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Just like iOS on your iPhone, Apple updates the software powering your Apple Watch each year around September. At the time of writing, the latest version of is watchOS 6, which offers many new features and a wide variety of improvements.
Let’s take a look at the best Apple Watch features. We’ll highlight what’s new in watchOS 6 first, with highlights from previous versions afterward.
How to Update Your Apple Watch
To update watchOS on your Apple Watch, head to the companion Watch app on your iPhone, then select the My Watch tab. From here, choose General > Software Update and follow the prompts. To update, you’ll need to have your Apple Watch on its charger with more than 50 percent battery life remaining.
If you haven’t already updated to watchOS 6, it’s currently available for the Apple Watch Series 4 and Series 3. It will be available for the Series 2 and Series 1 models later in 2019. It’s not compatible with the original Series 0.
The Best New Features of watchOS 6
Let’s look at what the latest version of watchOS (as of this writing) has to offer.
Say Hello to the Apple Watch App Store
The biggest new addition in watchOS 6 is an App Store directly on your Apple Watch. Previously, downloading an app required heading to the companion Watch app on your iPhone. But that’s no longer the case.
Head to the App Store tab on your watch to begin. Even though it’s only on the small screen of the watch, the experience is full-featured. At the top, select Search to find a specific app using voice dictation or Scribble. It’s also possible to search for an app using Siri at any time.
Just like the App Store on your iPhone or iPad, there are many app selections curated by Apple’s own experts. Tap an app to read more information about it, see screenshots, and even read reviews from your wrist. It’s far from a watered-down experience.
Many apps can now also run independently from the iPhone. That means you can download an app from the App Store on your watch without needing to install the iPhone version.
And speaking of apps, Apple now includes a Calculator, Audiobooks, and Voice Memos app on the watch.
More Watch Faces to Customize Your Apple Watch
One of the most popular features of the Apple Watch is the wide variety of different watch faces that allow you to customize the screen. watchOS 6 doesn’t disappoint, adding seven new face options for all watches.
Meridian, California, and Gradient are all analog options with differing levels of complications. Numerals Duo is a minimalist digital option, while Numerals Mono shows an analog clock with the hour digitally.
Modular Compact can show the time on an analog face, along with three other complications.
The most visually pleasing new face is definitely Solar Dial. The main feature is a 24-hour circular dial that tracks the sun. A blue tint will change depending on the sun’s effect on the color of the sky. You can also turn the Digital Crown to see the sun’s arc across the day.
This face lets you view an analog or digital time. There is also room for four complications.
Hearing Health and More
The software also introduces new health-tracking features. Thanks to a new Noise app, the watch constantly tracks the decibel levels around you every day. If the noise ever rises to a level that could affect your hearing, the app will provide a notification so you can step away to somewhere quieter.
You can view a real-time readout of noise levels using the app. There is also a Noise app complication to view decibel levels on a watch face.
Women can use the new Cycle Tracking app to log information about their menstrual cycle, in order to predict their next period and fertile window.
Information from both the Noise and Cycle Tracking apps are available to view in iOS 13’s Health app.
Data from the Apple Watch is a big part of the Trends section of the iPhone Health app. Trends compares the last 90 days of activity to the past year. If any metric is suffering, the app will also provide custom advice on how to improve.
A Better Siri Experience
Siri on the Apple Watch is also taking a solid step up. Just like on an iPhone or iPad, the virtual assistant will now identify music using Shazam. Just ask “What song is this?”
You can also ask Siri to search for a topic, then view and see web pages with the results.
The Best Features of watchOS 5
In case your Apple Watch isn’t compatible with watchOS 6 or you’re wondering what came before, here’s a roundup of the top features in watchOS 5.
All About Activity
While there are a wide variety of third-party Apple Watch apps to track a workout, Apple’s own built-in tools have taken a big step up.
In the Workout app, you can now select from two new types of exercise—hiking and yoga. After selecting either one of those, the Apple Watch will track active calories and exercise minutes.
