What's New in watchOS 6
watchOS 6, released in September 2019, is the current version of the operating system designed to run on the Apple Watch. Like its predecessors, watchOS 6 brings new watch faces, updated apps, updated health features, and, for the first time, a dedicated App Store.
Apple added an App Store you can access right on your wrist, and now that there's an App Store, you don't need your iPhone to download apps. Apps can be downloaded on the Apple Watch independent of the iPhone, something that hasn't previously been possible. You can browse through the App Store app to find apps, or you can use a Siri-voiced based search, or the Scribble app, and all the apps in the Apple Watch App Store can be installed without opening up the iPhone.
New watch faces in watchOS 6 include Modular Compact, Solar Dial, California, Gradient, Numerals Mono, and Numerals Duo, each with a unique look. Some of these faces are limited to newer Apple Watch models, however, and aren't available on older models.
There's a Noise app that's designed to measure the noise level of the environment you're in, and it's able to send a notification if the sound is loud enough to result in damage to your hearing. Notifications are sent whenever the decibel level reaches 90 decibels.
Apple has also added a Cycle Tracking app on Apple Watch (and, on iPhone, in the Health app) that lets women log information related to their menstrual cycles for period and fertility tracking.
In the Activity app on the iPhone, there's a Trends tab that provides a long-term view of your activity so you can get a better overall look at your progress. The Trends feature shows whether trends are up or down for active calories, exercise minutes, walking pace, and more, and coaching is included to help you reach your fitness goals.
Several iOS apps have been ported to the Apple Watch for the first time, including Audiobooks, Calculator, and Voice Memos. The Calculator app has built-in tools for calculating tips and splitting checks, while Voice Memos lets you record quick voice-based reminders.
There are several new complications you can add to your Apple Watch faces, including decibel level, cellular strength, and rain probability. A Voice Memos complication lets you record a voice memo from your wrist without opening an app, while an Audiobooks complication lets you play your audiobooks quickly.
A Taptic Engine feature allows the Apple Watch to tap out the hour on your wrist, and you can set a chime to ring in the new hour. If you hold two fingers on the watch face, it tells you the time out loud.
When you search for something using Siri on Apple Watch, Siri is now able to pull up full webpage results, displaying the info right on your wrist. Siri can also look up song lyrics using Shazam without your iPhone being nearby.
In the Messages app, you can access Animoji and Memoji stickers to send to people based on your own Memojis and favorite Animoji characters.
watchOS 6 includes updated tools for developers that allow third-party apps to stream music, radio, and podcasts, so these features are no longer be limited to Apple's own apps. Apple says Core ML on Apple Watch uses the Neural Engine, which allows for faster processing of on-device inputs.
watchOS 6 was released to the public on Thursday, September 19, 2020. The watchOS 6 update also requires an iPhone that's running iOS 13 to work, so those with a newer Apple Watch but an older iPhone that can't run iOS 13 or later won't be able to install the software and will need to continue to use iOS 12 or earlier.
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Current Version - watchOS 6.2.6
The current version of watchOS 6 is watchOS 6.2.6, released to the public on June 1. watchOS 6.2.6 addresses a security vulnerability and is recommended for all compatible Apple Watch models. watchOS 6.2.6 comes just a week after the launch of watchOS 6.2.5, an update that brought the ECG app and irregular heart rhythm notifications to Saudi Arabia.
watchOS 6.2.5 also included new Pride-themed Apple Watch faces designed to match 2020 Apple Watch Pride bands.
Apple has also seeded the first beta of an upcoming watchOS 6.2.8 update to developers for testing purposes. The update appears to focus on bug fixes and under-the-hood performance improvements.
The main feature in watchOS 6 is an App Store, which lets you download apps directly on the Apple Watch for the first time.
The App Store on Apple Watch is a full App Store where you can browse apps curated by editors, search via dictation or scribble, and look for apps by category. As with the iOS App Store, there are product pages for each app that you can view to see app information like reviews, screenshots, app details, ratings, and more. From these product pages, you can purchase and install apps. As of watchOS 6.2, the Apple Watch App Store supports in-app purchases and subscription options.
