The Apple Watch Series 6 is expected to launch as soon as September 8. However, many interesting and important software features it will bring are already known.
Each Apple Watch comes with a new major revision of watchOS software, and owners of older watches get to benefit from it too.
I’ve test-driven several of watchOS 7’s features ahead of the release, to see what’s around the bend. These are available in the watchOS beta, which you can download by signing up for Apple’s beta program.
This isn’t an exhaustive list of everything you’ll find in watchOS 7, just a taster of some things to play with on day one. These features may also end up looking a little different in the public release.
Chronograph Pro watch face
This is one of watchOS 7’s new watch faces, Chronograph Pro. It’s similar to the existing Chronograph watch face, but packs even more in. There are four slots for Complications and the design is also a little more visually dense.Recommended For You
You can choose the colour for the outer band and there are three mini dials inside. Tap the face and it turns into a timer, with a little green button to start and stop the count.
In the face’s edit menu you can tweak the timer display to make one revolution of the dial mark a minute, 30 seconds, six seconds or three seconds. Or it can work like a Tachymeter, where it tells you how many instances of the timed duration will fit into an hour.
Chronograph Pro is a rather lovely looking face if you like a classic appearance, but one that doesn’t try to genuinely impersonate an analogue watch.
Photos watch face
The Photos watch face turns the display into a digital photo frame, and it has been redesigned for watchOS 7. You choose an album in the iPhone Watch app, and it picks a different image to display each time you wake the watch.
Gradients and colour glazes make this watch face something special. You can choose to colourize the images with more-or-less any colour of the rainbow, or use a gradient overlay.
These lend the watch an important sense of visual consistency, which you may find important. Or you can just see the images as they are, if you want to use an album of happy memories. Or perhaps an album of album covers.
The Shortcuts complication
Complications are the little extras packed into watch faces, and they will get a lot more diverse in watchOS 7. Shortcut complications have been added, increasing what you can do from the watch face.
Shortcuts were added to iOS in version 12 (similar features were previously called Workflows), became a core part of the system in iOS 13, and now they are untethered on Watch in iOS 13.
These let you do things like record audio, fire-up Shazam song-recognition or set a work break alarm right from the watch face. There’s stacks of potential here.
The Apple Watch has not had built-in sleep tracking since the beginning, largely because that’s the time to set it to charge. That changes in watch OS 7.
It has a new Sleep app. This records your sleep patterns, as a fitness tracker might. You’ll see a record of the time spent in bed and your time asleep, which could be a handy reminder you spend too much time scrolling through Instagram at midnight.
There’s more too. The Sleep app lets you choose a bedtime and wakeup time, and the alarm to wake up to. These make brilliant use of the Apple Watch’s haptic motors, and are a reminder the watch’s little speaker actually sounds pretty good.
There are nine alarm types in the watchOS beta, each with a different wake-up sound and haptic tap pattern. “Sunny” seems a particularly relaxing way to wake. Its ambient soundscape gradually gets louder, and the irregular beat-sync’d taps are less insistent than the average alarm.
Apple has also changed how the battery operates a little, to make wearing it during the night work better with real-world use.
You’ll see an alert if it gets close to bed time and the Apple Watch has less than 30% charge, presumably what it needs to ensure it lasts the night. Recharge it in the morning and your iPhone will let you know it’s recharged, via a notification.
watchOS 7 also adds a few new workout modes: dance, core training, functional strength training and cooldown. They all look quite similar when you run them, but the clever stuff goes on behind the scenes.
With activities like these, the Watch has to rely on algorithms to calculate the number of calories burnt. With a run you can monitor GPS location to work out pace and distance travelled, but none of that applies here.
By using a different algorithm for each kind of exercise, Apple can offer a more accurate estimate of the energy you’ve expended. Plus it get logged as a “dance” rather than a generic exercise, which is nice.