Alex has been writing for MacStories since 2013. These days he mostly covers Apple events and authors the annual MacStories watchOS reviews. Alongside writing, Alex is the developer of Storybot — the MacStories Slack bot — and a senior cloud engineer at ScoreSide.
While a tumultuous software release would have been fitting in a year like 2020, watchOS 7 will find no such infamy. Stoically iterative, this year’s update to the Apple Watch operating system is lacking in surprises. But is that such a bad thing?
We spent years on the wild frontier of watchOS design and experience. As fun as it was to deconstruct each year’s crazy changes, the results were a product that didn’t yet know its purpose. These days that’s no longer the case. The Apple Watch exists primarily as a health and fitness device, and secondarily as a lightweight interface for many of the tasks you do on your iPhone each day. Also, it’s a watch.
watchOS 7 is all about health and fitness, plus some love for the Apple Watch’s watch-ness with a big supply of new faces and face-related features. A few more reasons to use your Watch instead of pulling out your iPhone are also sprinkled in, such as the new Shortcuts app and cycling directions in Maps.
While it may not be the most exciting annual update, there’s not much to complain about with the overall direction of watchOS 7. As always though, we can still dive deep into the implementation of the new features. Let’s break them each down and see how Apple did with watchOS 7.
Last year Apple introduced Activity Trends, a new feature for tracking your fitness over time. Trends complemented the Apple Watch’s classic Activity rings feature, and found its home alongside the rings in the iOS Activity app.
Activity rings are binary metrics: did you or did you not meet your goal for moving, exercising, or standing today? Trends, on the other hand, track your past year of activity through rolling 90-day windows, and inform you as to whether you’re improving or declining. If necessary, Trends then suggest improvements such as walking a little more than usual each day or standing for a bit longer each hour. Together, Activity Trends and the classic Activity rings seek to help you develop and maintain an overall healthy lifestyle across a handful of monitored metrics.
Last year, Trends got their own tab in the Activity app alongside the four tabs that had existed previously: History, Workouts, Awards, and Sharing. These tabs always felt a bit sparsely populated for my tastes, and it seems that Apple agreed. In iOS 14, Apple has redesigned the Activity app, consolidating its tab structure, and renamed the app ‘Fitness.’
It’s WWDC week, and while we’ve been deprived the pleasure of meeting up in person this year, Apple’s OS updates are rolling forward like always. In this morning’s keynote address, Apple VP of Technology Kevin Lynch announced the latest version of the Apple Watch operating system. watchOS 7 isn’t as dramatic as some past releases have been, but it does introduce some excellent new features including sleep tracking, multiple distinct complications from the same app, a Shortcuts app, and new workout types. We’ll dive into all the features in depth below.
With last year’s release of the Apple Watch Series 4, it felt as though Apple had finally reached a point of equilibrium on the hardware side of the device. The Series 4 brought the first physical redesign, thinning the Watch out and stretching its slightly larger screen to the corners. It packed a processor that finally felt overpowered rather than underpowered, and it kept the Apple Watch’s all-day battery life going strong. The update rounded out with added health sensors for ECGs, background heart monitoring, Bluetooth 5 support, and a new speaker system. Those advancements joined the cellular capabilities from the Series 3, and have now been joined by the always-on display of the Series 5. I’m running out of feature requests for the Apple Watch.
The hardware may now be in place, but as we all know hardware is only part of the story. On the software side, the Apple Watch found its footing two years ago, but had a lot of catching up to do to reach the level of maturity of its hardware. Iteration is Apple’s specialty, and their increasingly strong understanding of the Apple Watch’s purpose has made the software path clear. Last year’s watchOS 5 brought significant fitness and audio improvements, the addition of web content and more interactive notifications. This year’s update brings us even more.
watchOS 6 flew under the radar at the packed and exciting WWDC keynote this June. It isn’t the most flashy update, but the Apple Watch had enough flashy updates in its early years to last a while longer. This is a year for iteration, and Apple has been iterating on all cylinders. watchOS 6 is a quiet giant, adding or redesigning more first-party apps at once than we’ve seen in years, dropping the largest batch of new watch faces since watchOS 1, providing a new way to track fitness over time, and kicking off a nascent foray into Apple Watch independence. Let’s see how Apple did.
This morning at Apple’s special event at the Steve Jobs theater in Cupertino, Stan Ng took the stage to announce the Apple Watch Series 5. The new device features an always-on display for the first time ever, the same 18-hour battery life that every Apple Watch has had, and a built-in compass. The Series 5 is also the first Apple Watch to be available in titanium (alongside the standard aluminum, stainless steel, and ceramic).
We touched on most of this year’s changes to iOS in our iOS 13 overview earlier this summer, but one feature that has mostly flown under the radar is the debut of Activity Trends.
True to its name, Activity Trends is a new way to monitor the progression of your daily activity over time. The feature is exposed via a new tab in Apple’s Activity app in iOS 13, and it breaks down your activity over the last 90 days compared to the previous 365.
In the main view, Trends are broken down by a variety of metrics, with each metric displaying your 90 day average as well as a simple up or down arrow to indicate whether it has improved or diminished over that time period in comparison to the average of your last year. The goal is to give you actionable information and goals to bring these metrics up. Goals are applied on a weekly basis, and hitting them consistently will result in an increase of your 90 day averages over time.
Google Docs has long been a huge problem on the iPad, for two reasons. First, Google’s own iPad app is god-awful and the company seems hell-bent on not updating it to work better. Second, Google Docs in Safari on the iPad right now redirects you to that app even if you “Request Desktop Site.”
On iPadOS, however, Google Docs in Safari seems great.
Admittedly, I only spent about five minutes poking around, but I went straight for the stuff I didn’t expect to work at all — and it worked. Keyboard shortcuts for formatting and header styling, comments, cursor placement, and even watching real-time edits from another person in the doc all worked.
In iPadOS, Apple is setting the Safari user agent to the desktop version (previously, Safari on iPad has used a mobile user agent), but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Setting the user agent will cause websites to display their desktop varieties, but those were built with the expectation of mouse interactions rather than touch. There’s a lot more details to uncover here, but it looks like Apple has done a huge amount of work under the hood to make touch interactions work intuitively in the desktop browser paradigm.
We’ll have many more details on the new Safari changes over the coming weeks and months, but at first glance it’s great to see that Apple wasn’t kidding about iPadOS Safari being truly desktop-class.
Today at Apple’s annual WWDC keynote address in San Jose, California, Tim Cook took the stage to announce the latest update to Apple’s smartwatch operating system. watchOS 6 is coming this fall, and boasts a number of big changes. Most significantly, watchOS 6 makes progress on the independence of the Apple Watch from the iPhone, adds a number of new APIs and health features, and includes an all-new native UI framework for developers.
YouTube stars Patrick Starrr and Desi Perkins joined forces with Apple to create a makeup tutorial video using only this year’s huge iOS 13 Memoji update. The new Memoji appear to be massively more customizable, and can be used to create Bitmoji-like stickers. Starrr and Perkins’ video premiered during Apple’s WWDC keynote address, and you can watch it below.
We’ll have more on the new Memoji updates and all of the changes coming in iOS 13 later today.