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watchOS 9 – features, release date, beta, compatibility

We take a look at the next release of Apple’s smartwatch operating system, and what it can do for you.

Reviewed By: Kevin Pocock

Last Updated on December 1, 2023
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So watchOS 9 is coming, and it’s looking great. The new Apple Watch operating system is packed with new features, including new watch faces, health benefits, exercise options, and more.

New Watch Faces

Apple Watch and watchOS already come with a wide range of exciting faces, but with watchOS 9, we get a few extra.

The Astronomy face has been completely overhauled. The new version displays time through a continuously updating 3D model of the Earth, the moon, and the solar system.

These models have been remastered to take advantage of the watch’s larger display area. And they show continually updated cloud coverage too.

Another astronomy-influenced new face is Lunar. It’s an impressively detailed face showing the relationship between the Gregorian and lunar calendars.

The Lunar calendar is used in many cultures such as Chinese, Islamic, and Hebrew, but even if you don’t need it, the new face looks great and leaves plenty of room for Complications.

Chicago-based illustrator and artist Joi Fulton created the Partytime watch face, which features fun animated numerals that change as you rotate the Digital Crown.

Finally, there’s the Metropolitan face, a classic design with plenty of complications, space and again, numerals that change as the Digital Crown is rotated.

As well as the four new watch faces, significant changes have been made to existing offerings.

The Portraits face offers a depth effect on more photos. This includes pics of cats, dogs, and landscapes, and allows the subject to sit in front of the digital time display. Existing watch faces like Modular, Modular Compact, and X-Large can be customized in new ways too.

Look out for full-screen background colors, gradients, and more.

Health and Welfare

There are some great new health features coming to Apple Watch with watchOS 9.

We already have a heart monitor that can detect atrial fibrillation (AFib), an irregular heart rhythm that begins in your heart’s upper chambers (the atria).

If an irregular heartbeat is detected, watchOS gives you a warning. But watchOS 9 takes this further, with AFib tracking over time.

This information can be shared with healthcare professionals who can give you advice on dealing with any identified condition.

Something else you can track in watchOS 9 is sleep patterns. Using signals from the accelerometer and its heart rate sensor, watchOS 9 detects when users are in REM, Core, or Deep sleep.

You can review this information on your iPhone, checking metrics such as time asleep, heart rate, and respiratory rate.

Another new feature, Medications, lets you track the medicines, supplements, and vitamins you may take on a regular basis. You can create a custom schedule for each item, and have the watch remind you when you need to take it.

A great feature – that’s only available in the USA at launch – checks these items against each other and warns you if they’re likely to interact poorly, making the medicine less effective or causing side effects.

We hope this feature will roll out worldwide soon, being that it could be very useful to have as a guide.

The Workout app has gotten a boost

Taking Exercise

The Apple Watch is already a great exercise companion, and with watchOS 9, it gets even better.

The Workout app gets a boost, with multiple views toggled using the Digital Crown during an exercise session. You can monitor the intensity of a workout with Heart Rate Zones so you can see how hard your heart is working while you exercise.

These zones can be created manually or calculated using personalized health data.

There’s a new Multisport workout, so if you’re competing or training in a triathlon, your Workout app automatically switches between swimming, biking, and running workouts using the watch’s motion sensors to ascertain what exercise you’re currently doing.

For runners, the Running workout measures a greater range of metrics. New stats include Stride Length, Ground Contact Time, and Vertical Oscillation (how much you wobble and sway as you run). You can use this information to adjust your running style for greater efficiency, and measure your progress over time.

For swimmers, Kickboard detection has been added as a new stroke type for Pool Swim workouts. This gives you important information for when swimming multiple lengths of the pool.

Apple Fitness+ workouts have been refreshed, adding real-time information gleaned from the Apple Watch to the iPhone’s exercise screen so you can keep an eye on it without constantly looking down at your watch face.

Finally, the summary in the Fitness app has been redesigned too, giving more information about the workout you’ve just completed.

Everything Else

There’s plenty more to look forward to in watchOS 9 too. Notifications are less intrusive, arriving with slimline banners while you’re actually using the watch.

No more having an incoming message dominating the screen while you’re looking for a song to play in the Music app. When you open the Dock, apps that are currently being used are emphasized, making it easier to switch between applications you’re currently using, and new Quick Actions let you interact with the watch using simple gestures.

You can double-pinch to answer or end a phone call, take a photo, play or pause media, and more.

The QWERTY keyboard, which is exclusive to Apple Watch Series 7, adds support for French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese (Brazil), and Spanish (Mexico, Spain, Latin America) keyboard layouts.

For family users, your kids can be invited to control HomePod speakers and smart home accessories with their Apple Watch.

For Apple Watch owners with disabilities, Apple Watch Mirroring helps users control their Apple Watch remotely from their paired iPhone. You can even operate your watch using voice, sound, head tracking, and compatible external hardware.

In Reminders, watchOS 9 lets you add or edit key details such as date and time, location, tags, and notes, and in the updated Calendar app you can create events from Apple Watch, and view your schedule in a Week view.

We can hardly wait…

watchOS 9 release date

watchOS 9 is not due for release until September. As you’d expect, it’s a free upgrade.

If you’re keen to take a look at it sooner, there’s a public beta due later this month; go to beta.apple.com/sp/betaprogram to sign up. We don’t recommend you install a beta on your main Apple Watch, though. It’s unfinished and likely to contain bugs.

watchOS 9 compatibility

To run watchOS 9, your Apple Watch must be one of the following:

  • Apple Watch Series 7
  • Apple Watch Series 6
  • Apple Watch SE
  • Apple Watch Series 5
  • Apple Watch Series 4