The Apple Watch Ultra's custom action button can launch shortcuts and more.

The Apple Watch Ultra’s custom action button can launch shortcuts and more.

Later this week, Apple will release the Apple Watch Ultra, a more durable and capable smartwatch designed for 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 shows you what you can do with it.

Action Button Location

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

Siren activation

Pressing and holding the Action button activates the built-in 86 decibel siren, which can be heard up to 600 feet (180 meters) away and is designed to call for help during an emergency.

ultra siren watch

Custom Actions

The Action button is also customizable, meaning it can perform any function that the user configures for it. Apple Watch Ultra users can choose the initial function of the Action button when setting up their device. Later, they can customize this choice in Settings, where a new section lists apps that support the button.

Apple Watch ultra action button

Apple examples that the button can be set to include launching Backtrack (which uses GPS data to create a path to where you’ve been so you can retrace your steps), launching a workout, and starting a dive.

The Action button 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 the current function by pressing the Action and Side buttons at the same time.

Label Assignment

Since the Action button is based on the new App Intents APIs that Apple unveiled at WWDC in June, Apple Watch Ultra users will also be able to assign shortcuts to it, providing a huge amount of customization potential, such as the ability to control smart home accessories.

Assigning a custom label to the Action button can also pave the way for additional responsive features. For example, shortcuts with actions based on location or time can allow the Action button to perform different functions throughout the day.

Multifunctional use with follow-up clicks

Depending on which app the Action button is being used for, Apple Watch Ultra users will in some cases be able to select additional actions for subsequent taps.

Apple assumes that people use the Action button without looking at the screen, so subsequent button presses should follow logically from the first press and also make sense in the current context.

action button segment

For example, a workout app might allow a user to start a triathlon with a single button press and switch to a different segment with a subsequent button press.

However, it’s worth noting that apps won’t be able to assign functions to the long press of the Action button, as watchOS 9 reserves that interaction for the emergency SOS call feature.

Final Thoughts

Apple’s decision to add a third physical control to the Apple Watch Ultra in the form of an Action button doesn’t just provide quick access to a number of system functions. It also provides third-party developers with a new tool that will allow them to provide users with key application features at the click of a button.

Whether Apple intends to add an Action button 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 irreplaceable it proves to be in the hands of Ultra users.

apple watch ultra 2

The $799 Apple Watch Ultra is available in a single 49mm size with available Trail, Ocean, and Alpine strap options. The new smartwatch is available to pre-order now and will launch alongside the second generation AirPods Pro this coming Friday, September 23rd. To learn more about the design and features of the Apple Watch Ultra, be sure to check out our dedicated review.

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