User guide to Apple Watch Series 6 Always-on-Display feature and screen brightness

apple watch always on display with activity and fitness app watch face

Apple knows how to make its technology easy to use. So adding an always-on display feature to its Series 6 and Series 5 is just another step in making our Apple Watch experience effortless.

For those unfamiliar with Apple’s always-on display feature, it means you don’t need to raise your wrist or tap the screen to see what’s on your watch’s screen.

So we can look at things like the time or even check for new texts and other notifications!

In this article, let’s take an in-depth look at some of the always-on-display features. 

Additionally, Apple has introduced new AOD (Always-on-Display) capabilities with recently introduced watchOS 8 that we will cover in a later section below.

Plus, we outline some display brightness tips for the folks with the Apple Watch SE (and older models like the Series 3), which do not include the always on display feature.

Related reading

What is the Always-on-display feature on Apple Watch Series 6 (and Series 5)?

The Always-on-display feature essentially keeps the watch’s display on all the time, whether you look at or interact with your watch or not.

The time is always visible, along with your watch face or the most recently used app. 

And when you raise your wrist or tap your screen, your Apple Watch functions fully.

Apple turns on Always On by default on Apple Watch Series 5 and Series 6.

And when you update your watch’s watchOS on these devices, it also might turn on, even if you previously turned it off!

The difference between always on and wake screen

  • Wake Screen turns your screen on when you raise or turn your wrist, tap the screen, and press or turn the digital crown up (depending on the settings you chose)
  • The Always On feature keeps your clock face visible at all times, whether you are interacting with your Apple Watch or not.

How to turn off or on the Always On display on your Apple Watch 

Some users love this feature while others can’t stand it and wonder why the heck their Apple Watch is always on!

Toggling this feature off does help preserve your watch’s battery life–so that’s often a big consideration when deciding to use this feature or not.

How to enable or disable Always On for Apple Watch Series 5 & 6

Enable or disable Always on Display on Apple Watch Series 6

  1. Open the Settings App on your Apple Watch 
  2. Tap on Display and brightness
  3. Toggle the ‘Always On’ off or on, as you prefer
  4. If concerned about privacy when your watch is always on, toggle on Hide Sensitive Complications
    1. This feature hides all your texts and messages, heart rate, calendar appointments, and more when you aren’t actively looking at your watch (but the display is still on.)

Set your wake display settings on your Apple Watch

If you decided to turn off Always On for your watch, go to Settings > General > Wake Screen, then choose your wake screen preferences. wake screen options on Apple Watch in Settings

  • Wake on wrist raise
  • Wake on crown up
  • Auto-Launch audio apps

Choose how long your watch stays awake and how long before it shows your clock face

Scroll down and choose options for how long your watch’s screen remains on when tapping the screen or returning to the clock face. apple watch settings for tapping on screen to wake screen

  • Choose how long your Apple Watch’s display stays on when you tap it–either 15 or 70 seconds
  • Select how long before your Apple Watch returns to its clock face from an open app–choose from Always, After 2 minutes, After 1 hour, or After Crown Press
    •  You only see this option when wake on Wrist Raise is turned on

Customize Return to Clock setting for apps

By default, the settings selected for return to clock also applies to all your Apple Watch apps. However, you can also customize these timings for each app.

  1. In Settings > General > Wake Screen, scroll all the way down to the list of apps
  2. Tap on an app
  3. Checkmark Custom
  4. Make any changes to the return to clock duration by ticking your preferred interval or action for that specific app

Temporarily disable wake on Wrist Raise

If you need or want to temporarily prevent your Apple Watch from waking when you raise your wrist, turn on theater mode via your watch’s Control Center. Apple Watch Theatre mode

How to access control center on Apple Watch

  1. From your watch face, swipe up to reveal the control center
  2. When using an app, press and hold the bottom of the screen and then swipe up
  3. From your home screen, first press the Digital Crown to go to the watch face then swipe up Control Center

Close the control center by swiping down from the top of the screen or press the Digital Crown.

What’s new with watchOS 8 and Always-on-Display?

 Apple introduced its new watch operating system watchOS 8 recently and updated the always-on-display feature with additional bells and whistles.

The new features are supported on the following Apple Watch Models:

  • Apple Watch Series 5
  • Apple Watch Series 6 and
  • Apple Watch Series 7

Once you enable Always-on-display on these Apple Watches on watchOS 8 by following the menu path Settings app > Display & Brightness > Enable Always on, you can further configure the AOD setting using three different components.

  • Show Complication Data: Choose the complications that show data when your wrist is down
  • Show Notifications: Choose the notifications that are visible when your wrist is down.
  • Show Apps: Choose the apps that are visible when your wrist is down.

