Apple watchOS 3: Everything you need to know about the next-gen platform

The features and improvements now available for your Watch
Apple watchOS 3: All the details

WatchOS 3 is here - the updated Apple Watch platform is available to download right now for your existing Watch and it will, of course, be already installed on the new Series 2 and Series 1 models.

To install, make sure you're running iOS 10 and then, from the Apple Watch app, go to 'General'... 'Software Update'... tap 'Download and Install'.

Must read hands on: Apple Watch Series 2

Here's what you can expect once you update. Let us know in the comments which features you like the look of and what you're still waiting for.

watchOS 3: Instant Launch

The biggie. This is what we've been asking for and, indeed, devs have been asking for most of all: both built in and third party apps will now launch around seven times faster than on watchOS 2. How? The OS keeps your favourite apps in its memory and allows background processing so that the refreshed information is ready before you try to access it. Hallelujah!

If the new speed is anything like the demo video on stage, this will completely change how you use apps on the Apple Watch i.e. you might actually use them now.

watchOS 3: Dock and Control Center

People like us have been saying you can't just copy smartphone and laptop OS design on wearables, they have their own considerations. But what do we know, hey. We reckon bringing in a swipeable Dock of live apps with a press of the side button and an iOS Control Center that you pull up from the bottom of the screen to access and two pretty good ways to make watchOS more intuitive. Stops you getting lost, essentially.

In the Dock, you choose the order, you can use dots at the bottom to scroll faster and each launches with live info with one tap. You still pull down to access notifications.

watchOS 3: Scribble

A couple of the new features are focused on making responding to messages faster. So you no longer have to press a button to reply then choose how - Apple loses this redundant step and just shows you your options (emojis, preset replies etc) to tap.

There's also Scribble which lets you draw out words with your finger, one letter at a time and will work in English and Chinese.

watchOS 3: New watch faces

First up, you can switch between watch faces with an edge to edge swipe, a feature we've seen before on the Vector Watch.

There's also some new built-in faces including Minnie Mouse (you can choose the colour of her dress, of course), a simple Numeral face in which you can select different fonts and three new Activity rings watch faces - analogue, digital and chronograph.

The Activity face lets you quick start a Workout from a complication plus the Photos app, for instance, can now show a Weather complication.

watchOS 3: SOS

We reported last week that some of the most requested wearables are GPS locators and panic buttons and it seems Apple has been reading the same research. If you press and hold the side button, the Watch will start a countdown before calling 911 - or whatever the local emergency number is in the country you're in - and alerting your emergency contact with a map of your location.

It will work via your iPhone or over Wi-Fi and will then auto display your Medical ID with your age and any other health information you choose to give it. It's a powerful emergency system - as long as your Watch hasn't run out of battery.

watchOS 3: Activity Sharing and Breathe

Activity Sharing is a smart move - you can check on friends' progress in detail i.e. see how many calories they burned with a specific workout app, their Activity rings and your place in a leaderboard. We will soon also be able to send preset messages of encouragement/fighting talk from within the Activity app - it seems all of Silicon Valley wants to reduce our conversations to the lists of phrases.

Wheelchair users now get a "time to roll!" reminder rather than "time to stand" as well as new activity rings optimised to wheelchair pushes and two specific workouts.

Meanwhile, moving away from fitness, Breathe is a deep breathing/meditation app that uses visuals and haptic feedback to take you through short breathing exercises. It takes a heart rate reading towards the end (when you should be relaxed) and is part of a growing trend we're seeing towards stress busting wearables, like Zenta, Prana and Spire.

watchOS 3: What devs can access

In terms of what new things we will see in third party apps, devs now have access to Apple Pay so users can purchase things using Apple's platform within apps.

Another big deal which opens up a lot of opportunity is that third party fitness apps can run in the background during your workout capturing, for instance, real time heart rate data.

Devs can also link their apps and games to Game Centre and CloudKit plus get access to speaker audio, include inline video in apps and have access to Crown and Touch controls. This is all good news, some of which the developers we talked to have been requesting.

watchOS 3: How do I install?

It's easy... Update to iOS 10 and then, from the Apple Watch app, go to 'General'... 'Software Update'... tap 'Download and Install'.

17 Comments

  • xToddrick says:

    Some good suggestions, but two I disagree with.

