While the brand-new iPhone 6s and the iPad Pro may have been the stars of the show at Apple’s September 9 iPhone announcement, Cupertino also made an important announcement about the Apple Watch. The next version of the wearable’s operating system, called watchOS 2, will be released on September 16. This isn’t an insignificant upgrade. In fact, as Danielle Levitas reports for TechCrunch, this operating system upgrade will be a game-changer.
The primary reason why watchOS 2 is such a big deal is that it enables the Apple Watch to run native apps for the first time ever. Currently, any apps created for the watch depend on a paired iPhone for the heavy lifting. The fact that the Apple Watch has so far not supported native apps, combined with the small screen size of the device, has posed a significant challenge to developers, and it shows. Levitas reports that as of early September, there were 11,469 apps for the Watch. That figure represents 274% growth since the launch of the Apple Watch. The iPhone, conversely, saw 437% growth within the first three months of its app store’s existence.
But the Apple Watch and its app store are due to make up some lost ground thanks to the new operating system. Developers will find it easier to create more compelling Apple Watch apps with watchOS 2. Here’s what to expect with the new operating system, and the assortment of apps that you’ll likely be able to use on your Apple Watch once the new software is released.
1. More powerful apps
Most importantly, watchOS 2 will enable developers to build faster, more capable, and more powerful apps for the Apple Watch. Apps will run natively on the watch — which means that they’ll load more quickly and gain new capabilities. Apps will be able to access more of the Apple Watch’s hardware, including the Taptic Engine, Digital Crown, accelerometer, heart rate sensor, speaker, and microphone.
Levitas reports for TechCrunch that because developers will now have access to all of those sensors, new categories of apps are likely to emerge to make your life easier when completing tasks related to everything from meal-planning to traveling. Apps created for watchOS 2 will be much more capable in “encouraging general wellness,” and Levitas thinks that some may even “provide actual medical diagnosis by tracking your body temperature, heart rate and other biometrics.” More personalized and customized notifications are also likely to result.
Apple’s own apps for the Apple Watch are also gaining new features, like the ability to reply to emails with a dictated response, an emoji, or a list of preset replies. The Friends feature on Apple Watch will enable you to add multiple screens, each of which will hold 12 contacts. Digital Touch will let you draw in multiple colors. Maps will show you transit directions on your wrist. Apple Pay will enable you to add a Discover card, store credit cards, or rewards cards. Siri will be able to complete even more tasks.
2. Watch faces
On its website previewing watchOS 2, Apple explains that the operating system upgrade will bring “new looks and uses” for the Apple Watch’s faces. There will be new time lapse watch faces, featuring videos shot over 24 hours in Hong Kong, London, Mack Lake, Paris, New York, and Shanghai. Alternatively, Apple Watch users will be able to choose a Photo to use as a watch face, selecting from among the images in the Photos app. (With the new Live Photos feature debuting on the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus, you’ll also be able to choose a photo that’s animated with the action took place 1.5 seconds before and after you took the photo.) Users will also be able to choose to set an entire photo album as their watch face, and each time they lift their wrist, a different image will appear on the watch face.
Complications on Apple Watch faces have so far been limited to a few preset categories, like Weather or World Clock. With watchOS 2, data from third-party apps can also be made into complications. You’ll be able to check your flight time or see information from smart home devices from the face of the Apple Watch.
4. Time Travel
WatchOS 2 also adds a new feature called Time Travel, which enables you to turn the Digital Crown to see what’s happening, and what’s already happened, today, yesterday, or tomorrow. You’ll be able to see information on the weather, the appointments you have scheduled, or even important news headlines that you may have missed. Pressing the Digital Crown will then return you to the current time.
5. Nightstand Mode
When you’re done wearing your Apple Watch for the day, you can place it on its side and connect it to the charger. WatchOS 2 will enable it to automatically go into Nightstand mode. The face will then illuminate anytime you touch the screen, the Digital Crown, or the side button. The mode also assigns new functions to the watch’s buttons, so that when an alarm goes off, you can press the side button to turn it off or the Digital Crown to snooze.