Apple watchOS 2: Everything you need to know

Shiny new Watch features to get to grips with in the first major Apple Watch update
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With watchOS 2 now on our wrists, the countdown to a much improved Apple Watch experience is over.

The Apple Watch was originally hobbled by some slightly bizarre choices out of Cupertino. The way Apple Watch apps worked – requiring each one to be an extension of an existing iPhone one – was clearly not going to work, and watchOS 2 aims to right that wrong.

Essential reading: Check out our 100% unofficial guide to the Apple Watch

This is no incremental upgrade. Available as a developer preview now and as a free update for every model of Apple Watch this autumn 2015, watchOS 2 brings native apps to the Apple Watch for the first time as well as new features, functions and watch faces.

Here's Wareable's guide to what you can expect:

Native Apple Watch apps

Apple watchOS 2: Everything you need to know

Probably the biggest news for developers is that native apps are coming to the Apple Watch. Right now, you have to download iPhone apps from the App Store which have extensions for the Apple Watch.

Our top picks: The best Apple Watch apps

Apps will become more useful, too. Before, third party apps couldn't access hardware features such as the mic, speaker, accelerometer, heart rate sensor, Taptic Engine and Digital Crown. With watchOS 2, it's open season on sensors.

The App Logic for Watch apps has until now run on your iPhone. With watchOS 2, this can move to the Watch for standalone apps that don't need an iPhone. So for instance if the Apple Watch 2 gets GPS, running apps could run on the Watch itself, without a smartphone, and then sync when connected to Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.

There's going to be an absolute gold rush of new apps hitting the store, but Apple took the wraps off a few, so here's what to expect:

Facebook Messenger

Apple watchOS 2: Everything you need to know

A no-brainer, which sums up why the Apple Watch is so far below par even in its current iteration, Facebook Messenger gets the nod with its own app. You can read and reply to your messages, just as Facebook intended.


Apple watchOS 2: Everything you need to know

Getting live translations by speaking into your Apple Watch is a true realisation of what's possible from the hardware. With watchOS 2 providing access to the mic and speakers, you can get live translations in over 90 languages.

GoPro app

Apple watchOS 2: Everything you need to know

To be fair, this could have been possible without watchOS 2, but GoPro fans can now use their Apple Watch as a viewfinder for their action camera.


Apple watchOS 2: Everything you need to know

This won't interest many Watch users, but Apple showed off AirStrip – a specialist medical app – at its event in San Francisco. While aimed at doctors, the tech enables access to live biometrics from patients and can even connect to sensors so that pregnant women can track and listen to their babies' heart rate from the wrist. Insane.

There's also the anticipated integration with HomeKit so you can control smart home apps from the Watch. The likes of Philips Hue have already signed up.

Watch faces get a revamp

Apple watchOS 2: Everything you need to know

We aren't exactly drowning in Apple Watch faces to choose from so it's good news that Apple haven't forgotten that its smartwatch will be used to tell the time in a handsome manner.

In watchOS 2 there's a few new options: Photo and Photo Album. You will be able to pick a photo as your watch face or a whole photo album to set images from that album as the watch face every time you raise your wrist.

Another addition is the Time-Lapse watch face which does what it says really, shows timelapses of cities such as New York and London, shot over 24 hours.

Most usefully, watchOS 2 brings information from third-party apps to the watch face as complications using ClockKit. The Apple Watch is already very customisable in terms of Glances from third party apps but we've glad Cupertino has opened up the watch face screen too. Not everyone needs to see the weather when they glance down at their smartwatch.

Time Travel shows you your day

Apple watchOS 2: Everything you need to know

This feature will sound familiar to any Pebble fans. Time Travel is a new way of viewing and interacting with calendar events, weather updates and info from third party apps.

You can cycle backwards and forwards in time by 72 hours each way - so check details of calendar events coming up later in the day or the next day as well as the weather and upcoming flight details. From the screens, it looks to include useful icons which show how far ahead in the future you've scrolled.

