Apple Watch needs a Sick Mode [Opinion]

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Apple Watch Sick Mode
The next time you get ill, your Apple Watch should help you get better.
Photo: Cult of Mac

When you‘ve caught a bad cold, the flu or a global pandemic, it’s no help that your Apple Watch keeps urging you to go for a run. That’s why this wearable needs a sick mode.

When it comes out this autumn, watchOS 7 should include a mode that gives good advice for people ill enough to need bed rest rather than a trip to the gym.

Exercise isn’t a panacea

Reminders to stand up and burn some calories are one of the best features of Apple Watch. Personally, I’m in better shape now than I was before I got wearable because it nags me to get off my duff.

But when you’re very ill, going for a strenuous run is the worst thing you can do. And your Watch shouldn’t keep trying to get you to go to the gym. You don’t want to feel guilty because you’re so inactive — rest is the best way to recover from a serious disease. Plus, you shouldn’t be out infecting other people.

If you leave your Apple Watch on the charger, you won’t get Activity reminders. But you can’t sleep 24 hours a day, and if you wear your Watch while you’re up and about you’ll get unhelpful messages to exercise more.

How to turn off activity reminders while you’re ill

When you come down with a severe illness, you can — and should — turn off the Apple Watch activity reminders.

Open the Watch app on your iPhone, and make sure you’re on the My Watch tab. Next, tap on Notifications and then on Activity. You can then toggle off Stand Reminders, Daily Coaching and Special Challenges.

From the Watch app’s Notifications window, you might also toggle off Breathe. A reminder to meditate is nice, even when you’re not feeling well, but it’s not helpful if it wakes you up when you’ve finally managed to drift off.

Check Apple’s guide to these notifications for more help.

Just remember, you’re going to have to turn the Activity reminders back on when you’re felling better. Don’t forget.

All this should be so much easier. Toggling on an Apple Watch Sick Mode could automatically turn off Activity reminders. And then the wearable can monitor how much you’re moving around, and when you’ve returned to something like a normal life it should ask if you’re feeling well enough to turn the Activity reminders back on again.

Apple Watch Sick Mode would help people get better

But Sick Mode should do more than silence unhelpful reminders. Your Apple Watch could periodically remind you to drink water. Perhaps eat something. Or check your temperature.

Even more useful would be a reminder for medications. There are third-party Watch applications specifically to help people track varying schedules of multiple pills, but these are probably overkill for someone who just needs to take one pill three times a day for a few days. It’s still easy to forget, or take too many.

And Apple Watch Sick Mode could even take the radical step of warning ill people when they’re being too active. If you’re down with the flu, you shouldn’t be exercising. The more rest you get, the sooner you’ll get better. And the less you’re spreading your disease around.

The question of streaks

Many Apple Watch wearers take reaching their Activity goals seriously. They’re proud when they have a 100 day streak, for example. And so an illness that breaks a long streak can be very disheartening.

Putting the device in Sick Mode would give the wearer a break. They’d still get to keep their 6-month streak of always reaching their daily Activity goal because they’d have new goals — the streak still gets broken if you don’t get enough rest or drink enough water.

Health tracking is an important feature of the Apple Watch. The built-in heart monitor and ECG regularly warn people of serious medical conditions. Adding a Sick Mode seems an obvious addition. Watch wearers have been asking for this for years. Perhaps the COVID-19 outbreak will finally make Apple realize this feature is overdue.