Apple Watch Ultra’s Customizable Action Buttons Can Launch Shortcuts, Plus Lots More

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Apple Watch Ultra's Customizable Action Buttons Can Launch Shortcuts, Plus Lots More

This weekend, Apple will launch the Apple Watch Ultra, a more powerful and capable smartwatch aimed at explorers, adventurers, and athletes. One of the many unique features of the $799 watch is the addition of a third button called the Action button. This article previews what you can do with it.

Action Button Location

Colored in “International Orange”, the indented, pill-shaped Action button sits next to the display on the left side of the titanium case of the Apple Watch Ultra‌, between the dual speakers and the siren.

Activating the Siren

Pressing and holding the Action button activates the built-in 86 decibel siren, which can be heard from up to 600 feet (180 meters) away, and is intended to be used to call for help during an emergency.

ultra siren watch

Custom Actions

The Action Button is also customizable, meaning it can perform any function the user configures for it. Apple Watch Ultra‌ users can select the initial function for the Action button when they set up their device. Then, they can adjust these options in Settings, where a new section lists the apps that support the button.

apple watch ultra action button


Apple’s examples of what the buttons can configure to do include starting Backtrack (which uses GPS data to create a path where you’ve been so you can retrace your steps), start a workout, and start a dive.

Action Buttons can also be assigned to system-level functions, such as turning the Flashlight on and off, marking a Compass Waypoint, or starting a Stopwatch. Additionally, Apple Watch Ultra‌ users can pause the current function by simultaneously pressing the Action and Side buttons.

Setting a Shortcut

Since the Action button is powered by the new App Intents API that Apple released at WWDC in June, Apple Watch Ultra‌ users will also be able to assign Shortcuts to it, bringing great potential for customization, such as the ability to control smart home accessories.

Assigning a custom Shortcut to the Action button can also pave the way for additional adaptive functionality. For example, Shortcuts with location or time-based actions can allow the Actions button to perform different functions throughout the day.

Multifunctional Use With Subsequent Pressing

Depending on what app is used to control the Action button, Apple Watch Ultra‌ users may in some cases choose an additional action for the next press.

Apple envisions people using the Action button without looking at the screen, so subsequent keystrokes should flow logically from the first press, as well as make sense in the current context.

action button sign segment


For example, sports apps allow users to start a triathlon by pressing the first button and move to another segment by pressing next.

It’s worth noting however that apps won’t be able to assign a function to long press the Action button, as watchOS 9 reserves this interaction for emergency SOS features.

Final Thoughts

Apple’s decision to add a third physical control to the Apple Watch Ultra‌ in the form of an Action button doesn’t just allow for quick access to various system-provided functions. It also provides third-party developers with new tools that allow them to bring key app features to users with the push of a button.

Whether Apple intends to bring the Action button to more affordable Apple Watch Series models in the future is an interesting question, and one that may depend on how versatile and indispensable it is in the hands of Ultra users.

apple watch ultra2


For $799, the Apple Watch Ultra‌ is available in one 49mm size, with Trail, Ocean, and Alpine trail options. The new smartwatch can be pre-ordered now and launches with the second-generation AirPods Pro on Friday, September 23. To find out more about the design and features of the Apple Watch Ultra‌, be sure to check out our special roundup.

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