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How to use the Apple Watch Ua’s Action button

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The Action button adds a third — and much-needed —physical control to Apple’s biggest and baddest watch. And it’s customizable to boot.

a:hover]:text-black [&>a]:shadow-underline-gray-63 [&>a:hover]:shadow-underline-black text-gray-63″>Illustration by Samar Haddad / The Verge

The Apple Watch Ultra introduced one of the most significant design tweaks to the Apple Watch since its inception — the Action button. While every other Apple Watch has two physical controls, the Action button is a third that’s meant to help outdoor athletes pause workouts, turn on the flashlight, call for help with a siren, and more. The main logic is that, unlike touchscreens, physical buttons are immune to sweaty fingers and gloves.

While it’s likely the Action button will evolve over time, at launch, it’s essentially a set of preselected shortcuts or “actions.” Your options are Workout, Stopwatch, Waypoint, Backtrack, Dive, Flashlight, and Shortcuts. Some of these actions have secondary functions dubbed “gestures.” Within each action, you’ll be able to see what gestures are available to you.

The available actions are relatively self-explanatory, but some offer more choices than others. The Workout action, for example, allows you to either open the native Workout app or immediately start a selected activity of your choosing without the traditional 3-2-1 countdown. Pressing the Action button during a workout will then trigger a specific function. For a running workout, it’ll let you create segments.

Triathletes using the Multisport workout can instead manually switch from one leg of the race to the next. Conversely, the Flashlight action is a straightforward, single-purpose shortcut to turn your Ultra into a flashlight.

So let’s begin.

a:hover]:text-black [&>a]:shadow-underline-gray-63 [&>a:hover]:shadow-underline-black text-gray-63″>Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

You’ll be prompted to program the Action button when you first set up your Ultra. You can either follow the prompts at this point or tweak it later. We’re going to jump into the latter. Chances are, you’re going to switch up how you use the Action button as you experiment with what works best for your needs. The good news is, you can edit what the Action button does both on your Watch and from your phone.

  • Navigate to Settings.
  • Scroll down to the new Action Button menu.
  • Tap Action and select between Workout, Stopwatch, Waypoint, Backtrack, Dive, Flashlight, Shortcut, and None.
  • The Workout and Shortcut actions offer some additional choices. In Workout, tap First Press, and pick whether you want to Open “Workout” or Start a Workout. If it’s the latter, you’ll see a list of your recently completed activities to select from.
  • If you select Shortcut, tap the Shortcut menu and select which one you want to trigger.
  • Scroll down to the Siren toggle to turn it on or off. If you enable the toggle, you can hold down the Action button for five seconds to bring up the Emergency SOS menu and activate the Siren there.

Note: the Workout and Dive actions each have an additional App setting, presumably so you can add a third-party app. Right now, however, you can only select between the native Workout and Depth apps. This will likely change in the future.

a:hover]:text-black [&>a]:shadow-underline-gray-63 [&>a:hover]:shadow-underline-black text-gray-63″>Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge
  • Open the Watch app.
  • Scroll down to Action Button.
  • Follow the same steps as above.

While single press gestures will depend on which action you select, most actions (except the Dive and Flashlight actions) will allow you to hit pause by pressing the Action Button and either the digital crown or side button. In the Dive app, doing this will instead activate a secondary action. It doesn’t do anything for the Flashlight action, however.

That’s it for now. The Action button is a brand spanking new feature, so a lot of this may change in the coming months as more developers think of ways to optimize for the Ultra’s hardware. In the meantime, have fun experimenting!

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