The three new features, especially the complication visibility with Always-on-display provide additional value from Apple’s offering. As an example, if you are hiking in the mountains and your third-party Hiking/Map app supports AOD extended features with watchOS 8, you can easily see your current altitude, position, and more without needing to touch the watch screen.

How Apple’s Always-On Display is different Always on faces on apple watch

Some smartwatches have dual displays; one with vibrant colors and a second layer with a monochromatic display.

These watches use the monochromatic display to preserve battery life.

Apple’s watches such as the Series 6 use a single LTPO OLED display along with a low-power screen driver. 

It’s this advanced technology that keeps the always-on-display feature working without consuming too much battery.

How Apple’s always-on display works to preserve your battery life

To preserve battery life, your Apple Watch’s display dims when your wrist is down.

And only returns to full brightness when you raise your wrist, turn the digital crown, or tap on the watch’s display.

Add to that, the Series 6’s Always-On retina display is significantly brighter outdoors than the Series 5, even when your wrist is down. 

The watch’s Workout app is always displayed at full brightness and does not dim.

The workout app stays visible while you are working out, so you don’t have to worry about it dimming and making it difficult to see your stats. 

Plus, if you plan on using Apple Fitness+, your workout metrics display on a secondary display (like your Apple TV, iPad, or iPhone).

That way you don’t have to worry about the Always on display or battery issues on your Apple Watch.

This popular feature is only available on Apple Watch Series 5 and Series 6. Unfortunately, Apple’s budget watch, the SE, does not currently support the always-on display.

By default, the Always-on-feature is turned ON on your Apple Watch.

Apple Watch Always on display and screen brightness

Many users often ask if there is a way to change the default display brightness of the always-on-display. Unfortunately, there is no way to change that via settings.

Your Apple Watch screen brightness, when you raise your wrist is controlled by the screen brightness settings.

In order to check your Apple Watch screen brightness

  • Open the Settings app on your Apple Watch
  • Tap on Display and BrightnessDisplay and brightness setting on Apple Watch
  • Tap on the Brightness slider to increase or decrease the brightness to match your preference.Increase Apple Watch Brightness

Apple Watch Display stuck on maximum brightness?

If your Apple Watch display is stuck on maximum brightness and you are unable to adjust it, usually a hard reset of the Apple Watch fixes the issue.

Before doing a hard reset, see if a simple unpairing and re-pairing of the Watch with the iPhone fixes this issue.

Can I control the display brightness during the night?

Many new Apple Watch users, particularly those who are sensitive to light when sleeping always want to know if there is an easy way to turn off the brightness on the display.Sleep mode for low brightness

You can check out the Sleep mode feature on your Apple Watch.

If you don’t want to use the Sleep mode feature, you can enable the theater mode and DND before going to bed and it cuts off the brightness from your Apple Watch

Apple Watch Series 6 Always on display not working?

Some Apple Watch users report that the always-on display feature does not seem to work on their Series 6 Apple Watch.

Even when they raise their wrists, the Apple Watch display does not turn on to full brightness.

Here are some tips that might help you locate the issue and fix this problem

Check the Wake Screen setting on your Apple Watch

If you have already checked and made sure that the AOD setting is enabled on your Apple Watch, you should check the other setting that controls this action.

This is the Wake Screen related features on your Apple Watch.

Always on display not working when raising wrist
enable wake on wrist raise feature via Settings
  • Tap and open the Settings app on your Apple Watch
  • Tap on General
  • Next choose Wake Screen
  • Enable Wake on Wrist Raise as well as Wake On Crown up

Use Theater mode recently?

The other often overlooked setting that disables the always-on feature is the Theater Mode.

Check if you have that setting ON and simply forgot to switch off the last time you used it. In order to check this,

Apple Watch Series 6 Always on display not working
Turn off Theater mode from watch’s control center.
  • Swipe up on your Apple Watch display to bring up the control center
  • Check if Theater Mode is ON
  • Tap on it to disable 

The Always-on display feature should work as expected on your Apple Watch Series 6 and 5 if you have checked the above settings and made sure that your device is not in power reserve mode.

Exit out of Power Reserve mode on your Apple Watch  power reserve settings on Apple Watch

In order to return to normal power mode on your Apple Watch, restart your Apple Watch by pressing and holding the side button until the Apple Logo appears. how to restart the apple watch (not forced restart)

  1. Press and hold the side button until you see a list of options on the screen including power off
  2. Drag the Power Off slider all the way to the right
  3. Wait for your watch to turn off with the screen completely off (black)
  4. Press and hold the side button again and release when you see the Apple logo

Toggle Always on setting a couple of times apple watch toggle settings for always on display to fix problems

  • Disable and enable. On your Apple Watch, head over to Settings > Display & Brightness > Always On and turn this off
  • Wait for about 1 minute
  • Then again tap Settings > Display & Brightness > Always On and toggle it back on
  • Repeat these steps, if needed

While you are checking this AOD setting on your Apple Watch, you may also want to check it on your iPhone. 

