9 exciting new features in watchOS 9 – heading to the Apple Watch

Big health, running and workout features incoming
9 new features in watchOS 9
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watchOS 9 was formally unveiled at WWDC 2022, and there’s seriously cool array of features heading to the Apple Watch.

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

watchOS 9 will launch in the Fall, and we’re guessing alongside the Apple Watch Series 8. The details of that are still very much unofficial, but read on for everything Apple confirmed about watchOS 9.

Update: We updated this article on 7 June with more details and confirmations from Apple

New watch faces

New watch faces

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

You can customise the apps and experience you see based on focus modes. And most importantly of all, 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's serious substance in watchOS 9.

Heart rate zones

Heart rate zones

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 train to varying 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

Running power and form analysis

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, can 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

Sleep Stages added

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.

Afib History

AFib History

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 to 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 stamp 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 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 answer or end a phone call, take a photo, play or pause media in the Now Playing app, and start, pause, or resume a workout.

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

No Apple Watch Series 3 support

One hidden bombshell from the watchOS 9 announcement is that the Apple Watch Series 3 won't get the update. Given performance and some issues with upgrading the Series 3 to watchOS 8 last year, it's not a huge surprise. However, it does remain on sale for now – which makes its continued availability somewhat awkward.