Today at Apple's annual Worldwide Developers Conference, the company announced watchOS 3, the latest version of its operating system for the Apple Watch. Apple's main focus with this watchOS update is to make the device easier and more intuitive to use.
First, Apple's Kevin Lynch showed off how much faster watchOS 3 is compared to the previous version. Watch apps now launch instantly instead of taking a few seconds to load. Overall, watchOS 3 is about seven times faster than watchOS 2, which should make all activity on the watch more seamless. The OS update will also allow background app updates, which adds to increased speed and efficiency of the entire system.
Apple added a number of UI updates to the OS to make it more "familiar" and easier to use. There's a new dock where you can get information from your favorite apps without fully opening them, and a Control Center can be accessed by swiping up from the bottom of the Watch's display. When it comes to texts, you can now see "smart replies" on the display as well, so you can choose a quick reply to send to someone.
One of the more novel yet exciting announcements Apple showed was the ability to switch watch faces just by swiping on the display. The company is also releasing a Minnie Mouse watch face to complement the fan-favorite Mickey Mouse design that accompanied the original Apple Watch.
While most of the watchOS 3 updates deal with on-screen features, Apple did add one change that involves the side button. With the watch's new SOS feature, you can press and hold the side button to call 911 for help in any emergency. The watch will count down the call before it actually rings emergency services, and the call will be placed on your iPhone or via the watch itself if you're connected to WiFi. In addition, you can set up SOS to also send your emergency contact information, MedicalID, a message, and location data so help can find you faster. While most users may never have to use this feature, it will likely come in handy for elderly Apple Watch wearers or simply in an unexpected emergency.
Apple knows that many people use the Apple Watch primarily for fitness tracking, so the company created an activity sharing feature. Developed as a way to keep users motivated to achieve fitness goals, activity sharing lets Apple Watch wearers share data with their family and friends who also have Apple Watches. You can see their activity stats as well, including their activity rings (which is how the Apple Watch graphically shows stats like steps, calories, and more), workouts completed, step counts, third-party data, and more. There's also a built-in communication system in the activity sharing feature that will let users send messages of encouragement or "smack talk" to their friends who need a bit more fitness motivation.
The company is trying to make the Apple Watch's activity tracking features more inclusive as well, even for users in wheelchairs. Apple developed specific algorithms that will let the watch track the movements of wheelchair users so that activity can be counted in their activity rings. WatchOS 3 will track "several different techniques" of wheelchair movement, ping the wearer with a "time to roll" notification when they've been idle for too long (instead of the "time to stand" feature for non-wheelchair users), and include wheelchair-optimized workouts for users to try.
The other new fitness feature is an entirely new app called Breathe. It's a simple stress-control app that will guide you through deep breathing exercises in order to calm your mind. You'll be able to change the amount of time you want to focus on breathing each session, and you can launch the app from either the watch face, the dock, or automatically if you set it as a reminder during the day.
Apple's Kevin Lynch closed the watchOS 3 segment of the WWDC keynote by saying that the Apple Watch will "feel like a whole new watch" when watchOS 3 launches. As a first-generation product and Apple's first wearable, the Apple Watch was bound to go through changes in its operating system and UI as Apple learned how users interact with the device and what they found confusing. These internal improvements should make the Apple Watch work more efficiently and allow developers to make apps that work faster and integrate more seamlessly with Apple features (such as HealthKit and Apple Pay). Developers have access to a preview of watchOS 3 today, but Apple Watch users won't be able to download the update until the fall.