Make sure “Always on Display” is set to ON in the Watch App on your paired iPhone.

Check cover to mute setting cover to mute setting on apple watch

One hack that has worked for some Apple Watch users in the past when they had issues with the always-on display feature was to turn off the Cover to mute feature.

  • You find this in Settings > Sounds & Haptics > scroll all the way down and tap Cover to Mute
  • Toggle it off and see if the watch’s always-on display feature works as intended

Wrist Detection Feature

The other hack that enables always-on display on your Apple Watch is turning off wrist detection.

To do this, go to Settings > Passcode, then turn off Wrist Detection.

This is however not a solution as it disables too many features on your Apple Watch.

In our case, we had to completely turn off my phone and watch, and then turn on again. AOD works only when its on your wrist and unlocked when you first wear it. 

For a vast majority of users, the always-on-display problem is related with accidental triggering of theater mode.

If you have tried out all the other basics such as restarting your Apple Watch, pairing and unpairing and making sure that your Apple Watch is on the latest watchOS update, its time to reach out to Apple Support since your unit is under warranty.

Apple Watch Screen stays in low brightness with AOD

If your Apple Watch brightness settings is set to maximum, and your device is on always on display but when you raise your wrist, it shows low brightness on the display, chances are you need to do a Hard Reset on your Apple Watch.

Powering off and Powering on your Apple Watch will help fix this low brightness display issue.

Apple Watch SE and lack of Always-on-display feature

The new Apple Watch SE does not have the always-on-display feature but chances are that you will not miss it much if you are upgrading from your old Series 3.

The Raise-to-work feature works very fast and smoothly on the new Apple Watch SE. The Apple Watch SE is twice as fast as the older Apple Watch Series 3 and the speed of the device turns on the screen instantaneously with a slick flick off your wrist.

One word of caution when it comes to Apple Watch SE display is the auto-dim feature. Some users who moved from a Series 3 to Apple Watch SE hate this feature.

The auto-brightness feature on the Apple Watch SE takes some time to get used to and there is no way currently to turn it off.

The auto-brightness feature uses the ambient light sensor. Hopefully, there is a way in the future via a new update that can help users control this feature better.

5 Apple Watch Always on Display feature tips and tricks

  1. When using the AOD feature on your Apple Watch Series 6 or Apple Watch Series 5, try and use a watch face that has a black background. Too many bright colors such as white or yellow on the Apple Watch face will consume more battery. 
  2. You can easily create an Apple Watch Shortcut using which you can enable or disable the always-on-display feature. That way you don’t have to scroll through the settings app.
  3. Access complications from Always-on-display. Prior to watchOS 7, users needed to tap on the Apple Watch display to wake it up and use complications. Now, you can directly tap on the complication to see the details. No need to wake up the screen first
  4. Your Apple Watch Series 6 as well as the Series 5 on watchOS 7 provides always-on access feature. Swipe down for Notification Center, swipe up for Control Center, or tap complications in the wrist‑down state. No need to wake your watch for simple interactions when you’re in a meeting or otherwise occupied.
  5. If you wear your Apple Watch while sleeping, you can use the Apple Sleep app feature to completely turn off AOD while you are sleeping. Once your sleep schedule kicks in, your watch will automatically go into DND mode. You can also manually swipe up to control center and tap on the Bed icon to turn on DND and turn off AOD, BUT you will have to remember to re-activate it the next morning.
  6. If you dont plan on using your Apple Watch for sleep tracking, you can handle the device brightness using another setting. On the sleep settings in the Watch app, scroll down to the bottom of the settings and choose “Don’t use this watch for sleep. That removes the alarm and wake up routines from the watch and keeps them only on iPhone. This will not increase the screen brightness associated with wake up alarms etc.

We hope that you find this Apple Watch user guide on Always on Display and brightness related issues helpful. Please let us know if you have any questions or if there is a tip that you would like to share with other readers.

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Sudz Niel Kar
I am a technologist with years of experience with Apple and wearOS products, have a BS in Computer Science and an MBA specializing in emerging tech, and owned the popular site AppleToolBox. In my day job, I advise Fortune 500 companies with their digital transformation strategies and also consult with numerous digital health startups in an advisory capacity. I'm VERY interested in exploring the digital health and fitness-tech evolution and keeping a close eye on patents, FDA approvals, strategic partnerships, and developments happening in the wearables and digital health sector. When I'm not writing or presenting, I run with my Apple Watch Ultra or Samsung Galaxy Watch and closely monitor my HRV and other recovery metrics.


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