Originally unveiled more than two years ago, the Apple Watch and its software have both had an interesting history.
The first version of the watchOS software was generally panned as slow and unintuitive. With watchOS 2, Apple addressed some of those complaints with native apps, third-party complications, new watch faces and other improvements.
But Apple is hoping the third time is a charm with watchOS 3. After seven rounds of beta testing through out the summer for registered developers, the software can be downloaded now by any watch user.
How to update
To update your watch, open up the Apple Watch app on the iPhone and head to the My Watch tab. Select General, and then choose Software Update. Then follow the on-screen instructions.
Just to note, your watch needs to be connected to a charger and have more than 50 percent battery life remaining.
Here’s a look at some of the best new features.
The Dock layout should be familiar to iOS device users.
By far the headlining feature of the update is the Dock.
Instead of the useless Friends Ring, pressing the side button now brings up a grouping of some of your favorite and most used apps.
Just like with the now-extinct Glances, you can select exactly what remains in Dock using the Apple Watch iPhone app. Quickly scrolling through the Dock will show a snapshot of each app. Since each app in the dock is saved in the watch’s memory, a quick tap will launch it immediately, which is a welcomed changed from the glacially slow pace previously.
The layout is akin to the app switcher in iOS and on the Apple TV, and should be familiar to many more potential watch owners.
Even apps that don’t stay in the Dock are loading substantially faster, and that’s on the first-generation Apple Watch. The Apple Watch Series 2 and Series 1 – which will both land later this week – feature the same dual-core processor. That should definitely make every part of the experience faster.
Instead of viewing Glances with a swipe up gesture, users will now see the Control Center that offers a nice amount of handy information like battery percentage and the ability to switch the watch into Airplane Mode or ping an iPhone.
Health and fitness
The Workout app shows more information on your watch face.
Outside of notifications, one of the most popular features of the watch is the activity tracking and workout functionality. And Apple has added a number of goodies on that front as well.
Using the stock Workout app, you can view up to five different stats on the same screen – distance, pace, active calories, heart rate, and elapsed time. During a workout, the app will also automatically pause when making any quick stop on a run and start back up when needed.
The Activity app has also been revamped, and now features a great social element. Activity Sharing will let other users see how you’re progressing toward daily goals. You’ll be notified when friends or family finish workouts or earn different achievements. Using Messages, you can send everyone an encouraging message or talk some trash. Sharing is set up through the iPhone app. Continuing its awesome track record of accessibility, the Activity app has now also been optimized for wheelchair users and even takes into account different pushing techniques and speeds.
And while tracking your activity is even easier, Apple is also hoping to make it easier to get rid of stress or decompress with the new Breathe app on the watch. As you could probably tell by the name, it will guide users through some deep breathing exercises for a set amount of time.
You can start at anytime or receive a reminder each day.
Say hello to Minnie Mouse!
One of the best features of the watch has always been the great number of customization options. That continues with the new software and the addition of new watch faces.
Some of the new faces include Numerals and two faces dedicated to highlighting your Activity information. Some of the other familiar faces, like Motion, Timelapse, and Photos, are also getting a needed boost with complication support. There are also a number of new Apple-produced complications.
Anyone who loves all things Disney should be excited to hear that a new Minnie Mouse face has been along with the fun Mickey one. As a cool touch, Mickey or Minnie face, the iconic characters will tell you the time.
Quickly switching between faces is now much easier. Instead of a Force Touch, simply swipe from the left or right edge of the screen to scroll through all of your face options.
Users can also do much more with the Apple Watch companion app with iOS 10. You can view all of the different available faces and edit each to select a specific color, complications, and other information.
Scribble actually works well for short messages.
The Messages app on the watch has also been improved with a number of features thanks to the changes in iOS 10.
One of the unique watch-only features is Scribble. If you need to create a unique message that’s not one of the usual Apple Watch replies, just use your own handwriting. The watch will turn it into text. It really works much better than you’d think, and is great for a short message when you don’t want to use Siri.
The future is bright for the wearable device.
With watchOS 3, Apple continues to show it’s in the wearable game for the long haul and will pivot when needed.
When the watch was introduced in 2014, CEO Tim Cook noted it was “the most personal device we’ve ever made.” But that took a significant turn with the Series 2 introduction last week as the two major new hardware features – built-in GPS and 50-meter water resistance – are designed to make the device even more attractive as a health and fitness tracker.
Watch apps have taken back seat – for now. While the device has true long-term potential as a standalone communication device, it could be a few years before the before Apple adds cellular connectivity because of battery life concerns.
Until then, the device’s notification support, watch face complications, and Apple Pay should help guide the ship and help draw more iPhone users into the ecosystem. The future is bright, but we’ll need to be patient.