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The Difference Between Silent, Do Not Disturb, and Theater Mode on your Apple Watch (and When to Use Each)


Since it was introduced, the Apple Watch has gained a number of different modes, but it’s not immediately clear when to use each. Let’s look at each mode, what it does and doesn’t do, and the best time to use it.

There are now three modes available to Apple Watch users: Silent, Do Not Disturb, and, the newest, Theater—seen in the image above from left to right. All three modes can be toggled on and off by simply swiping up on your Apple Watch face to access the watch’s Control Center and simply tapping on the icon for that mode. Here’s what they do:

  • Silent Mode: This mode is toggled via the bell icon, and as its name implies, simply silences the auditory and vibratory alerts on your Apple Watch. The watch face will still light up to display the notification and all notifications that passed through to your watch prior to turning on Silent mode will continue to pass through. Additionally, the watch face will light up if you raise your arm to look at it. 
  • Do Not Disturb: You toggle Do Not Disturb with the moon icon. The Do Not Disturb mode mirrors the Do Not Disturb mode on your iPhone—in fact, when you turn it on, it literally mirrors itself by activating Do Not Disturb mode on your phone. While in Do Not Disturb mode, you will receive both auditory and vibratory alerts on your watch. These alerts, however, will only come from people in your Favorites contact list. The watch face will still light up upon receiving an alert from said person as well as when you lift your wrist to look at the watch.
  • Theater: The newest watch mode is a really handy hybrid mode that is far more useful than it may immediately appear. When you activate Theater mode by tapping on the drama masks icon, you change the alerts on your Apple Watch in two ways. First, the Silent mode is activated (the bell-with-strike-through icon will turn on), and all auditory and vibratory alerts will be disabled. Second, the light-up-on-alert and the raise-to-wake functions will be disabled.

Ostensibly, Theater Mode was included to keep Apple watches from glowing in darkened theaters and annoying nearby patrons, but the feature is great for any location you want to achieve the same end—on a darkened plane, a classroom or board room during a presentation where the lights are dimmed, and even when you want to avoid annoying yourself. If you’re sleeping with your Apple watch on and wish to avoid blasting yourself or your nearby partner in the face with light every time you toss and turn, just flip the Theater mode on.

With the right mode for the right moment, your smart watch will never irritate you or those nearby.

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don’t have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he’s interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you’d like.


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