The Apple Watch is learning some new tricks in WatchOS 7. Apple announced its latest software updates in June at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference and gave a sneak peek at the new features coming to its Apple Watches, then released the new operating system to the public in September. The update includes a fresh batch of watch faces, new workout options and native sleep tracking — the last of which has been highly anticipated for many years.
These features will be compatible only with the Apple Watch Series 3 or later, however, and some features are exclusive to the Series 5. Here’s a breakdown of 10 key new Apple Watch features I can’t wait to try.
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Native sleep tracking finally arrives
The wait is over. Apple Watch users will finally be able to wear their watch to bed and track their sleep without having to download a third-party app. WatchOS 7 also helps users get to sleep on time by providing a way to wind down from the day with a calming bedtime routine. Once in bed, the Apple Watch uses its motion and heart rate sensors to determine when you’ve drifted off and shuts off all notifications. In the morning you can look back at your sleep cycle to see if you woke up in the middle of the night, and glance at your progress over time.
To track sleep, the Apple Watch needs to have at least a 30 percent charge, and it will need a recharge when you wake up. Once the Apple Watch is fully charged, you’ll get a notification on your phone that it’s ready to go.
Workout and ‘new’ fitness app
That Zumba class may show you’ve burned more calories in WatchOS 7. Apple has added dancing, core training, functional strength and cooldown to its list of workout options on the Watch. As such, the Watch’s algorithm is specifically tuned for these exercises and calorie tracking is more accurate.
Cyclists will also get a new navigation feature in Apple Maps that will allow them to choose routes based on time to destination, total distance or number of hills.
The Activity app, which houses the activity rings and the summary of your day, has been rebranded in WatchOS 7. It will be called the Fitness app on both the Apple Watch and the iPhone. Though the app remains very similar on the Watch, it’s gotten a light redesign on the iPhone. It has a more comprehensive summary page and a more intuitive way to find your stats at a glance.
WatchOS 7 keeps you honest about hand-washing
You know we’re living through some interesting times when hand-washing receives almost as much airtime as sleep tracking in the keynote. The Apple Watch will use the motion sensors and microphone to figure out when you’re washing your hands and make sure you’re doing it right. Once it’s determined you’re at the sink, it will start a 20-second countdown, which is the optimum duration based on the CDC guidelines. It can even remind you to do it as soon as you step into your house.
Other health features
WatchOS 7 is taking the Noise app a step further by expanding noise alerts to headphone levels. The Apple Watch already monitors ambient noise and alerts users when it reaches levels that could affect hearing loss. But now it will do the same when you’re listening to audio through your headphones from either your iPhone, iPod or Apple Watch. You’ll get an alert if you’ve exceeded the recommended volume or listening time given by the World Health Organization.
There’s also a new heath metric that can help users get a sense of their mobility and cardiovascular capabilities. Advanced age or injuries can affect people’s balance and overall ability to move safely and effectively. The Apple Watch uses its motion sensors (as well as the motion sensors on the iPhone) to get a picture of what this looks like over time, similar to a “6-minute walk test” you’d normally get in a lab. If this data is shared with a physician it could help detect mobility issues before they get to the point of affecting your health.
Share and discover new watch faces
Apple still won’t allow third-party watch faces, but there will be more ways to personalize the Apple Watch by customizing existing templates or adding multiple complications from the same app. Watch wearers can also share watch faces with each other via text, email or social media, or discover other looks curated by specific companies.
The Apple Watch also has a new Chronograph Pro option, which has an analog-style tachymeter that measures speed and distance, and has an extra-large text option and new photo filters. And you’ll be able to add new complications for Apple’s camera, remote, sleep and Shortcuts apps.
Car key feature turns your watch into a key fob
With the updates, your Apple Watch can become a key fob for your car. You won’t be able to give out car key permissions like on the iPhone, but you will be able to accept them if they are shared with you through the Wallet app. The car key feature will only be available on the Apple Watch Series 5 or beyond (assuming we get a Series 6 in the fall), and will only be compatible with select BMW models for now.
Other iOS features
- Apple Watch has inline replies for the Message app
- Siri can read back your texts when connected to earphones
- The Apple Watch will get a translation app that allows users to translate entire conversations.
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