Apple Watch is gaining a helpful new feature called Theater Mode with watchOS 3.2. You could already mute alerts easily, and now Theater Mode lets you both mute alerts and disable raise-to-wake which easily activates the screen.

Theater Mode is intended to be used at the movie theater where lighting up a small screen accidentally when you raise your wrist can be distracting. Theater Mode may be useful in other situations despite its name. With a few tweaks, Theater Mode could be especially ideal for drivers.

In watchOS 3.2 beta 1, Theater Mode is enabled by swiping up on the watch face to access Control Center and tapping the icon with Greek theater masks. An explainer page pops up and describes how Theater Mode works with a Cancel button and a Theater Mode activate button available.

This amount of interaction is fine for occasional use during a movie. (Perhaps having the ‘no distractions’ button next to the ‘make my iPhone alert’ button on Control Center should be reconsidered, though, and it’s odd that muting requires confirming but pinging your iPhone does not).

Theater Mode, or the ability to easily mute alerts and temporarily disable raise-to-wake, could be useful for minimizing distractions in lots of situations though.


Using Theater Mode when wearing Apple Watch while sleeping is one example. Some people use sleep tracking apps like Sleep++ on Apple Watch at night (and charge at other times). Do Not Disturb can be scheduled based on time of day and disables alerts, but Theater Mode addresses the small screen lighting up in a dark environment distraction without manually turning off raise-to-wake.

A future update to watchOS could add scheduling to Theater Mode (whose name could be changed to reflect the wider use cases) similar to what Do Not Disturb already offers. If Apple adds sleep tracking to Apple Watch without relying on third-party apps, such a feature would be very important.

I’ve only tried sleep tracking with Apple Watch over a few nights and it hasn’t stuck with me, but I do find that Apple Watch can be distracting while driving at night. Theater Mode’s utility will be effective here as well, but driving isn’t something you can schedule like sleeping.


Instead, the Theater Mode behavior could automatically activate when your iPhone detects your car’s Bluetooth or connects to CarPlay. Apple’s Reminders app already uses this parameter as a trigger for alerting you when you get in your car or get out of your car.

Raise-to-wake is essential to Apple Watch being as useful as a traditional watch for telling time and makes reading alerts a hands-free experience which is useful, but what Theater Mode does is also very useful and could be applied in plenty of other situations aside from wearing Apple Watch in a movie theater.

Name aside, Theater Mode is a welcome addition to watchOS and can be used in a variety of situations. In future updates, Theater Mode could be even more useful with a few tweaks like scheduling and car detection.

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About the Author

Zac Hall

Zac covers Apple news, hosts the 9to5Mac Happy Hour podcast, and created