Speaking of workouts, watchOS 5 will now automatically detect a number of different popular workout types. You’ll see a notification on the Watch to confirm the workout and give correct credit.
And there’s no need to worry about forgetting to end a workout. After a short period when no activity is detected, a notification will allow you to end the workout or switch to another type.
Runners will also be happy to take advantage of several new features. The steps per minute feature will work for indoor or outdoors walks and runs. When running outside, a vibrating pace alarm will let runners know if they are ahead or behind of their selected pace without needing to look down at the watch screen.
A rolling pace mile will also show runners the pace for the immediately preceding mile, along with the average or current pace. That will help give runners a better idea of how they are fairing.
You can also now do more than just share activity data with friends and family. Apple Watch wearers can invite another person to battle in a one-on-one activity competition. These last seven days and offer points for closing rings. Special notifications will also help motivate you to a victory.
A Walkie-Talkie and Podcasts App
Apple Watch users are getting another way to communicate in watchOS 5 with the new Walkie-Talkie feature. Just like the old-school devices, you can talk with friends and family using Wi-Fi or any LTE-enabled Apple Watch.
On the Apple Watch, using the Walkie-Talkie app, you’ll add a specific contact to communicate with. When ready to talk, just select the contact and tap and hold the Talk button to speak. When you’re done, take your finger off of the screen.
You can also opt to turn off availability for Walkie-Talkie at any time through the app.
Apple is also bringing its great Podcasts app to the small screen of the Apple Watch. When starting Podcasts, it will show episodes that you’ve downloaded to the watch or those on your iPhone.
It’s easy to download a podcast episode to the Apple Watch or stream it with the LTE-enabled version. You can then listen with Apple’s AirPods or other Bluetooth headphones.
Using Siri on the Apple Watch, you can even subscribe to a podcast or start playback of an episode. As a nice touch, a new syncing feature allows you to partially listen to a podcast on the watch and then pick up where you left off on an iPhone or iPad.
A Better Siri Watch Face
The Siri watch face continues to stand among the variety of watch faces available to customize your Apple Watch. And it’s getting even better in watchOS 5 thanks to a dose of machine learning.
Some of the new additions you’ll notice include heart rate information after a workout, commute times, and scores from favorite sports teams. Siri Shortcuts, a major new addition to iOS, will also appear at the correct time of the day.
Third-party apps can now also provide information for the face. Apple says apps like Nike+ Run Club, Glow Baby, and Mobike will support the face, and you can expect many other popular choices as well.
Other Notable watchOS 5 Improvements
We’ve covered the major upgrades in watchOS 5, but you’ll find plenty of little touches too:
- Talking to Siri is now even easier. Instead of needing to say “Hey Siri,” just raise your wrist to talk with the virtual assistant. You can also change the volume of Siri using the Settings app.
- The Control Center on your Apple Watch is now customizable. Swipe up from a watch face, then scroll down to the bottom and select Edit. From here you can move the icons in any order you like.
- Instead of dealing with notifications one at a time, watchOS 5 groups information from the same app together. You can open or clear all notifications from one group with just a tap.
- Selecting the Do Not Disturb icon in Control Center now brings up a number of options. Along with simply turning the mode on, you can enable it for an hour, until tomorrow morning, or until you leave the current location.
- When tapping on some links in Messages and Mail, you can now view web content on the Watch screen. The content shows in the best format for the small screen, and can utilize Reader Mode as well.
- While there are definitely some better options available for the Apple Watch, the stock Weather app now shows wind direction, wind speed, air quality, and UV index.
- Instead of needing to carry around a college ID, the Apple Watch can now step in and provide students quick access to places around the campus, pay for meals, and more.
Using Your Apple Watch Effectively
Now you know what the latest updates to the Apple Watch have brought to the table. Be sure to make good use of these features to get the most out of your wearable device.