Apple Watch Custom Routes – Incoming !?

apple watch ultra 2 map footpath appApple Watch Custom Routes – Incoming !?

The Apple Watch‘s sport-related features get better drip by drip. This year’s drip that we will see in WatchOS 11 is custom routes. Here’s why, what and how it will happen.


Routes Types Added So Far In Apple Watch

Apple Watch currently has four broad types of ‘route’ features:

  • Race Routes – Apple’s race routes are not real race routes just like the Watch Ultra is not a real Ultra watch. Other vendors would call Apple Race Route something like Ghost Routes. The are routes you’ve completed twice. It’s a super handy and automated way to track PBs over your familiar local routes … but you’re only usually racing against yourself in these.
  • Hiking Trails (USA-only) – You can use Siri to find the Trail Head (start point) of nearby ‘official’ hiking routes.
  • Guides – City Guides & Guides We Love – similar in principle to a Hiking Trail, just an ‘official’ route curated by someone else.
  • Track Mode – OK, the lap of a running track is hardly the most demanding of routes but I suppose it is…kinda 🙂


Route Limitations

If these were the only types of routes that Apple Watch 9 ever received I’d be OK with that. However Watch ULTRA is a different matter entirely. Watch Ultra is positioned as a top-end ultra and adventure watch but if you want to follow the course of your local Ultra race or go exploring and follow a personal route, you simply can’t do that. Hardly very Ultra, is it?

What’s Coming In WatchOS 11

iOS 18 is strongly rumoured to get TOPO (topographic/contour) maps and custom routes. Watch Ultra already has TOPO maps, so it’s highly likely that it also gets custom routes along with the iPhone. What’s unclear is exactly how Apple will credibly implement this.

via: Gurman, Bloomberg

What is a Custom Route?

That’s not as straightforward a question as you might think and certainly, Apple will probably have a different understanding and definition than me and you.

The scope of a custom route could include a route you’ve created yourself, a route that a friend shared with you and a route an event organiser has made officially available ahead of the big day. Those routes will include GPS points but may also include points of interest, turn-by-turn (TBT) instructions and elevation information. Even if Apple is only given the GPS points, its maps could automatically generate elevation, TBT information and standard POIs, but will never have the detailed level of intelligence to include a race organiser’s POI checkpoints on your route. Even though this would be infrequently used, it is a fundamental feature that a top-end Ultra watch must support to be credible.

Other types of custom routes would be ones that you create on your Watch or iPhone. For example, by tapping points on the map to automatically route between the points you’ve tapped. A variation of that is where the route between the points you’ve tapped would be based on popularity (a Heatmap). You can forget either of those happening with the Apple Watch in 2024, it’s too complicated.

Sourcing Apple Custom Routes

Next comes the issue of where these routes will come from. As a minimum, Apple needs to support the main global repositories of routes – Strava, TrailForks, Komoot and Ride with GPS. It also needs to support the routes you create for yourself and which small event organisers create, in those two cases the routes are often GPX-format files.

However, those requirements raise two issues. Firstly Apple will probably need a generic and programmatic way (API) for 3rd parties to send it maps and that will need complexities like authentication for security and more besides. Secondly, the ability for you to manually add a GPX file as a route is often a clunky and possibly insecure process…neither of those facets you’d typically associate with Apple.

I would only expect ONE of those ways to be initially implemented. If it’s the second I hope Apple waves its magical usability wand to come up with a new and innovative streamlined process to get a route file onto my Watch.


Excellent Apple Watch apps that already do this properly include Footpath, Workoutdoors and iSmoothrun.

Take Out

Apple will hype up its new custom routing feature but gloss over its limitations. There will probably be a clever couple of novel, mini-features that impress us all.

Serious adventurers, hikers and racers will already use a different watch or one of the apps mentioned in the previous paragraph. It’s unlikely they will switch because of any new Apple custom Routing feature. That said, it’s another box ticked for Apple and another reason for less well-informed users to buy an Apple Watch (an otherwise excellent smartwatch).


More: Compass Waypoints on WatchOS

More: find places and explore on Apple Watch


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4 thoughts on “Apple Watch Custom Routes – Incoming !?

  1. Additional arbitrary route sources include more apps like Traiforks, Gaia GPS…

    Most importantly any random GPX file from a race organizer with no affiliation to Apple and not a big company!

  2. You should try YouRace, an expérience near than Apple built in app with support for interval plans, screen customization and GPX routes mapped through MapKit.

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