Must read: Apple Watch v Pebble Time

This is another smart use of the Digital Crown and a really lovely use of the smartwatch which we first saw an eerily similar version of with Pebble's Timeline. On the Pebble Time, it also incorporates notifications such as messages you might have missed.

This kind of feature could put an end to jumping in and out of apps if the information comes to us when we need it.

A Nightstand mode for charging

Apple watchOS 2: Everything you need to know

This sounds like a minor addition but it's the little things that make living with a wearable more satisfying. The Apple Watch is getting a new Nightstand mode which appears when it is charging and laid down in landscape mode.

It displays the time, like a small, incredibly expensive bedside alarm clock. The Digital Crown acts as a snooze button and the side button silences the alarm.

Nightstand is a cute feature and we can see it working very well with nicely designed charging docks. Motorola did get there first though.

Chatting on the go gets easier

Apple watchOS 2: Everything you need to know

Using a smartwatch to communicate is still a bit of a gamble but Apple is trying to smooth out some of the kinks. You can now reply to emails with smart replies (canned responses), emoji - like Android Wear - and voice dictation with Siri. As an aside, Siri can also now pull up Glances.

Adding quick contacts is easier. You can add Friends from the Watch and there's now multiple screens for the icons (up to 12 per screen) so you can access more chums in a swipe or two. Digital Touch also gets multiple colours on the same canvas for fast finger sketches.

Activity goals just got more helpful

Apple watchOS 2: Everything you need to know

If you've read our in-depth Apple Watch review you'll know we weren't too enamoured by Apple's Activity app. The UI is great to look at but there's not much to see or explore beyond the coloured rings.

Third party fitness apps such as Strava can now contribute data to the Move and Exericse rings so while the app is still far from perfect, at least it will now be a truer representation of what you've been doing each day and whether you've hit your goals.

You can also now use Siri to start or end workouts - handy for when you're tying your laces/prepping the bike and you just want to get going.

Maps gets Transit - in some global cities

We've been using Maps in conjunction with Citymapper throughout our time with the Watch and it's hit and miss. You'll see a pattern - Apple's services let it down and we wish we could just use ol' faithful Google Maps.

Instead of letting us do that, Apple is trying to make Maps more useful on the wrist with public transport routes and directions within the app. There's schedules, walking directions to stations and even detailed mapping of entrances and exits.

Transit in Apple Maps won't be available everywhere - for starters, it will work in London, Berlin, New York City, the San Francisco Bay Area, Chicago, Mexico City, Baltimore, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Toronto and over 300 cities in China including Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu.

That's not surprising considering Apple hasn't rolled out the Watch to all the countries where it sells iPhones and China was one of the first batch of countries to get availability.

New Apple Pay features

Apple watchOS 2: Everything you need to know

Apple Pay is coming to the UK in July and it's also getting some new features, all of which are available on the Apple Watch. So now loyalty cards and store-issued credit and debit cards are stored in Wallet alongside your bank cards to be used with Apple Pay rather than Passbook.

Worried about all that personal data? There's also a new security feature called Activation Lock which lets you add your Apple ID as an extra security measure to stop thieves using lost or stolen smartwatches.

Apple watchOS 2 release date

watchOS 2 will hit the Apple Watch on 16 September. All versions are eligible, so no-one will be left behind. And, of course, it's free of charge.

Which watchOS 2 features are you most looking forward to? What's still missing? Let us know in the comments.

How we test


Sophie was Wareable's associate editor. She joined the team from Stuff magazine where she was an in-house reviewer. For three and a half years, she tested every smartphone, tablet, and robot vacuum that mattered. 

A fan of thoughtful design, innovative apps, and that Spike Jonze film, she is currently wondering how many fitness tracker reviews it will take to get her fit. Current bet: 19.

Sophie has also written for a host of sites, including Metro, the Evening Standard, the Times, the Telegraph, Little White Lies, the Press Association and the Debrief.

She now works for Wired.

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