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This Fall, if you have an Apple Watch Series 4 or newer, you’ll get some fancy new features for free with watchOS 9. Leading the pack is more advanced Sleep Tracking that breaks down the stages, streamlined notifications, and some significant updates to Workout tracking.
And I’ve been using the watchOS 9 Developer Beta since early June when Apple unveiled its next generation of software at WWDC 2022. And if you can’t wait to try out the latest version of watchOS, it’s now rolling out as a Public Beta.
But a public beta is still a beta, meaning it’s not final software, and you can experience slowdowns, hiccups, or bugs. Before installing, I’d highly recommend backing up your device, and you will need to have the iOS 16 Public Beta on your companion iPhone as well. So it’s a double dive-in.
I’m also ready to break out my preview of these new features — it’s not a full review that will arrive this Fall, but for now, let’s talk about what’s been catching my attention in watchOS 9.
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Sleep Tracking Gets an Upgrade
Apple launched Sleep Tracking on the Apple Watch in 2020 with watchOS 7, which was a long time coming. But the approach was basic sleep tracking that offered the number of hours you were asleep and time awake. It was about starting good habits but didn’t provide a crazy amount of detail like what you could get from a Samsung Galaxy Watch or a Fitbit.
That changes with watchOS 9, as once you wake up in the morning, you’ll see how much time you spent in different stages — Awake, REM, Core, and Deep. And might I mention that the user interface is crafted nicely with calming colors and multiple ways to intake the data (tables, graphs, etc.). With this, you can see your time in each stage and how it all adds up to you meeting your sleep goal. After a few nights, you’ll be able to see some trends, including whether you’ve increased or decreased overall sleep time and how often you spend in each stage.
It’s a nice update and doesn’t seem to eat at the battery any more than sleep tracking does typically. And that goes for my usage of watchOS 9 on an Apple Watch SE and a Series 7. It’s still using the same sensors to track through the stages and your degrees of movement throughout the night.
Medications is a True Game-Changer
And Apple didn’t stop with health features, just with advanced sleep tracking in watchOS 9. As I wrote in my iOS 16 preview here, Apple’s also delivering a dedicated app on the watch for tracking Medications that you take. It’s built into the Health app on iOS, and you’ll start with it by adding the medications you take daily or as needed. You can manually type them in or scan the bottle — the latter is neat and happy. It will ask you to set a time you usually take the pill and deliver reminders.
The idea is pretty simple, but it’s an important feature that pushes Apple’s health ambitions further. For the everyday Apple Watch wearer, it’s helpful to stay on track with your medicine and even log in when you take them. On your wrist in the Medications app, you can see the pills on tap for today, a complete list of your medicine, and any that you have logged. And using a database, the application can even warn of potential interferences.
Medications sit alongside advanced sleep-tracking and a new “Afib History” capability. Mainly for those with AFib, it will provide a history showing how often you’re in it when wearing the watch and even let you export it to a PDF to share with your doctor.
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Four New Watch Faces
One thing you can always count on with a watchOS update is the arrival of a new face. And in watchOS 9, Apple is rolling out four of them: Astronomy, Lunar, Playtime, and Metropolitan.
Astronomy is technically an update, but Astronomy looks mighty fine with the ability to put the Earth, Moon, Solar System, or a rotation between the three. It even has neat animations when you raise the rest that will have you zooming around.
A Bevy of Workout Features
Admittedly, I am still going through and playing with all the workout features, but my favorite thus far is an update to the Workout tracking view. You can now swipe up to still the length you’ve been working out by also seeing your rings with breakouts for all three. It’s much easier than closing out of the app and going to Activity to see how much more you have to go.
Another addition is a multisport workout in which you can plan out tracking for a triathlon or your preferred weekend workout. You’ll be able to preplan which type of workout you’ll start with and what you’re going into next. The watch can even auto-detect if you switch to a different activity and suggest tracking it. Similar to iOS 16, watchOS 9 is being a bit more intelligent and proactive.
Heart Rate Zones are finally here, and their visuals look great. It’s been on point with competing wearables as well with performance. And with Running workouts, it will now track Stride Length, Ground Contact Time, and Vertical Oscillation.
Still More Arriving on Your Wrist
While I’ve spent a lot of time with watchOS 9, there are still other features I’ll be playing around with over the coming weeks. I’ve covered the major stuff here, and it’s shaping to be a nice update focusing on health, with refinements to the rest of the experience.
watchOS 9 brings some redesigns to applications, including Reminders and Calendar, plus it streamlines Notifications. All-in-all a nice, reasonably jam-packed free update for your Apple Watch — that is, as long as you have a Series 4, 5, 6, 7, or SE.
watchOS 8 is the end of the line for the Series 3, and now could be an excellent time to upgrade. Especially with the Apple Watch Series 7 currently at all-time low prices on Amazon:
- Apple Watch Series 7 41mm GPS in Green ($284, originally $399; amazon.com)
- Apple Watch Series 45mm GPS in Green ($314, originally $429; amazon.com)
- Apple Watch Series 7 41mm GPS + Cellular in Green ($429, originally $499; amazon.com)
- Apple Watch Series 7 45mm GPS + Cellular in Green ($459, originally $529; amazon.com)
What Apple Watches Will Get watchOS 9?
The Apple Watch Series 4, Series 5, Series 6, Series 7, and SE will get a free update to watchOS 9 when it fully releases this Fall. The Apple Watch will also need to be connected to an iPhone running iOS 16.
And those are the same watches that are eligible to install the public beta of watchOS 9 shortly. Keep in mind, though, that you will also need to take the jump and install the iOS 16 beta on your iPhone. We’d also highly recommend installing the beta on a secondary device and, at a minimum, completing a backup.
Prices are accurate and items in stock at time of publishing.