the device for a feature only a few people would actually use? Is it because Apple wants you to think of the watch as a health device and not a television? Probably. But the dream is still alive. There’s a reason why someone made a third-party YouTube app for the watch, and I’ve seen a few weird tiny-screen gadgets people have been strapping to their wrists. As batteries are lasting longer and processors are getting faster, we’ve hit the point where TV can be watched anywhere. So it’s time to be able to watch TV on my watch.

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