The watchOS 7 public beta is just going live right now, so if you’re interested in test-driving the next-generation of software for Apple Watch, strap yourself in, because this is the preview for you.
Beta means beta
To get on any or all of Apple’s software testing programs, go to beta.apple.com and sign up.
Just remember that beta means beta, and that’s especially true of the Apple Watch where there’s no way for you to plug it in and restore it if and when you need to, so make sure you put it on an old or secondary Apple Watch, one you don’t depend on all day, every day.
Then have just all the fun.
watchOS 7 works with the Apple Watch Series 3, both the original version from 2017 and the $199 version re-released in 2019, the Series 4, and the current Series 5.
Individual features though, may vary. Like wide screen watch faces on the older, smaller design of the Series 3.
I keep joking that when Apple first released a watch, there was like a list of things that it didn’t do. Even obvious things that we all wanted it to do. But, year after year, through new hardware and new software, Apple has been steadily checking things off that list.
Better processing, check, LTE networking, check, edge-to-edge display, check, on-device App Store, always-on-display, and now… sleep tracking. Just check, check, check.
Now, it works both better and worse than I originally hoped and feared.
Better, in that Apple’s not restricting it to any new hardware, any new watch that has a new low-power mode or new sensor. Though, full disclosure, I hope very much Apple is working on just exactly that.
But no, sleep tracking is coming to existing Apple Watch owners, which is fantastic. It subsumes what used to be the Bed Time feature — which used to be in the iPhone Clock app back in the day but with iOS 14 is in the Health app, under Sleep, and your Schedule.
You set what time you want to go to sleep and what time you want to wake up, just like you used to in Bed Time.
You need at least 30% charge on your Apple Watch any given night it to work, so if it ever dips below that during the hour before you set it to sleep, you’ll be sent a reminder to top it up so you can get through the night.
Then, when the time comes, you go into Do Not Disturb, so there are no beeps, no buzzes, nothing to disturb your slumber. And your Apple Watch goes into Sleep Lock.
That way you don’t wake the display if you move your arm. If you want to wake it while in Sleep Lock, you have to actively tap it or press the Digital Crown, and even then it’ll just give you a sleepy-time face with date, time, and alarm.
If you’re supposed to be going to sleep but you’re still faffing around, the Apple Watch will detect the movement and wait for you to actually go to bed. And if you really want to access your watch after it’s gone into Sleep Lock, you can turn the Digital Crown. Then it’ll wait for you to stop moving and go back to sleep again before locking again. Until you wake up, of course, when it automatically exists Sleep Mode.
So, yeah, it’s a kind and gentle system and not all like Samual L. Jackson style go the fuck to sleep.
If you want, you can include a Wind Down experience, which can include listening to white noise, guided meditation from your favorite app, HomeKit scenes, Siri Shortcuts, basically whatever you need to sleep you.
When you wake up, you have the same options as the old Bedtime system on the iPhone, only now on your Apple Watch. So, the same sounds, only now with haptics on your wrist to go with them. And if you get up a little early and your Apple Watch detects you moving within 30 minutes of your alarm, it’ll ask you if you want to kill that alarm just to watch it die. Which I always do.
Either way, you’ll get the wake up screen, which shows you your Apple Watch’s battery level, so you remember to put it on the charger while you hydrate, brush your teeth, put the coffee on, or otherwise go through your daily ablutions. And when it reaches 100%, it’ll also send you a notification so you don’t forget to put it back on before you begin your morning workout or just your morning work day.
If and when you want your sleep stats, those are all available in the Health app on the iPhone for you as well. And, this is where we get into the worse part — maybe.
See, the stats include sleep goals and times, heart rate summary, lots of good stuff. But, unlike some other sleep apps, don’t break down light and deep sleep or REM sleep.
Now, it’s possible Apple doesn’t believe stats like that are possible to accurately represent at this point in time, and are maybe waiting on more hardware sensors in future Apple Watches before offering them. It’s also possible Apple is doing what Apple often does when it brings 3rd party features into the operating system — only providing the base level feature, so 3rd parties can be sustained by both the increased awareness and the more advanced features.
You know, get some Moriarty level revenger for that Sherlock. Like Fantastical, Omnifocus, Halide, and so many other, way-better-than-stock apps continue to do.
But, personally, I’m going to have to wait and see what happens this fall and over the next year to really figure out how I feel about it.
You can let me know right now in the comments, of course.
So, I kinda all-caps love the new Handwaching feature in watchOS 7. Now, I’ll preface that by saying I’m the type of person who leaves the stand notifications on and someone who’s smart enough to be truly concerned about the spread of COVID-19, so this feature was just made for me.
Apple has said they’ve been working on it for a while too, but it’s hard not to believe it got fast forwarded once hand washing became so important to stopping all the spreads and flattening all the curves, and I low key wish Apple would have back ported it to watchOS 6 and pushed it out in a point-release back in June.
It’s that good and that critical. Especially in North America where we don’t seem to have the self-preservational sense god or the universe gave the common housefly.
