The Apple Watch, which went on sale in April 2015, runs an operating system called watchOS, and regular free updates to this software mean Apple Watch owners periodically get access to new features and interface tweaks without having to spend any additional money. Happily for Apple fans, Apple has announced another major update to watchOS: watchOS 3.
The most recent full-number version update, watchOS 2, came out at WWDC in June 2015 (although there have been smaller ‘point’ updates since then; the current version is watchOS 2.2.1), so we weren’t surprised to see Apple announce and demonstrate watchOS 3 at WWDC 2016 on June 13. It will become generally available later this year. Here’s everything you need to know about the new watchOS software, including watchOS 3’s release date and the new features you’ll get when you install it.
When will watchOS 3 be released in the UK? After its announcement on 13 June, Apple revealed that the update will be available for your Apple Watch this autumn, probably around the time the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus come out. We’d expect watchOS to launch to the general public in September 2016.
This makes sense, given that watchOS 2 was also announced at a June WWDC event and released the subsequent September: on 21 September 2015.
Design & graphical elements
Apple’s design and interface teams have made some tweaks to visual aspects of watchOS for this update. Here’s what to expect.
New watch faces
Finally, Apple also unveiled new watch faces, including a Minnie Mouse option that was certainly a crowd-pleaser. There’s also an Activity watch face, and you can launch more apps straight from the watch face screen including Workout, Music and Messages.
Complications have been introduced to the Photo, Motion and Timelapse faces, too.
Redesigned Control Centre
The Control Centre has been given a makeover, with it now being easier to access. With the exclusion of Glances in watchOS 3, you can now quickly enter the Control Centre by swiping up from the watch face. This now presents you with a few quick toggles, such as a button allowing you to ping your phone and even toggling airplane mode.
Despite being a small update, this new feature greatly improves the user experience and speeds up efficiency when using the Apple Watch.
WatchOS 3 is a pretty big update, with lots of new features set to make your Apple Watch experience smoother and faster. Read on for more detail about each of the new features and what they’ll mean to you.
The new Dock feature is one of our favourites. It’s set to make navigating through apps much easier on your Apple Watch. The Dock will show all of your recent and favourite apps.
You access the app dock via the much-maligned side button on the Apple Watch. We’re not sure if Apple is completely getting rid of the top contacts dial that is currently brought up by the side button, or re-binding this to a different control. Either way, we won’t miss it. It’s always struck us as a niche feature given undeserved prominence – we use our Apple Watches to accept incoming calls and reply to texts, but almost never initiate conversations on it – although we’d be interested to hear from readers who have used it regularly.
You’ll also find that your apps launch much, much faster than they did before. That’s because Apple has introduced an instant launch feature, and the apps will update in the background so that the information displayed is accurate, and ready to go, at all times.
Apple says watchOS 3 makes the Apple Watch seven times faster at opening new apps, but we’d like to check that out for ourselves. But there cannot be a single Apple Watch user out there who hasn’t noticed the device’s sluggishness at opening apps, and wishes for some kind of speed boost.
On that subject, here’s an interesting titbit. The latest rumour about new Apple Watch hardware holds that Apple will launch an all-new model in autumn 2016 – the Apple Watch 2 – but that it will carry on selling the original model, with a bump to its processor speed (and improved waterproofing). So between that and the improved responsiveness of watchOS 3, the next generation of Apple smartwatches should hopefully have few of the sluggishness irritations we early adopters have experienced thus far.
Activity motivation improvements…
Apple has also improved the Activity and Workout apps to help you stay motivated. You’ll be able to share, compare and compete with your contacts, and you’ll now get notifications about your friends’ progress too. Activity sharing is connected to the Messages app too, so you can send personalised messages of encouragement.
…including benefits for wheelchair fitness
With watchOS 3, the Apple Watch will be able to track the activity and fitness of users in wheelchairs. watchOS 3 will provide two wheelchair-specific workouts, and determines calories burned in a wheelchair according to how hard the surface is and its gradient, while taking into account different seats and wheel heights. And the “time to stand” fitness notification will be optionally replaced by “time to roll”.
The all-new Breathe app will encourage you to take moments throughout the day to do deep-breathing sessions to maintain your stress levels. You’ll get a heartrate summary after the session, which can last for up to five minutes.
Apple has improved the messaging system in watchOS 3. You can now use stickers, handwriting, full-screen effects and invisible ink just like the new features in iOS 10. Smart Replies are now available within the message notification, and you can use the scribble feature to write custom replies by drawing each letter, which the Apple Watch will convert into text.
The SOS app, which will be available worldwide so will work wherever you are in the world, even if you’re travelling, can be used to call emergency services and alert your emergency contacts right from the Apple Watch. It works using your phone’s cellular connection or WiFi.
Use your Apple Watch to unlock your Mac
This feature has yet to come to macOS, but was showcased at WWDC 2016 with the Apple Watch working in unison with a Mac in order to authorise payments, unlock a Mac and help display information.
This added feature improves your Mac’s security by bringing two-step verification through the Apple Watch.