Apple Watch Ultra 2: what the next-gen adventure watch needs to succeed

Apple Watch Ultra
(Image credit: Future)

The Apple Watch Ultra is an excellent rugged outdoor watch, with a truly tough case, design optimized for harsh conditions, and longer battery life than any other Apple Watch to date. In our tests it proved a joy to use and earned a place in our roundup of the best GPS watches, but there's always room for improvement.

There's no guarantee that we'll see an Apple Watch Ultra 2 in 2023, but it's certainly possible. The company has debuted a new Apple Watch Series device every year since 2015, and it might well add the rugged device to that regular release schedule.

If it does, these are the features I'd like to see it include. Some are borrowed from rivals like Garmin, while others are updates to the watch's existing features. Fingers crossed.

For more thoughts on next year's GPS watches, see what to expect from Garmin in 2023 for informed predictions on the next generation of devices.

Apple Watch Ultra and iPhone 14

The Apple Watch Ultra doesn't come with an app for off-road routefinding preinstalled (Image credit: Future)

Trail navigation right out of the box

The Apple Watch Ultra is built for hikers, with smart features like microphones that are optimized for windy conditions, an emergency siren, easy to use digital compass accessible right from the face, and multi-band GPS. However, it doesn't come with a navigation app preinstalled, so you'll need to find a suitable one that will provide route suggestions and navigation before heading out.

I put together a list of navigation apps for the Apple Watch Ultra that give it that finishing touch, but ideally I think it should come with something preinstalled, and it's an omission that several other reviewers have noted. A deal with AllTrails would make a lot of sense, and perhaps Apple Watch Ultra owners could even get a discount on premium membership.

Garmin Enduro 2

I'd love to see Apple borrow the Garmin Enduro's flashlight (Image credit: Future)

A flashlight

One feature that Garmin has begun integrating into some of its larger watches this year is a built-in flashlight, which shines out of the top of the watch's case. So far we've seen it on two models, the Garmin Fenix 7X and Garmin Enduro 2, and it works brilliantly.

If you need emergency help when hiking or trail running, you can use it to help signal distress. When you're working out in the evening it helps make you more visible to drivers, cyclists and pedestrians, and makes it easier to see the edge of the road or footpath (as I found when I tested the watch in a dark, mile-long tunnel). In everyday use, you'll wonder how you managed without it, as it helps with mundane tasks like finding keyholes at night, and peering under furniture. It's great.

The Apple Watch Ultra has its own hidden surprise in the form of an emergency siren that can carry for miles outdoors to help you grab attention in an emergency, but a flashlight would really round out its feature set.

Garmin Instinct Solar watches in four colors

Many Garmin watches include Power Glass to extend their battery life (Image credit: Garmin)

Solar charging

The Apple Watch Ultra has much longer battery life than the Apple Watch Series 8 and S, lasting up to 36 hours in normal use, and up to 60 hours in low power mode with workout settings enabled. 

Not having to charge your watch daily is a real bonus for outdoor expeditions, but rival devices like the Garmin Enduro 2 and Instinct 2 can last weeks between charges, which makes them a better option for multi-day adventures (something Garmin chose to poke fun at with an Instagram post).

Apple is unlikely to make changes that give the Apple Watch Ultra 2 a less polished feel (such as switching from a high-resolution OLED display to a less striking but more efficient memory-in-pixel one). However, it could boost battery life a little by adding a solar cell to keep the battery topped up during the day,

Garmin has patented designs for tech that would allow it to integrate photovoltaic cells in between the sub-pixels that make up an AMOLED display, so it may have a similar watch in the works.

Apple Watch Ultra

When it comes to adventure watches, chunkier is better (Image credit: Future)

The same chunky case

Some reviewers complained that the Apple Watch Ultra is too big, but I respectfully beg to differ. When it comes to adventure watches, there's no such thing as too chunky as far as I'm concerned. It's a nuisance trying to fiddle with a dainty watch when your fingers are freezing (I've tried), so big buttons, hefty dials and big cases are all absolutely fine. A larger case also means a bigger screen and battery, which are always welcome for map-reading and longevity respectively.

Apple Watch Ultra

I found that the Apple Watch Ultra's extra large Digital Crown rubbed a little against my wrist (Image credit: Future)

Repositioned Digital Crown

This is a minor issue, but something I couldn't help noticing while testing the Apple Watch Ultra earlier this year. The watch has an extra large Digital Crown with deep grooves that make it easy to turn while your hands are cold, wet, or gloved, which is great. It's so much better than fiddling with a tiny dial.

However, the way the Digital Crown is positioned means that it  protrudes slightly from the back and rubs a little against the skin of your wrist when you turn it. It would be great if Apple could move the crown a tiny bit closer to the front of the case to keep it away from the wearer's skin.

Cat Ellis

Cat is Homes Editor at TechRadar and former editor of Advnture. She's been a journalist for 15 years, and cut her teeth on magazines before moving online. She helps readers choose the right tech for their home, get the best deals, and do more with their new devices.