How to make the most of the Apple Watch Ultra’s Action button

The Apple Watch has a brand new button on the Ultra edition.
close up of the action button on the apple watch ultra
Customize your extra button however you like. Apple

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Back in September, Apple announced a new addition to the Apple Watch series: The Apple Watch Ultra. This new model is larger and more durable, and its battery life goes on for longer between charges. 

The Apple Watch Ultra is also different from the rest of Apple’s wearables because of its orange Action button, which users will find on the left-hand side of the device and gives quick access to a series of customizable shortcuts.

From a software perspective, the Apple Watch Ultra works the same as the rest of the newer models in the series, as they all run watchOS 9. But the Action button makes it easier to access and activate various features because when you’re out on the trail and in harsh weather conditions, pushing a physical button is simpler than having to look at the screen and tap on icons there.

How to use the Apple Watch Ultra’s Action button

The Action button is customizable, which means it’s up to you to decide what it does, but you’ll have to make your pick from a predetermined selection. Go to the Settings app on the Apple Watch Ultra, choose Action Button, and open the Action menu to see your options.

You can pick from Workout, Stopwatch, Waypoint, Backtrack, Dive, Flashlight, Shortcut, or None (which disables the Action Button completely). These functions all work slightly differently, and you may get more functionalities with subsequent taps. 

[Related: Everything you need to know about the Apple Watch Ultra]

Pick Shortcut, for example, and a press of the Action button will launch one of the Shortcuts on your phone. You can design these automations to adapt specifically to your lifestyle, so that you can turn off all your smart lights and put your phone into Do Not Disturb mode with the push of a button, for example. Go back to the first Action Button screen after selecting Shortcut (via the blue arrow, top left) to choose a specific sequence.

Additional options also appear if you select Workout from the Action menu. Go back to the Action Button screen (via the blue arrow) and tap First Press: You’ll then be able to pick the workout that the Action Button launches, or just have it open the Workout app so you can select something different each time.

In the middle of a workout, you can tap the Action Button again to access different functionalities. How the Action Button works will depend on the specific workout you’re doing (during a run, for example, it will create a new segment) but once you’ve decided on your exercise, the device will walk you through everything you need to know in the Gestures section of the Action Button screen.

Sometimes you’ll get extra features when pressing the Action Button and the Side button at the same time. For example, during any kind of workout, you can press the Action Button and the side button together to pause the workout. Again, you’ll get all of this information in the Gestures section on-screen.

Other Action Button functions are simpler. With Dive, for example, you just press the button to start a diving session, or when you select Waypoint, a press will drop a compass waypoint at your current location. Apple is also letting third-party apps add their own shortcut options for the Action Button. It will take some time for developers to create them, but depending on the apps installed on your wearable and your phone, you might start seeing more functionalities on the list besides the built-in ones. 

There’s one more way in which you can use the Action Button: Press and hold it to bring up the emergency menu, which includes Siren, Medical ID, Compass Backtrack, and Emergency Call. If you hold the button for another five seconds, you’ll automatically activate the Siren, a continuous high-pitched sound someone can hear up to 600 feet away.

[Related: Apple Watch comparison: Which one is right for you?]

The siren will keep ringing until you turn it off again via the large red stop button in the Siren app, or until your Apple Watch Ultra runs out of battery. If you’re sure that you never want to trigger this feature automatically, from the Settings app on your Apple Watch Ultra choose Action Button and then deactivate Hold to Turn On under the Siren heading.

If you prefer to configure these Action Button shortcuts through the Watch app on your iPhone, you’ll see an Action Button heading on the My Watch tab in the app: Tap on it to get to all the same functions we’ve already covered, including the Action menu, the First Press menu, and the Gestures section that tells you what subsequent button presses do in your selected mode.