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A classic theater in black and white. A classic theater in black and white.

What is Apple Theater Mode?

A Look at watchOS 3.2 and Apple Watch 3 Possibilities


We’ve all been there. You’re sitting in a dark movie theater and then somewhere, just out of the corner of your eye, a tiny bright light appears. It doesn’t even have to be someone actively texting or checking social media, a simple notification on a phone or wearable device can be the single point of light that interrupts a dark theater.

Apple Watch users know this well. Using Do Not Disturb mode deactivates visible screen notifications, but it isn’t the cure-all to visual theater interruptions. Unlike a phone, most people don’t want to put their Apple Watches away in their pocket. (We won’t mention iPads and tablets because that probably shouldn’t be uncovered in a movie theater regardless.) But even in Do Not Disturb mode, the device’s display lights up when the user moves his or her arm (AKA the “raise to wake” feature). So other than covering it with your palm while in a movie theater or some other environment where you want it to remain dark, what should do?

Enter Theater Mode, a new feature currently released to developers with watchOS 3.2.

An iconic red and white box of popcorn.

What is Theater Mode?

Theater Mode was designed to remedy this type of situation by essentially delivering notifications without lighting up the screen. Designed for any sort of dark-room situation where a lit screen can be invasive, Theater Mode works similar to Do Not Disturb except it disables the “raise to wake” feature. In other words, while the wearer cstill receiving haptic alerts of notifications, the screen must physically be pressed in order for it to be displayed. This gives the user complete control over when and where the screen lights up while still being aware of when notifications happen. In other words, you can definitely go to a movie and not have to sit with your hand over your Apple Watch the whole time.

While Theater Mode is designed for dark entertainment environments, it also works quite well in another no-light situation: sleeping. Many people use the Apple Watch’s health sensors to monitor their sleep through apps such as Sleep++ and HeartWatch (which, despite its name, does have a sleep-tracking feature). However, notifications come at all hours of the night, particularly if your Apple Watch is tied into a business account. In Do Not Disturb mode, the screen will light up with “raise to wake” activated (this is assuming you haven’t put your watch in Nightstand mode and set it on a table), and the brightness may impact the quality of sleep you get by nudging you awake. Theater Mode takes care of that by eliminating any sort of light distractions, ensuring peaceful rest throughout the night.

An Apple Watch with icons showing core pieces of Apple's Corporate Wellness Initiative.

watchOS 3.2 Features

Arriving for developers in late January, watchOS 3.2 is a beta release, meaning that it’s not the easiest to install. If you really want to check it out now, follow these instructions. In addition to Theater Mode, the other major new feature of watchOS 3.2 is the release of SiriKit for the Apple Watch. Casual users may have no real use for installing this, so it may not be necessary to jump through the installation hoops unless you’re really itching to get Theater Mode sooner rather than later.

SiriKit is a tool that has been available for iPhone and iPad for a short while as a feature of iOS 10. As this is a developer tools, its capabilities are not something the everyday user will be able to take advantage of. However, if you are a developer, these are the features that SiriKit offers:

  • Increased support for messaging
  • Increased support and integration with phone usage (iPhone pairing)
  • Increased support for photo searches
  • Added support for ride booking services
  • Added support for personal payment services

These features are powered by the App Extension platform. Under this, SiriKit allows developers to extend Siri integration into their apps through two new identifiers known as domains and intents. Developers register their domain and identify an intent, and within this paradigm, Siri is enabled to interpret the intent (the user's end goal) for execution on the app.

Recent watchOS Updates

These two watchOS features come on top of the previous 3.1 update released in late 2016. While most of 3.1’s updates were more back-end bug fixes and tweaks invisible to the user (fix a charging bug on Series 2 watches, fix a display bug on Activity rings, etc.), there were a few features -- some of them subtle -- that users were able to explore. These didn't necessarily come in the realm of a new mode such as Theater Mode, but they did provide users with a little more flexibility when it came to everyday usage. First, 3.1 provided users with the option to replay full-screen effects and bubbles in Messages. Second, effects in Messages can play even if Reduce Motion is active. Keep in mind that whole 3.1’s features are available to download, be careful which sub-revision you install, as users found some issues with 3.1.1 bricking their hardware.

What About Series 3 Hardware?

Of course, any discussion about Apple Watch evolution has to move past the operating system features. Speculation is already rampant regarding what the inevitable Series 3 Apple Watch will feature. While there has been no announced release date yet, most insiders and observers are picking a September 2017 launch, similar to when the Series 2 models were released to the public. As to what they'll feature, there's a good chance that there will be major leaps forward in the operating system, similar to how watchOS 3 was a massive overhaul to the previous versions. Some of this will most likely deal with the user interface, though by most accounts, users are happy with watchOS 3's interface design. Other elements will most likely focus on brand new features tied into new hardware.

What's to be expected with Series 3 hardware? Rumors are abound based on discovered patents, insider info, and reports from manufacturers.

A woman whispering into a man's ear.

Here are the Hottest Series 3 Rumors

New Watch Band:
Insiders have discovered a recent patent by Apple for a “magnetic wristband.” Sounds like something that could go on an Apple Watch, right? A closer look at the patent shows that it’s a wristband with specifically placed magnets embedded in it. It works like a standard watch band when worn around the wrist; however, the modular action of the band is where the design innovation really shines. Utilizing the magnet segments, it’s possible to roll the strap on to itself. This can protect the Apple Watch while being stored or even configure into a self-contained nightstand.

Front-Facing Camera:
In early 2016, there were rumblings that Apple was going to put a front-facing camera in the Series 2 Apple Watch. Apple already has patents for this type of technology, so it’s no surprise that the rumors are re-surfacing for the upcoming iteration of the Apple Watch. A front-facing camera on a wearable device can offer many features, from quick photo taking to extended video chat capabilities (if you’re looking at your watch to check notifications, you can also video chat).

Varying Bodies: One of the criticisms of the Apple Watch is that it looks like, well, the Apple Watch. Its distinctive square body with seamless glass frame is essentially a re-shaped iPhone. Yes, it’s what you’d expect out of Apple, but at the same time, watch fashion comes in all shapes and sizes. Other smartwatches from Motorola and LG have begun to incorporate traditional watch forms. Will Apple take their lead and offer different body shapes to compete with the market? It sure seems likely.

New Health Options: Very quietly, Apple has hired further medical-field experts starting in early 2016. Since the Series 2’s biggest innovations (aside from watchOS 3) were related to its health and wellness features, it makes sense that these new hires are likely geared towards that area. Since they were hired a year ago, it’s likely their impact will play out even further in the upcoming Apple Watch, giving their research and development time to come to fruition.

More Efficient Display: Display technology is constantly improving, almost at an exponential rate. Consider how expensive HD technology was when it first hit the scene, and now devices are using OLED displays at reasonable prices. To that end, early reports show that Apple is looking at a new OLED display, a thinner one that uses less power to improve battery life. In addition to that, the battery life is an overall goal of the new iteration according to a recent report.

Don’t Forget the Watch Bands

New Apple Watch body shapes and new magnetic watch band possibilities -- at Monowear, we’re keeping a close eye on both those things. Once we learn more about the next iteration of the Apple Watch, we’ll begin looking specifically at how the next generation of Monowear watch bands can adapt to the new form factors. (We’re pretty sure that any new options will be just that, since Apple will not want to leave behind people who bought accessories for the launch or Series 2 Apple Watches.) Whatever size, shape, or function the Apple Watch takes down the road, you’ll always need a watch band of some kind, and Monowear will be there to deliver every step of the way.


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