WWDC Apple watchOS 3: What you need to know

Apple has obliterated some of the biggest criticisms of its Watch

Apple announced watchOS 3 at WWDC 2016. It’s a significant software upgrade that improves performance and usability while introducing new features any Apple Watch user will enjoy.

Major performance improvements

Apple has done lots of work to improve performance on the device, including development of an impressively lean new memory architecture. Not only does watchOS 3 keep your favorite apps in memory (up to around 16 of them, I think), but it also supports background updates and refreshed information in order to deliver instant launch of apps. Users and developers had complained at lengthy app loading times, so this is a welcome improvement – apps should load up to seven times faster than before.

Killer app: Emergency calls

Apple continues to dream up killer apps for Apple Watch. Apple Pay is one and the new Emergency Button is another. If you are in trouble you press and hold the side button on the watch to make an emergency call. The Watch is smart enough to figure out what country it is in and will dial the relevant authorities, over Wi-Fi if your cellular connection isn’t working. You can speak to emergency services and the watch will share you medical and emergency ID information with them, as well as sending an SOS (including your location) to friends and family.

watchmessageactivity Apple

The best way to find apps

Apple Watch now has the performance it needs to offer its own Dock through which you can access your apps, rather than Glances mode. Like the iOS app switcher you can swipe quickly between available apps. You can choose up to 10 apps to keep there in addition to your most recently used app. The apps then remain active in the background and ready to use the moment you flick to them. You access this using the side button that until now has pretty much only summoned Apple Pay and your most called contacts. You also use the side button to contact emergency services (see above). You’ll find an ‘Add to Dock’ button you can use to add your most important apps to your collection.

Now you'll want to use the companion iPhone app

The UI of the Apple Watch app on iPhone has seen a lot of improvement and now feels like an app you don’t mind being inside. One great example of this is when you want to choose watch faces, as you can see all available faces and customize them for your needs all from within the app on your iPhone. You’ll also like the new Find My Apple Watch feature on iCloud and the iPhone.

Control more

Control Center has been spruced up and now offers access to battery life, Airplane Mode, Silent, Do Not Disturb, Find My iPhone and Lock option. You can also scroll down to find headphone and output options, or sideways to access your media.

Stay in (digital) touch

There are big improvements to Messages on Apple Watch, including the inclusion of potential responses (canned, spoken emoji and digital touch) on the same screen as your message. My favorite improvement is the new capacity to quickly scribble a reply on your Watch which it turns into text. The redesign should make the app more intuitive in use, and you’ll find similar usability and interface-focused design tweaks in all the Apple-supplied Watch apps. You can also sent stickers and invisible ink items you may have received from an iPhone from your watch.

Apple has improved Messages on the Watch, but my favorite is the capacity to scribble a reply the watch turns into text letter by letter.

On the face of it

Watch faces are much easier to change. You only need to swipe left or right on your watch screen from edge to edge to switch between faces. While Apple still doesn’t support third party watch faces for some reason, it has introduced three more: Minnie Mouse, Activity and Numerals. The Photo, Motion and Timelapse now support complications.


Apple continues in its quest to figure out how to make Apple Watch an essential tool for personal health. The new Breathe app is a gift to the stressed out 24/7 person who needs help calming him- or herself down. This kind of meditative, mindfulness-promoting activity can fight depression and anxiety and improve attentiveness. Apple did a ton of research to develop Breathe, and in use the app has lots of ways to help you chill, including effective use of haptic feedback.

Activity for everyone

One key improvement to Activity is the introduction of Messages support through activity sharing so you can share your activity with friends and family, who can encourage or compete with you. That kind of gamification can really help people maintain fitness. Apple has also developed a version of Activity for wheelchair users. This has been scientifically developed to help people in a wheelchair maintain fitness levels. It does this by tracking the different hand movements they use to get around in different situations, and also offers two workouts that can be used to maintain fitness. I hope to discuss this feature in more depth next week.

facebreathactivity Apple

New apps too

The new Home app will let you control HomeKit devices from your Watch. Watch-optimized versions of Find My Friends and Reminders are also on the way.

Back to the Mac

Unlock your Mac when you are nearby with an Apple Watch.


WWDC is a developer event, so Apple has updated TestFlight to supports apps built for the new beta OS’s.

'A brand new Watch'

From what little I saw at WWDC I think every Apple Watch user will find a lot to like in the new OS. The near zero latency when using apps on the device will go a long way toward convincing many of us to use apps more often, and this should also encourage developers to introduce new apps and add new features to what's available.

Developers and users wanted to enjoy seamless user experiences and this was hard to accomplish with the slight delay when launching apps -- now that delay is gone Apple has obliterated some of the biggest criticisms of its Watch.

I think this impressive upgrade will be like a brand new watch for some users. I also think it sets the scene for much improved new models in future. Sadly the new OS won’t ship until autumn/fall.

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Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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