Coupled with the watchOS App Store, Apple has made some pre-installed apps watch only, which means a larger number of pre-installed watchOS apps can be deleted. In watchOS 6, you can remove apps like Alarm, Timer, Stopwatch, Remote, Camera Remote, Radio, Walkie-Talkie, ECG, Breathe, Noise, Cycle Tracking, and more.
App APIs for Developers
Apps are able to be offered on a standalone basis in watchOS 6 because developers are now able to create independent Apple Watch apps that do not need to be tied to a companion iPhone app.
Developers also have access to an extended runtime API for accessing sensor data for a longer period of time, which let the watch do things like walk you through meditation, a workout, physical therapy, and more.
A streaming audio API lets third-party audio apps stream audio for the first time, so you can listen to streaming music with just your watch. Streaming audio was previously limited to Apple Music.
Software Updates Without iPhone
In the future, Apple Watch updates may be available over-the-air without an iPhone. In the watchOS 6 beta, there's a feature for updating the Apple Watch under Settings -> General -> Software Update.
Terms and conditions still need to be reviewed and accepted on an iPhone, which means there's still some iPhone interaction, but that could potentially be removed in the future.
New Watch Faces
watchOS 6 includes several new watch faces, though some of these are limited to the Apple Watch Series 4 and are not available on older Apple Watch models. Watch faces can be customized with different colors and complications.
There are new Numerals Duo and Numerals Mono faces, both of which focus on putting the time front and center. Numerals Duo features the time in a digital readout, while Numerals Mono shows the hour in digital format but also provides an analog face.
The Modular Compact watch face is similar to the standard Modular face, but as the name suggests, it fits even more complications than the original Modular face. It lets you have a large watch face dial right alongside complications.
With a Gradient watch face, you can choose a color and then it animates as the time passes, shifting the location of the gradient.
The Solar Dial watch face visualizes the sun in a 24 hour path around the dial, shifting continually through the day and the night, and the California watch face offers standard analog dials and a unique mix of standard numbers and roman numerals for telling the time.
There are several new complications in watchOS 6 that can be used with the Apple Watch, though some are limited to Series 4 models.
- Wind - A measurement of the current wind speed.
- Rain - A measurement of the chance of rain.
- Noise - Measures the ambient noise in decibels.
- Voice Memos - Lets you record a voice memo.
- Audiobooks - Lets you resume your audiobook right where you left off.
- Cycle Tracking - Provides a shortcut to open the Cycle Tracking app.
- Cellular Strength - Shows you the strength of your cellular signal on an LTE Apple Watch.
- Calculator - Provides a shortcut to open the Calculator app.
Taptic Chimes are an Apple Watch feature designed to provide a silent taptic touch on your wrist at every hour. If sound is turned on, you'll also hear an audible chime.
There's also a Taptic Time feature accessible in Settings that causes the Apple Watch to tap a haptic version of the time. This setting is customizable, so you can have it tap in morse code or with various tap lengths to distinguish hours and minutes.
Holding two fingers on the watch face tells you the time out loud if the feature is enabled in the Settings app.
New and Updated Apps
The Audiobooks app is designed to let you listen to your audiobooks on your wrist without the need to start an audiobook on your iPhone.
Apple Books titles in your Reading Now list automatically syncs to your watch. Tapping on the cover of a book in Audiobooks causes it to play right where you left off regardless of which device you were listening on.
A Calculator app has been added to the Apple Watch in watchOS 6, allowing you to do quick calculations right on your wrist. Calculator includes a built-in tool for calculating a tip and splitting a bill with friends.
Voice Memos is a dedicated Apple Watch app in watchOS 6, letting you record quick voice-based notes. With a Voice Memos complication, you can record your thoughts with a quick press on the watch face.
To match the updated Reminders app in iOS 13 and macOS Catalina, the Apple Watch Reminders app has been updated too.
The new interface lets you quickly schedule a new reminder, and scroll with a finger or the digital crown lets you access all of the different sections like Today, Scheduled, Flagged, and All, along with individual lists of reminder categories you've created.
