WWDC is an interesting event for Apple Watch fans. Apple doesn’t want to reveal its hardware plans this early in the year with the next Watch still some months away. But it does want to get developers excited about making apps for it.
The result? An unveiling of the next generation of watchOS, which can often bring some clues about where the hardware is going to go.
- WWDC 2020 live blog: everything Apple announced
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1. More independence
There are now more than 20,000 watchOS apps, and Apple’s own apps are becoming more independent from the iPhone: in watchOS 7 your dictation will now happen directly on the device, and you’ll be able to use real-time language translation too.
That’s quite demanding, so it’s really going to benefit from the increased processing power of Apple’s next-generation Watch processor.
You’ll also be able to share Watch faces directly from your device, and take advantage of Apple Maps’ new cycling directions in some US and Chinese cities; more cities will be added later in the year.
2. Built-in sleep tracking, but perhaps not better stamina
It’s unclear which Apple Watch models the new built-in sleep tracking will support, but you can be certain the Apple Watch 6 will be one of them. The new Sleep Mode turns the display off and only shows a dimly lit time when you tap it, and it’s clever enough to detect not just motion, but the rise and fall of your breathing, to gain an accurate picture of your sleep.
The keynote specifically mentioned the wake-up screen showing battery life “so you can remember to charge”, which suggests the next Apple Watch isn’t going to have massively increased battery life.
3. Improved audio
With on-device dictation and language translation being key selling points of the new watchOS, it’s likely that we’ll see improvements to the Apple Watch’s microphones: the clearer the audio input, the less work the processor has to do to understand it.
The new watchOS 7 will also offer improved sound level monitoring, and it will analyze your headphones to see if you’ve been listening to them too loud for too long. It’s unclear whether that will apply to all headphones, or just Apple’s own ones.
4. Better health tracking
We asked last year whether Apple “could be positioning this as an overall health device as well as one for physical fitness?” The answer is a firm yes: during the keynote, the Apple Watch was described as an “intelligent guardian for your health.” From cycle tracking to sound monitoring, watchOS 7 wants to make you better informed and more aware of what your body is doing.
Apple hasn’t confirmed the leaks indicating it will be adding blood oxygen level detection to the next Apple Watch, but as the code was in a leaked version of iOS 14 it’s a pretty safe bet. That will be a useful supplement to the existing health and movement tracking sensors, which Apple has used to introduce a new form of fitness tracking: Dance.
It uses what Apple calls “advanced sensor fusion” to get input from the accelerometer and gyroscope to work out what your arms are doing (unlike walking or running, they don’t always do the same as your legs) and combines that with heart rate sensing to calculate the calories you’re burning.
There are four new workout types in watchOS 7: in addition to Dance, there’s Core Training, Functional Strength Training, and Cooldown. And the app you’ll be tracking them in has a new design and a new name, with Activity being renamed to Fitness.
5. More customization
Each Watch release bring some new watch faces, and the Apple Watch 6 will be no exception. Those faces will be more customizable too, because Apple now enables you to run multiple versions of the same complication at the same time. For example, you might use a fitness app to show more than one of your metrics on your watch face.
6. More notifications to disable
If like us the first thing you did with Breathe, heart rate and sound volume notifications was to turn them all off so they’d stop annoying you, there’s going to be a new one to disable on your next Apple Watch: handwashing.
It will automatically detect vigorous hand movement consistent with handwashing - even listening for the tell-tale sound of squirting soap – and we will try very hard not to make any puerile jokes about it.
If you don’t disable it, it will give you a soapy countdown until 20 seconds are up and urge you not to stop if you try to finish prematurely. Data will be shared with the Health app so you can see just how hygienic you are.
We know it’s important. We do. But we’ll be honest, it wasn’t exactly on our wish list for the next Apple Watch.
7. A release date near the end of the year
As expected, watchOS 7 is due for release “this fall” (meaning September or later this year), so it’s a safe bet that that’s when we’ll see the Apple Watch 6 too. More specifically, we'll probably see it in early to mid-September based on past form.
Apple may have played its wearable cards close to its chest this week, but the days when Apple leaks were harder to get than a deep discount on the iPhone 11 Pro are long gone: these days we usually know most of the hardware stuff weeks before Apple announces it, so stay tuned for Apple Watch 6 leaks, rumors and predictions in the coming months.
- iOS 14 has also been announced in full