Apple renews watchOS 10 with widgets, topo maps, awareness features and more

Image credits: Apple

Confirming previous reports, Apple’s watchOS 10 for its Apple Watch is proving to be quite an upgrade. At the company’s Worldwide Developer Conference today, Apple previewed upcoming improvements to its smartwatch operating system, which include an updated user interface with a renewed focus on widgets, as well as updated proprietary apps, such as Compass, Mindfulness, Maps and more, plus other new features.

The Apple Watch UI hasn’t seen a sizable upgrade in many years, despite the addition of new features and a larger Apple Watch screen size, with the debut of the Apple Watch Ultra. Meanwhile, Apple’s plan to translate the App Store’s success onto its smallest screen is on the wane. In recent years, a number of third-party apps have been pulled from the Apple Watch App Store, including Messenger, Slack, Uber, Twitter, Amazon, eBay, and more. Metas WhatsApp recently launched its first smartwatch app on Google’s Wear OS, despite its smaller market share.

App makers have often said that they realized they could reach their users via notifications on the Apple Watch and that they didn’t need to maintain a fully native app to do so.

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To address this shift, Apple is doubling down on the notion that app launches shouldn’t be the primary way to deliver information and updates to Apple Watch wearers. With the introduction of new widgets in watchOS 10, users can instead preview updates in a familiar format.

While the first Apple Watch featured a widget system called Glances, it was removed in watchOS 3 when Apple promoted its native apps agenda. The new widgets are sort of a combination of Looks and widgets introduced by Apple for iPhones running iOS 14. In watchOS 10, users will be able to swipe various widgets for common tasks, such as viewing the weather or calendar appointments, activity tracking, stock control and more.

To access the new watchOS 10 widgets, you can simply turn the Digital Crown. For example, you might see weather widgets or meetings and appointments. These appear in an on-screen Smart Stack, a term Apple uses to explain the new interface that brings widgets proactive and relevant information to the watch face.

Previously, pressing the Digital Crown on the side of the Apple Watch accessed the Home screen, so this is a significant change in how you use your smartwatch.

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Machine learning will update the widgets throughout the day as needed, allowing you to view the morning weather, see your boarding passes, track times to take your medication, or view sleep data, among other things. The Calendar app and Reminders will scramble to the top when meetings or tasks are coming up, while running apps, like podcasts, will also bump up so they’re readily available, Apple explains.

The feature would allow users to leverage simple, uncomplicated dials to deliver information, as the data would be easily accessed with one turn of the digital crown.

Third-party apps will also be able to use these widgets, and some early adopters include the Streaks progress tracker, the NBA app, and Waterllama.

Meanwhile, a press on the Side button will bring up the Control Center while a double-click on the Digital Crown will take you back to all your recently used apps.

Additionally, Apple is updating its core smartwatch apps, including World Clock, with new background colors that reflect the time of day and the ability to easily see friends in different time zones. The redesigned Activity apps include icons in the corners that you can tap to access your weekly summary share or rewards. There’s also a new trophy case, full-screen views when rotating the Digital Crown, and Apple Fitness+ trainer tips.

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There are also a couple of new watch faces, including Snoopy and Woodstock, and a new Palette color watch face, with overlaid layers of colors that change as time changes. On Snoopy’s face, characters interact and play with the hands of the watch, react to weather conditions in the area, or even get activated when the user gets a workout, Apple says.

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The Apple Watch got a new bike workout feature, which will include a new workout view with new metrics, like Power Zones, support for live activities on iPhone, and the ability to connect to Bluetooth-enabled bike sensors. When you tap live activity on the iPhone, it will use the full screen. Other training views have also been optimized for the iPhone display, including heart rate zones, altitude, race route, custom workouts and the new cycling speed view. This makes it easy for you to see this data when your phone is mounted on a bike.

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New algorithms that combine data from Apple Watch sensors and connected power meters on bikes can estimate functional threshold power (FTP), which is the highest level of pedaling intensity a cyclist could theoretically maintain for an hour. Using FTP, Apple Watch calculates a custom metric by calling power zones. These are shown to cyclists who want to monitor their performance.

The Compass app will also now automatically generate two new waypoints, one showing where you last had a cellular signal (Last Cellular Waypoint Connection) and another showing where on your route you can place an emergency call (Last Call Emergency Waypoint).

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You will also have access to an Elevation view using altimeter data, where you can view your saved waypoints.

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Apple Maps will get new topo maps with trailheads, contour lines, hill shading, elevation gain and more, starting in the U.S. You can also search to discover nearby trails and Trailhead categories so you can review additional information like trail name , difficulty level length, elevation gain and more before heading out on the hike.

Various Apple Watch apps, including weather, stocks, home, maps, messages, world clock and others, now use multiple Apple Watch displays for more visible information, Apple notes.

Developers, meanwhile, will have access to high-frequency motion data that will help them track things like the swing of a golf club or tennis racket in their apps, with watchOS 10.

Another change involves a new feature for the Mindfulness app that lets you track your daily emotions and mood, even moving the digital crown to scroll through shapes to choose how you’re feeling. This mental state information can then be tracked in the Health app on iOS 17 or iPadOS 17 along with other health data.

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Meanwhile, with Family Setup, time and daylight can be measured from a child’s Apple Watch, even if they don’t have their own iPhone, Apple says, and parents can keep track of this information. A new field called Screen Distance will measure whether a child is holding a device too close (closer than 12 inches) for an extended period of time and will then encourage them to move the device further away. The Screen Distance feature uses the same TrueDepth camera that powers Face ID on the iPad and iPhone, Apple notes.

Some other changes to watchOS 10 include support for the AirDrop-based contact exchange feature, NameDrop; follow-up reminders in the Medications app, personalized plans in Apple Fitness+ based on days, duration, type of workout and more; support for playing new FaceTime video messages; also offline maps on iPhone can now provide navigation on paired Apple Watch.

Bloomberg broke news of watchOS 10 updates ahead of the event, calling the revamp one of the most significant updates to the operating system since the Apple Watch first debuted. This prediction appears to be true as changes have been rolled out at today’s event, given UI restyling and app updates, which will impact how users interface with Apple’s popular wearable.

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