Here’s how Handwashing works: If it detects you’re coming home, it’ll notify you to wash your hands. When it detects you’re washing you hands, based on the movement of the watch on your wrist, and the sound of running water and squishing soap, it’ll start a 20-second count down for you.
When you’re done, you’ll get some haptic feedback to let you know and a little visual hurrah for your efforts.
You can also see all your hand washing tracked in the Health app, which I’m honestly not as concerned about. It’s the present, not the past, that’s so important here.
And the real-time is, like I said, terrific. I’ve been using it multiple times a day, every day, since it was announced, and it’s been working great. And I seriously hope Apple brings this tech to more things, like teeth brushing as well.
Hell, I want the iPhone to remind me to put my mask on when I leave the house and Face ID to yell at me if I’ve left and try to unlock without one on.
I legit didn’t see this coming.
Ok, so, one of the funnest things for me every year during the watchOS unveiling at WWDC is figuring out which new workouts we’ll be getting. And I’m always surprised. Always.
Wheelchair workouts. Yoga. Skiing. Just the amount of testing and modeling that team does is always beyond ridiculous in the best possible way.
But, this year, it’s the most excited I’ve been since wheelchair — that’s right. Dance. Dance. Dance. Unce, unce, once.
Apple used what they’re calling advanced sensor fusion to combine inputs from the accelerometer and gyroscope to figure out asynchronous arm and leg movement, and they validated against the four most popular styles of dance. No, not Fortnite, TikTok, Beat Saber, and Elaine from Seinfeld. Latin, Bollywood, Hip Hop, and Cardio. But it should understand and credit any type of two step or hot step you do.
There’s also functional strength training, for every day activities like family sports, carrying things around the house — basically the work from home workout from home stuff.
Also Core training and cool down.
Still no snow shoveling or Taiji though. Maybe next year!
The Activity app on the iPhone has now been renamed Fitness, because the scope of what you can do is just way more than activity aggregation. It’s also been redesigned to improve the information density and glaceability of your data.
watchOS 7 also provides mobility metrics for functional capacity, which uses the Watch’s motion sensors and algorithms to measure low range acid fitness, walking speed, stair speed, and in combination with iOS 14 on the iPhone, step length, double support time, and asymmetry measurements.
This, apparently, is stuff that required medical labs in the past and is once again an example of why Apple says their biggest contribution to society will one day be measured by health features, and why I keep saying the Watch is the most important product Apple has ever made. Because it saves lives. Deliberately. By design.
You’ll be able to check all of that out the health app, and medical professionals can build for it with new HealthKit features.
New to Watch Faces this year… no, it isn’t Watch Face apps in the Watch App Store. That’s one that’s still on the list.
It’s a couple or few newly updated Watch faces. First is X-Large, which is getting an X-Large complication. Just super big, boom, right in middle below the time.
Second is Chronograph Pro, which has a tachymeter for people who like to go really fast in cars and planes. It’ll compute speed based on travel time or measure distance based on speed. So, yeah, zoom zoom.
Third is Photo Filters for the photo face, which basically let you colorize the image on the watch face to match your mood or band.
Like I’ve said over and over again for the last few years, though, I still wish Photos had much better, richer complication support. Not just because I want to make a Detective Pikachu face, though because that and I do, but so that it would serve as a next-closest neighbor for custom watch faces.
My favorite feature after hand washing has gotta be face sharing. Not… not literal face sharing. I’m not John Travolta over here. But the ability to craft just the perfect watch face for anything I do, like work, working out, hiking, biking, yoga, meditation, anything… and then share it with other people.
And not just me, anyone can do it, any person, any developer, any company even.
It’s especially cool because, with watchOS 7, there’s a new Multiple Complications API — application programming interface — so a single app can take over several, even all the slots on a given watch face.
You’ll be able to download Watch Faces from the App Store, where the Editorial Team will offer some curated suggestions, and it’ll guide you through the process, making sure any and all apps you may need for those faces are downloaded and installed as well.
But, you’ll also be able to get them off web pages and social media. So your favorite magazines, blogs, podcasters, YouTubers, celebrities, whatever, will be able to share their favorite watch faces with you.
Yeah, matte black all the watch faces.
You can also share any of your watch faces right from the watch face gallery in the watch app on the iPhone. Just choose the face, hit share, choose who you want to share it with, and how — Message, AirDrop, or Mail.
From the Apple Watch, just long press on the face you want to share, tap the share icon, select the contact, and it’ll message away.
And, yeah, I said long press. Just like Apple has gone away from 3D Touch on the iPhone, they’re now going away from Force Touch on the Apple Watch as well.
I guess, like bell bottoms and hanglider collars, force press had it’s time in the sun but nature has ultimately chosen it for exitinction.
And, honestly, I’m going to miss it. Long press is better because it works simply, consistently across all devices. But force press is just way faster and more physically satisfying.
So, I’m just hoping Apple adds better machine learning to long press, to Haptic Touch in general, so we get all the benefits of the simplicity and consistency while mitigating the drawbacks.