watchOS 9: The key new features heading to your Apple Watch

Big health, running and workout features incoming
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watchOS 9 brings a seriously cool array of features to the Apple Watch, with a focus on workout data, battery life, and usability improvements.]

We’ve seen a host of new features in fitness, wellness, and health – and this is one of the biggest sets of additions for a few years.

watchOS 9 is out now. Read on for our experiences and insights into the new Apple Watch operating system.

When will watch OS 9 be released?

watchOS 9 is now live and can be downloaded to your Apple Watch.

Head to the Settings menu and check for an update – and you should be able to download and install the new software.

watchOS 9 works with Apple Watch 4 – 7, including the Apple Watch SE.

The bigger controversy is that the Apple Watch Series 3 won't receive watchOS 9. It's not surprising – the Series 3 is pretty dated now, but has only just become obsolete. So there are a lot of Series 3 watches out there that won't get the latest features.

New watchOS 9 features incoming

Read below for a list of all the exciting new features dropping on the Apple Watch:

New watch faces

watchOS 9: The key new features heading to your Apple Watch

First up, there’s a new collection of watch faces and customizations. There’s a new Astronomy face, Lunar face, and Playtime – and a new typeface-based dial called Metropolitan.

You can customize the apps and experiences you see based on focus modes. And most importantly, dogs and cats are now supported on the Portrait watch face, using the existing data segmentation to pull them out from the background.

You can also customize background colors in watchOS 9, and Apple showed off some slick new gradients that can pep up existing watch faces.

And you can now add extra complications too – giving watchOS watch faces a sizeable overhaul.

But under the superficial new features, there is serious substance in watchOS 9.

Heart rate zones

watchOS 9: The key new features heading to your Apple Watch

The Workout app is getting supercharged for runners, who will now benefit from incredibly in-depth analytics to rival the likes of Garmin and Polar.

First off, heart rate zone training makes the cut, so you can vary the intensity to make each session count.

These zones are automatically calculated from personalized health data, or you can override that and add the zones yourself should you have sports science data about your performance.

Running power and form analysis

watchOS 9: The key new features heading to your Apple Watch

But Apple has gone further. It’s now calculating and showing live running power – going into territory that Polar has saved for its best sports watches.

Running power is the effort or work rate you exert, which can be a useful stat for runners. By measuring power and being guided by it, you can be more efficient when you run.

It’s also a new feature to the Garmin Forerunner 255 and 955 sports watches with a chest strap or optional accessory. In watchOS 9 this is all done from the wrist, which makes it a unique and powerful feature for runners, and puts the Apple Watch into a new category for prosumer athletes.

There’s also a new focus on running form, with ground contact time, stride length, and vertical oscillation all tracked from the wrist. These will be familiar metrics to Garmin users, but again, historically these are tracked with optional accessories.

And one final addition for runners is that regular routes can be saved, so you can virtually race your PB next time out, with guidance on how far ahead/behind you are.

watchOS 9 now lets users build workouts straight from the watch, with structured training modes, including time intervals and intensity.

Pace, power, heart rate, and cadence can also be set to live targets with readouts as you workout, too.

And the Cardio Recovery metric will also focus on how long you need to rest between sessions.

An important fact to note is that most of the above running metrics require an Apple Watch Series 6 or later – presumably using the same gyroscope and accelerometer technology that was introduced with Fall Detection.

Triathlon and swimming improvements

Triathletes can have multi-discipline and brick sessions automatically merged, and watchOS 9 will detect changes between run, cycle, and swim without any input.

Likewise, swimming now gets SWOLF (an efficiency rating), another preserve of costly Garmin sports wearables.

Sleep Stages added

watchOS 9: The key new features heading to your Apple Watch

Sleep has been given an overhaul – and two years after it was finally introduced, it now gets Sleep Stages.

The Apple Watch native sleep app will track time spent in key sleep stages over time. Apple had downplayed the usefulness of sleep stage data when it was omitted from the Apple Watch app – but now it's changed its tune.

However, it has stressed that its detection algorithms have been tuned by “one of the largest and most diverse populations ever studied for a wearable.”

It also added that sleep stages will now be part of the Apple Heart and Movement Study to study the area further.

There is also a new sleep widget for iPhone that shows time in bed and a breakdown of sleep stages, and tapping that will take you right to the correct section of the Apple Health app.

Low Power Mode

watchOS 9: The key new features heading to your Apple Watch

Unveiled at the Apple event in Cupertino, watchOS 9 will bring a new Low Power Mode to Series 4 and later.

It will theoretically up the battery life of your Apple Watch from 18 hours to 36 hours. However, there are big sacrifices.

The most notable is that the feature will turn off the always-on display. Cellular and Wi-Fi will be turned off unless there’s demand from a specific application.

The Apple Watch will only check for notifications every hour, and the heart rate monitor will also be turned off.

It's quite a big downgrade in terms of features, although you will still collect progress towards your ring goals.


watchOS 9: The key new features heading to your Apple Watch

The Apple Watch Ultra's outdoor features rely on the compass app – and the improvements are being rolled out across the watchOS 9 range.

Zooming using the crown will show extra information, including elevation data.

And if you have a Series 6 or later, you can now follow waypoints, which can be added to the watch using GPS coordinates.


watchOS 9: The key new features heading to your Apple Watch

The Calendar app has also been given a big face-lift in watchOS 9, which makes it more useful from the wrist.

It's been overhauled so you can add new events, and also switch to List, Day, and Months views.

Afib History

watchOS 9: The key new features heading to your Apple Watch

Apple has now introduced Afib History, which tracks incidences of atrial fibrillation (an irregular heart rate condition) over time, showing timestamps of when the issue occurs.

Afib is a serious condition, but it can be paroxysmal or episodic – meaning it comes and goes. That can make it hard for even the ECG feature on Series 7 to detect.

Detail on how Afib History works is yet to emerge, but it looks different from the Fitbit continuous Afib detection it launched earlier this year.

Apple told Wareable that the feature is designed to help people with an existing Afib diagnosis. When enabled, Afib History uses the optical heart rate sensor to scan for arrhythmic events, and time stamps when they occur.

That's very much the same as Fitbit technically, however, Fitbit touts its technology as passive Afib detection.

Apple is seeking FDA clearance for that now – and we’d bet on it being live when watchOS 9 lands officially this Fall.

Medication tracking

There’s also a new medication tracking feature. You can log medications on the Apple Watch, and it will serve up reminders to take meds too.

New meds can be added using the camera on the iPhone – and you can get information on interactions, which might stop your medication from working as effectively.

New Quick Actions

As we reported in May, Apple is adding Quick Actions for Apple Watch users, as an accessibility feature.

A double pinch gesture is the newest Quick Action, which can be mapped to a host of actions such as answering or ending a phone call, taking a photo, playing or pausing media in the Now Playing app, and starting, pausing, or resuming a workout.

It’s a part of the Assistive Touch suite of features that launched in watchOS 8.

TAGGED Apple Watch

How we test

James Stables


James is the co-founder of Wareable, and he has been a technology journalist for 15 years.

He started his career at Future Publishing, James became the features editor of T3 Magazine and and was a regular contributor to TechRadar – before leaving Future Publishing to found Wareable in 2014.

James has been at the helm of Wareable since 2014 and has become one of the leading experts in wearable technologies globally. He has reviewed, tested, and covered pretty much every wearable on the market, and is passionate about the evolving industry, and wearables helping people achieve healthier and happier lives.

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