    Apple was smart enough to know a rectangular shape was the most functional/versatile.  Making a round version would both limit functionality and make it very difficult for application designers to make displays for both shapes.  They rounded all the edges, it's the best overall design I can think of.

    Don't try and make it a telephone as well.  That would waste space that could otherwise be used for larger batteries, more sensors, et cetera.  It's an extension of the iPhone and works very well in that capacity.  I don't always have my iPhone next to me but it's very easy to have in range of my Apple Watch.

    • Sgodsell says:

      You are wrong.  If an OS can support round displays, and it's development tools are designed for any display type or size, then it's easy to make an application work for square or round displays.   Android Wear is a perfect example of this.  Besides I prefer round watches, and I want my smart watch to be inconspicuous.   I love the fact that most people don't know that I am wearing a smart watch.    Sure Apple has different colors and materials.  However they all have the same one square style.   It's also funny that many of the watch faces that are shown on Apples watch square face are round.  Even Apples watch menu is a round arrangement with round icons.   The thing is most watches are people's fashion statements.   So watches should take on any size or shape.   They have for 100's of years.   So now that smart watches have arrived, then everyone should make a square watch?   Please get real.

  • Gummybear says:

    How about having the new watch waterproof so that I do not have to take it off to go sailing,surfing or paddle boarding .

    • OCjr says:

      Amen to that!  I will not pay $350 for a watch that isn't waterproof.

      • mkamensek says:

        Then you've obviously never owned an Automatic watch. Unless they're a Dive Watch, they aren't necessarily waterproof. Heck, the one I want is $1100 and only Water Resistant (e.g. don't swim with it or you'll break it).

    • Ej23 says:

      It's already waterproof!! I've been sailing, swimming, in the ocean many times with mine. I also leave it on in the shower. 100% waterproof.

    • BrianAddis says:

      This is water resisitent up to 100 feet. Unless you're a deep sea diver you're good.

  • Jl0505 says:

    Larger circular clock. Option to change the display as Android's watches

  • askep3 says:

    um 3D Touch first came out on Apple Watch it's called force touch...

  • agentivxx says:

    Two things I think should be added: 1. Louder speaker. If I'm on a call via the watch, I have to practically holding it near my head to hear. And yes, my volume is all the way up. 2. Options for text (and other apps) ringtones.

  • Snappy says:

    It monitors heart rate.  If the rate varies at all i.e., for afib or vfib can save lives, especially during work outs.  

  • tommy1937 says:

    waiting eagerly for eSim in APPLE WATCH 2......Is it going to eventuate in September 2016 or in 2017...... then I will swap over from the present SOSmCare watch to APPLE WATCH....have only apple devices therefore APPLE WATCH... Thanks...Tommy:-) 5.29pm/15.6.2016

  • goodluckbee says:

    I have Apple Watch 2.  Do I need to buy new apple watch for OS 3?

  • Birey says:

    I'm really hoping that the workout app will allow you to set heart rate zones and will record the time you spend during a workout in each zone. Heart rate zone training is an essential component of cardio endurance training and the existing third party apps make logging zone training a real chore. Please!

  • Shukl102 says:

    My two biggest issues are that 1. The speaker Sucks like someone else previously mentioned 

    2. The fitness and activity tracking is not superior to a fitbit. I thought the apple watch would be an upgrade. Shouldn't it automatically know when you are working out by your heart rate. The customer support guy said you actually have to click and start an activity for it to log. (Only had the watch less than two months any suggestions would be appreciated) 

    • layla_m says:

      Apple Watch tracks Active calories (Active Energy in Health app) and overall calories.

      To determine exercise, your Apple Watch looks at your heart rate and movement data. That means that things you do on a regular basis like getting up and walking around your office or taking your dog for a walk probably won't raise your heart rate enough for the Apple Watch to deem it as exercise.

      In a normal state Apple watch measures your heart rate once per 3 min. If your heart rate is raised enough, Apple Watch will track it as exercise in your Activity app and add to your Active calories, no matter if you started an activity or not.

      When you start an activity, Apple Watch starts to measure your heart rate every 10 seconds, and also in records other metrics relevant to each type of activity, and you can view a summary afterwards. 

  • rishio says:

    It would be nice if it allowed you to join wifi networks with scribble.

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