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.
I’ve used Things off and on as my primary task manager for as long as I’ve used Apple devices, which is just over a decade now. During that time the app has been remarkably consistent at supporting new OS features as soon as Apple launches them, and this year is no exception. In its latest update, Things has added new widgets for iOS and iPadOS 14 as well as a unique implementation of Scribble for creating new tasks. Apple Watch users will find a couple useful new complication options too.
On the surface, the update may seem simple and straightforward: new widgets, Scribble support, and new complications. But as the team at Cultured Code has done time and time again, their implementation of new OS technologies is thoughtful and even innovative, especially on iPad.
Widgets in iOS and iPadOS 14 are here and can be saved to your iPhone or iPad Home screen. A lot of third-party app updates will be trickling out in the days and weeks ahead with support for their own custom widgets, vying for your limited Home screen space.
If you’re interested in expanding your vocabulary, a word of the day widget seems like a perfect fit for the Home screen where you can glance at it throughout the day. That’s exactly what LookUp 7 provides, alongside widgets for running quizzes and opening your word collections. The dictionary app has also upgraded its watchOS component in a big way, offering new functionality that was previously limited to the full iOS version.
The weather can vary a lot day-to-day in Chicago, so I’ve always had a weather app on my iPhone’s Home screen. For the past few years, I’ve used CARROT Weather, one of the most comprehensive such apps available on the App Store. CARROT’s Today widget and Watch complications are among the best of any app category, but with the release of iOS 14 and watchOS 7, developer Brian Mueller has taken CARROT Weather’s widgets and Watch complications to a new level.
iOS 14 widgets and watchOS 7’s more flexible complications and watch face sharing feel like they were tailor-made for an app like CARROT. The variety of data available in weather apps makes them perfect for creative widget and watch face implementations, which is precisely what you get with CARROT Weather. Let’s dig into what’s new.
Today Apple has released the latest major versions of many of its most popular operating systems: iOS 14, iPadOS 14, watchOS 7, and tvOS 14. There’s no macOS update just yet, as Big Sur will be coming later this year.
iOS and iPadOS 14 bring a new assortment of widgets, which can now be added to the iPhone’s Home screen for the first time. iPhones now support Picture in Picture when watching videos or making FaceTime calls. Built-in apps are receiving a host of other upgrades too, including new sidebar designs on iPad. For more details on the releases, check out our overview from earlier this summer, and be on the lookout for Federico’s big review of the updates arriving in the coming weeks.
watchOS 7 introduces sleep tracking, a ton of new watch face options, the ability to share watch faces with others and download them directly from third-party apps, a Shortcuts app, and more. Our overview of the update is available here, and we’ll have a full review coming soon.
tvOS 14 enables audio sharing for playback through multiple pairs of AirPods, HomeKit integration, 4K YouTube playback, and other quality of life improvements. For everything that’s new, check out our overview.
These OS releases weren’t expected to release so soon, since a delayed WWDC in June meant the first betas arrived three weeks later than usual, but Apple is nonetheless following its annual pattern of a mid-September release. Stay tuned as we’ll have lots of coverage on MacStories of the various third-party apps updating to support the latest features of these releases, especially those supporting widgets and iPad sidebars.
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.
Today Apple announced that the latest versions of most of its major OS platforms will be shipping tomorrow, September 16. This includes:
macOS Big Sur was not mentioned, and it’s expected to release later this year alongside Apple Silicon Macs.
I can’t recall there ever having been such a short turnaround time from the announcement of OS release dates to those OS versions shipping. Normally following a September event, Apple releases GM versions of its OS updates and the public versions a week or two later. This year, there’s no such delay.
Until now developers haven’t yet been able to submit their app updates to App Review, so when iOS 14 introduces widgets for the Home screen, for example, there won’t be third-party widgets available to try just yet. It’s a very unusual release strategy for Apple, but in a year like this, it seems anything can happen.
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.’
Sleep tracking has always seemed like a natural addition to the Apple Watch, and for years all signs have indicated Apple had it in its plans. In 2017 the company acquired Beddit, which specialized in sleep-tracking hardware and software. Perhaps one motivation for that move was the fact that paid sleep-tracking apps regularly occupied the App Store’s top charts. Apple has also progressively exhibited strong interest in areas of health, making sleep a no-brainer. So the technology for sleep tracking had been acquired, customer demand was clearly there, and it fit within the broader health ambitions of the company.
Yet until this year, Apple’s sleep-related software enhancements have been limited to…improved alarm options on iPhone. This fall that’s changing, as watchOS 7 and iOS 14 will together introduce a true sleep tracking system.
I’ve been using the new sleep-related features of Apple’s forthcoming OS versions for two full months now, and in true Apple fashion, they’re in some ways more comprehensive and elegant than third-party solutions, and in other ways they’re underpowered compared to what third parties provide, ensuring that they won’t be the best fit for all users, but their simplicity will make them a solid solution for most people.