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Apple Watch Ultra 2: Three features that would make me upgrade from the last model

Last year's Apple Watch Ultra exceeded my expectations, but these features would convince me to upgrade to what comes next.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer
Apple Watch Ultra with a silver watch band.
Jason Hiner/ZDNET

For each of the past eight years, I have purchased and worn the latest Apple Watch. But being the curious adventurer that I am, my Apple Watch would eventually be replaced by a longer-lasting, rugged GPS sports watch after a month or so. There's only been one exception to this routine, and that's when I purchased the Apple Watch Ultra last year, which joined me in a Tough Mudder event just a day after it arrived and has faithfully served me well since then.

Also: Every product we're expecting at Apple's September event (and what won't be unveiled)

The Apple Watch Ultra is clearly the most feature-rich wearable Apple has ever released, and software updates have kept it in a coveted spot on one of my wrists for most of the year.

Still, I have my eyes peeled for its potential successor, which, according to the latest rumor mill, will debut during Apple's upcoming "Wonderlust" event. A new color and slightly improved processor likely won't convince me to make the jump. However, these features below would make me consider an upgrade with no hesitation.

1. LED flashlight

Matthew Miller/ZDNET

Regular readers know how much I adore the LED flashlight, aka "Torch," on various Garmin GPS sports watches and how thrilled I have been to see Garmin continue to include this on its latest watches like the Garmin Epix Pro and Instinct 2X Solar

Apple currently allows you to map a flashlight mode on the Watch Ultra's Action button, but that simply turns the display bright white. It's a decent flashlight for looking for things within a foot of your wrist, but doesn't compare to the brilliance provided by an actual LED light.

AlsoWhy my Garmin Enduro 2's LED flashlight is my favorite watch feature

Over the past year of using the Garmin Enduro 2, I've used its built-in flashlight almost every single day, and it has become an essential tool in my work and travel arsenal. If Apple was to add this feature alone, I would likely upgrade my Apple Watch Ultra.

2. Satellite SOS

iPhone 14 Emergency SOS via Satellite

Apple debuted its emergency SOS via satellite feature with last year's iPhone 14 models and will likely be a mainstay on future devices. Likewise, Garmin and other wearable manufacturers provide handhelds with satellite connectivity and we have seen more devices, like the Motorola Defy Satellite Link, launch with affordable subscription plans.

AlsoGive iPhone or Android satellite messaging powers with this handy device

Given that the Apple Watch Ultra is targeted at those outdoor adventurers roaming the mountains and hills, having even a basic level of satellite connectivity for emergency situations would be a nice addition and allow someone to truly leave their phone behind when trail running, hiking, or skiing.

3. More fitness metrics

Matthew Miller/ZDNET

While the Apple Watch Ultra is one of the best smartwatches available, I still wear a Garmin sports watch on my other wrist for the LED flashlight and advanced health and training metrics. I am not a professional athlete, but I enjoy the quick glances at my fitness status provided by the advanced algorithms on my Garmin watch. This information helps guide my daily training and recovery.

Also: The best Garmin watches: Epix Pro, Instinct, Vivoactive, and more compared

These metrics include VO2 Max, training status, training readiness, HRV status, endurance score, hill score, and Body Battery. Apple captures much of the same data that is used to develop these metrics with the Apple Watch Ultra, but it doesn't do much to inform, educate, and guide the consumer. There are third-party applications and services that offer an experience similar to Garmin's, but these don't appear as quick tiles for easier accessibility.

Bonus: Camera via watch or band

Matthew Miller/ZDNET

Okay, this one is a feature that is likely years away, but I'm going to list it anyway. With the big display, integrated cellular connectivity, and amazing quality of applications, you truly can wear the Apple Watch Ultra on long runs, hikes, or other outings without bringing your iPhone.

Running is usually the first thing I do when I make my monthly business trips since I use it as a way to explore my surroundings, recover from a flight, and clear my head before tackling the business at hand. I always run with my phone because I like to share quick photos with my family back home.

Also: Wristcam: Capture and share photos and videos straight from your Apple Watch

A couple of years ago I tested the Wristcam, a device that adds a camera to an Apple Watch band, and it's been a solid option for taking quick flicks when I'm out and about.

Apple tends to take great ideas like the Wristcam and make them better, so I would love to see a small integrated camera (think FaceTime on the go) in the Watch Ultra itself or even in a custom watch band.

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