Messages now supports the Animoji stickers that were added in iOS 13, letting Apple Watch users send their favorite personalized stickers. Memoji stickers can also be sent, but only if they're in the recently sent character list ported over from the iPhone.
New Health Features
watchOS 6 includes Activity Trends, which can be viewed on the iPhone. Activity Trends compares your progress over the last 90 days to your progress over the prior 365 days so you can see if your trends are improving.
If your activity levels are declining rather than trending upwards, the Activity Trends app offers up helpful tips to keep you motivated. Trends upwards or downwards are distinguished with upward or downward arrows.
Activity Trends measures nine metrics such as Move, Exercise, Stand, Walking Pace, Stairs Climbed, and Cardio Fitness Level.
Apple Watch comes with a new Cycle Tracking app that's designed to allow women to track their menstrual cycles.
The Cycle Tracking app provides a simple discreet method for period tracking, providing tools to log various metrics. It also offers up period and fertility notifications.
Apple Watch is able to monitor the noise level around you in watchOS 6, making sure you're not exposed to noise and sound over time that can end up damaging your hearing.
Noise monitoring is done through a new Noise app that measures the decibels of the ambient environment using the Apple Watch's microphone, alerting you if sound over 90 decibels is detected. This feature also works with AirPods and headphones to make sure you're not listening to your music too loudly. The Noise app is limited to Series 4 and Series 5 Apple Watch models.
When you ask Siri a question that involves a web search, the results can now be displayed as full webpages on Apple Watch.
When connected via LTE, Siri can also now take advantage of Shazam even when an iPhone is not nearby for identifying songs.
When using Apple Watch with a Mac, there's now an option to approve security prompts by tapping on the side button of the watch when prompted by the Mac, and the Apple Watch also now displays Apple ID verification codes for when you need to log in to your Apple account on a new device or browser.
watchOS 6 is compatible with the Apple Watch Series 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. That means it's compatible with all Apple Watch models with the exception of the original Apple Watch released in 2015. An iPhone running iOS 13 is required to install watchOS 6.
What's Next for watchOS
watchOS 7, which is expected to launch this fall, will bring new watch face features, parental controls, and more, with details outlined below.
- Share Your Face - watchOS 7 will allow users to share specific watch face configurations with one another.
- Infograph Pro Watch Face - There's a new Infograph Pro watch face that includes a tachymeter. A tachymeter can be used to compute speed based on travel time.
- International Apple Watch Facewatch face that will show flags from different countries.
- Photos Watch Faces - In watchOS 7, watch faces created from photos can be made using a shared album in addition to individual photos and groups of photos from albums.
- Kids Mode - watchOS 7 will bring a Kids Mode to the Apple Watch, and it will include a tweaked Activity app to accommodate the new mode that tracks movement time instead of active calories burned.
- Parental Controls - watchOS 7 will add features for managing an Apple Watch for a child with a parent's phone.
- SchoolTime - Allows parents to manage which apps and complications can be used during specific hours.
- Control Center - Control center will feature new toggles for sleep mode and noise detection.
- Architecture - In watchOS 7, apps are no longer based on extensions, which is a holdover from when apps required a phone app to function. That was eliminated in watchOS 6, and now in watchOS 7, apps will not have an extension base.
- Blood Oxygen Tracking - According to code found in a leaked version of iOS 14, Apple is working on a watchOS 7 and Apple Watch Series 6 feature that will allow the Apple Watch to detect blood oxygen levels. It's not entirely clear if the feature will be limited to new Apple Watch Series 6 devices or if it will come as a software update in watchOS 7, as it may be possible for older Apple Watch models to detect blood oxygen levels.
- Design improvements - Israeli site The Verifier claims that Apple will add a "fresh design," Siri improvements, and unspecified updates to built-in apps.
- Mental Health Capabilities - watchOS 7 could include a feature that allows the Apple Watch to detect stress and panic attacks, providing breathing exercises. It's not clear if this feature requires new hardware and will be limited to the upcoming Series 6.
- Compatibility - watchOS 7 could be compatible with the Apple Watch Series 3 and later, with Apple dropping support for the Apple Watch Series 2 and earlier models.