Apple Watch widgets sound great, but hopefully Live Activities come, too

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Glancing at notifications has always been a big part of the Apple Watch, but there’s a new kind of notification that isn’t really on the Apple Watch. Live Activities, the new notification type designed for frequent updates, debuted on iOS 16 for all iPhone lock screens and iPhone 14 Pro’s Dynamic Island. Live Activity alerts are fantastic on the phone, but they amplify just how out of date data can be on the watch.

For example, Apple Watch includes a Siri watch face that lets you view sports scores for your favorite team. While watching my New Orleans Saints fall to the Pittsburgh Steelers on last NFL season, I compared the TV app’s Live Activity on the iPhone to the Siri watch face data source on the Apple Watch. That’s where you set your favorite teams, after all.

The Live Activity on the iPhone was fantastic. The score updated in almost real time as the broadcast played, and I could always see the current score without needing individual notifications for each score change. The data source on the Siri watch face, however, was best described as broken. It would eventually catch up with what was once a score during the game, but the game ended long before the score updated to show later scores or the game result.

official NBA iOS Live Activities support

I don’t recall the sports data source on the Siri watch face always being this borked. Maybe it hasn’t been maintained in the years since it was introduced, or maybe it was just having a bad day. It happens. But the best way to see real time sport scores on the Apple Watch would be to turn on score update notifications on the iPhone. That defeats the purpose of Live Activities.

And that’s just one example. Live Activity adoption hasn’t happened at breakneck speeds, but the apps that do work with Live Activities are well received. Flight updates, food delivery updates, and ridesharing ETAs are all useful and would be welcome on the watch.

Apple Watch aggressively reserves battery life, however, and third-party apps aren’t really allowed to do more than send notifications and provide a timeline of data for complications occasionally. Turning the watch into a window for Live Activities that you allow, however, would be worth whatever battery hit it took. My guess is that it’s less about any battery hit and more about when to prioritize support. Live Activities are still less than a year old on iPhones.

watchOS 10 concept

While there’s no word on the fate of Live Activities on Apple Watch, we do believe that watchOS 10 will introduce a new widget system that can overlay above any watch face. The utility again will rely on how up-to-date widget data can be for third-party apps. In the example of the sports score data source on the Siri watch face, it’s not even a third-party data source lagging from update limitations.

Fortunately, we’re only a few days away from the first preview of watchOS 10. While I don’t expect to see Live Activities on the Apple Watch yet, I do hope data can flow from servers or the iPhone in a more relevant timeframe.

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