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.
Fitness+ is designed to work exclusively with the Apple Watch, requiring an Apple Watch Series 3 or later. When it launches, it will cost $9.99/month or $79.99/year, or it’s included as part of an Apple One Premier plan – and no matter how you get it, Fitness+ will offer Family Sharing support. There will also be a 1-month free trial for all users, or three months free for anyone purchasing an Apple Watch from September 15 on.
Apple Fitness+ brings studio-style workout experiences to your Apple devices in a way that uniquely integrates with the Apple Watch. As a workout video plays, live metrics from your Watch will display in the corner of the screen so you can easily keep track of things like the duration of your workout, heart rate, and calories burned. You’ll also see your Activity rings on-screen, providing convenient updates on your progress as you exercise.
Today in what would normally be an iPhone-led September event, the Apple Watch was able to serve as headliner since new iPhones won’t be coming until October. It was a fitting change because Apple had news to share about not one, but two new Apple Watch models: the Apple Watch Series 6 and Apple Watch SE.
These two devices follow Apple’s strategy with the iPhone, where there’s a flagship line plus a more affordable option that uses a mix of old and new parts. The Apple Watch Series 6 includes a new blood oxygen sensor, improved always-on display, S6 processor, an always-on altimeter, and new finishes. The Apple Watch SE also features the always-on altimeter and a similar design, but without the new color finishes, it includes the S5 processor from last year, but it doesn’t get the blood oxygen sensor nor does it include an always-on display. A new software addition is another key incentive for both the Series 6 and SE: Family Setup, which enables children to be Apple Watch users without having their own iPhones.
Both new Apple Watches are available to order now, and will ship this Friday, September 18. Here’s the full run-down on each new device.
The feature, which is built directly into the forthcoming version of watchOS, is designed to work like fitness tracking in a number of ways. For starters, if the user opts into it, it’s designed to automatically trigger when handwashing is detected, starting a countdown timer of 20 seconds. The accelerometer is the key piece of hardware here, waiting for the specific handwashing pattern — which apparently adopts a number of different methods, depending on who’s actually doing the scrubbing.
The system uses machine learning models to tackle different methods, but the system gets an additional nudge from the Watch’s microphone. Along with motion, the app listens for the sound of running water. Even that’s not enough, though — after all, eco sinks have become increasingly popular, meaning that there’s often less water sound to be listening for. The sound of squishing soap takes care of that last bit. It’s got a unique enough audio signature so as to confirm that handwashing is taking place.
Interestingly, the piece notes that this feature has been in the works for years, it isn’t simply a reaction to the current pandemic. I haven’t tried the feature yet, but I’m anxious to see if it works as advertised. If it’s unreliable, I’ll surely leave it turned off, but if it works well it could be a valuable aid to preventing the contraction of COVID-19. At the very least, I’m always happy to see Apple explore new areas of health.
When Apple added the Breathe feature to watchOS 3, I — like many of you, I suspect — turned it off pretty quickly. However, over the last six months, it has come to be one of my favorite things about wearing my Apple Watch.
Hackett goes on to explain some of the specific circumstances that led him to revisit Breathe, and why it’s become such a valuable tool for him.
It’s fairly common for me to forget that a feature exists because I made a decision once, a long time ago, to turn it off. Revisiting the Breathe app could be a useful thing for a lot of us right now.
Apple Watch owners will have the chance to earn perhaps their most attainable special Activity award yet. On Friday, June 5 the World Environment Day Challenge will call Apple Watch users to close their Stand ring for the day to earn a unique award badge. From the Activity app:
Recognize World Environment Day this Friday. Close your Stand ring on June 5 and earn this award by getting up and moving around for at least one minute during 12 hours that day.
Presumably for wheelchair users, the award can be earned as well by closing the Roll ring, which follows the same basic parameters as the Stand ring.
I always enjoy earning additional awards related to Activity challenges, so I’m glad Apple is continuing to offer these options and adapt them to the restrictions of the ongoing pandemic.
In anticipation of Pride month in June, Apple today has announced the release of two new Pride Edition bands for the Apple Watch, and new Pride watch faces that will be available soon as part of the watchOS 6.2.5 release.
It’s become an annual tradition for Apple to debut a new Pride band for Apple Watch and an accompanying watch face, but this is the first time there have been two new options launching. The Pride Edition Sport Band features the traditional rainbow pattern similar to last year’s offering, though that previous band was a Sport Loop, rather than the first-time Sport Band option available this year. The Nike Pride Edition Sport Band follows the unique design style of Nike’s other bands, but with its rainbow colors adorning the white band’s holes. The Nike Pride face arriving in the next watchOS update is unique as well, with colored dots representing the face’s hour markings.
The new Watch bands will be available today from the Apple Store, and watchOS 6.2.5 is anticipated to release some time in the next month leading up to WWDC.
David Smith, developer of Watchsmith and a host of other Apple Watch apps, shared his watchOS 7 wishlist today. With his pedigree, there’s no one I trust more to make a thoughtful, realistic, well-informed list of requests for watchOS than Smith. For example, here’s an excerpt of his introduction:
I am fully aware of the constraints of the Apple Watch. I’ve spent the last 6 months pushing the limits of what is possible for it and have seen all the corners of its use, where it completely falls apart.
Nearly every one of these ideas or features involves a tradeoff. Either between battery life and capability or between complexity and intuitiveness. I suspect Apple’s own internal list of ideas and possibilities far outstrips my own. The reason they haven’t built a feature yet isn’t because they haven’t thought about it.
Instead it is quite the opposite. They have chosen explicitly to not do it yet. This is the tricky calculus involved in evolving a platform. If they push too fast, too soon on the capability side then they may end up destroying the battery life of the device. Or if they add too many features then they might end up with a jumbled mess that users can’t understand.
I don’t envy the leadership that has to sit down and make the hard calls of what to do, when.
Some of the features he mentions that are at the top of my own list include rest days for activity tracking, true independence, and multiple complications. The full list is well worth exploring, and offers valuable insight into what we might see revealed next month.
Tapping the Solar Dial watch face will allow you to see whether it’s day, or night, or one of the various phases of twilight. You can also see how many hours of daylight there are. The color of the sky also changes depending on the time of day, and during the twilight hours, you get a very pretty transition from blue, to a deeper blue, to a lovely pale pink as the solar disk begins to sink below the horizon. You can rotate the crown to show you what time sunset takes place, as well as the various phases of twilight. You’ll also see, in yellow numbers in the sub-dial, how many hours it is from the current time to sunset, or other solar astronomical events.
I give the Apple Watch Solar Dial a lot of credit for taking the properties of the smartwatch and using them to create a very captivating experience. The luminosity of the display and its ability, as night falls or sunrise dawns, to display different colors, as well as the general composition of the dial, makes for something much richer and far more emotionally evocative than the mere delivery of information. And too, it gives us a chance to reflect on what darkness and light have meant, and continue to mean, culturally and historically. There is something irresistibly compelling about having a little model universe on your wrist.
It’s remarkable how much attention to detail Apple gave to this watch face, including the intricate nuances of the different phases of twilight. I’ve never used the Solar Dial face before, but Forster’s piece has changed that, and I’m eager to see how the face transforms throughout the remainder of today.