With the release of iOS 11 coming out next month, little has been said about watchOS 4 which has been overhauled this year with many new changes to both the performance and design.
Apple announced the watchOS 4 updates at WWDC 2017, which didn’t seem like a major change from watchOS 3, however, there is a lot more to the update than what originally meets the eye. Beyond its obvious new features, like a new Siri watch face, better workout tracking, and the ability to grab exercise data from gym equipment, watchOS 4 brings many other changes, especially to third-party apps. What’s new in watchOS 4 and what is Apple focused on improving for watchOS developers? Here are 7 key updates that will be rolling out next month in the new update:
A lot has been said about the new watch face, however, one of the major features that hasn’t been discussed nearly as much as it should is how Apple is giving third-party apps the ability to run a lot faster.
In the first versions of Apple’s watch, third-party apps were extremely slow with much of the criticism fixating on slow loading times. However, the real issue is the interaction time as users had to swipe through multiple screens, opening menus with 3D Touch. Users were unhappy with the number of actions they had to take and the time it took to complete an action.
With watchOS 4, apps will be a lot faster.
Apple has allowed third-party apps to run directly on the Apple Watch since watchOS 2. watchOS 4 however, will combine both the apps code and interface elements together into a single process that loads at runtime. This means that apps should run a lot smoother with more responsiveness to touch in addition to being faster overall.
Third-party apps on the Apple Watch used to be cumbersome. Navigating through watchOS to open them was a nuisance, and once the user opened them, the apps themselves were unresponsive, which frustrated users. This year, watchOS 4 aims to be a breakthrough for standalone apps.
“This is going to make a huge difference in the performance of your apps,” Ian Parks, who works on the watchOS software team, told the audience of developers at Apple’s WWDC 2017.
Furthermore, Apple has redesigned the App Store with iOS 11, so we can expect similar changes in watchOS 4 when searching for apps via the Apple Watch app on iPhone.
The Apple Watch can already run some standalone apps and make payments through Apple Pay without a data connection, and it can use Wi-Fi networks for connectivity when a paired iPhone isn’t in range. With watchOS 4, Apple is taking that independence a step further by letting the Watch connect directly to nearby Bluetooth devices. For the first time, Apple Watch will support Core Bluetooth, which means it can now bypass the iPhone entirely and communicate directly with certain Bluetooth-enabled devices.
The Watch’s new Bluetooth features should now let users connect directly to more specialized health and exercise devices, such as EKG monitors, smart surfboards, golf-swing monitors, and tennis trackers. This is an important technical building block that makes Apple Watch even more useful. In fact, one of the companies that Apple invited to demo this feature was Xensr, which makes sensors that can be attached to surfboards to provide users with valuable data while at sea. Users can see where they’ve surfed, how long they’ve been riding waves, and much more.
Xensr is building an Apple Watch app that’ll take advantage of watchOS 4’s new features, which means surfers can connect their watch directly to their Xensr sensor. Not only will users be able to see all of their data on their wrist, it will also be enhanced by the fitness data the Watch captures.
Another big highlight is support for a new technology platform called GymKit, which will let users wirelessly sync fitness data between cardio machines at a gym and their Apple Watches. Now that watchOS 4 has the ability to grab workout data from gym equipment, it could also foreshadow greater smartwatch independence for the next update. Outside of Apple Pay, it’s the first instance of Apple using the Watch’s near-field communication chip to interact with objects in the physical world. Apple is already opening up NFC chip access on the iPhone in iOS 11, so it’s reasonable to think the watch will follow. This shows how Apple is thinking more about the different uses of NFC.
Apple is also making some adjustments to help improve the watch’s navigation issues. Users will be able to sort the dock by recently opened and there will be a new list-style way of sorting apps instead of the honeycomb grid.
Another change that users will thank Apple for is a horizontal page layout that can launch on any page.
Apple is also improving its own apps as an example for developers to follow. Apple’s Workout app, for instance, will allow users to launch new exercises from within existing ones. And by default, those exercises will use a goal the user has set, only requiring a couple of steps for the user.
“This is a great example of building a responsive user experience, where it’s not just about updating the data in your UI, it’s also about thinking of what the user might want to do next in your app based on what you already know,” Apple Developer, Ian Parks said during his developer presentation.
Apple is also allowing developers to do a lot more with their apps. For example, background privileges will be extended for audio recording, allowing apps to capture sound while the watch screen is off.
Apps will also be able to remain in an open state for up to eight minutes instead of the default two minutes, and then close once a task is complete. For example, if a user is out shopping, their shopping list will pop up when they raise their arm. This shows that Apple is focusing on minimizing the effort a user has to put into navigating through the app.
Here’s an overview of the capabilities and major performance improvements we’ll see in watchOS 4:
“This is something we are really excited about, and I think it’s going to change the way that we think about creating our Watch apps,” Parks stated.
Siri will now showcase users’ calendar events and important information to its watch face in watchOS 4. Perhaps the next iteration of the watch will enable the anticipated arrival of the traditional Siri.
Apple claims that the watchOS 4 will have the smartest watch face ever thanks to Siri’s intelligence that proactively displays the information you need right when you need it. Now with person to person payments with the updates to Apple Pay, users can now ask Siri to send money to friends instantly, easily, and securely. Users can also request and receive money right in Messages on their watch.
Fitness is definitely a priority for Apple in watchOS 4, which is obvious from the number of feature add-ons Apple has built into the watch. There’s a new Pool swim mode that counts your laps, heart rate, lap speed, and even your dominant swimming stroke if you want. VO2 Max calculations are taken using the watch’s data and an algorithm, which can provide training data for workouts. There’s also a new night-time running light that flashes the watch’s screen to make users visible to cars while running down the street.
In addition, users can receive personalized progress updates from the moment they put on their Apple Watch at the start of the day. Users can also see the achievements they’re close to getting. They can receive words of encouragement to keep their streak going. With evening push, Apple Watch is smart enough to know when you need a boost at the end of the day and will offer a specific suggestion on how to reach your goals. A monthly challenge will also help keep users motivated and on track of their goals. Apple Watch delivers personalized challenges based on what they’ve accomplished the month before.
Music has had a visual overhaul, as the entire app changed to reflect the updates made to Music in iOS 11. There are also a number of new features, like automatic syncing of playlists in Apple Music.
Here’s how the music experience has changed in watchOS 4:
Apple has made it clear that they are continuing to learn from its users and how the watch is making a difference in their lives. The new features Apple has added to watchOS 4 for developers will help them build high-quality, engaging watch apps.
This year, Apple stated at WWDC that they are focusing on making information glanceable so users can quickly absorb and respond to the information and also actionable so that users can respond to it in different forms, such as audio. And finally, responsiveness is another focus in the new watch update. While performance is crucial, responsive means making sure content remains up to date and taking into consideration what the user wants to do next. For example, the watch identifies the workouts a user does repeatedly and predicts which one they’ll want to do next to reduce the number of steps they have to take. Parks states that they’re “making the most common action the user is going to take, the easiest one.” For Apple, it’s not so much about updating the data but thinking about what the user might want to do based on what it already knows.
Fitness is the main selling point of the Apple Watch and will continue to be in the future, but with faster, smarter, and less phone-dependent apps, watchOS 4 is set up to impress users for a myriad of other reasons. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see how the speed adjustments and new features will all play a role in the watch’s overall user experience.
The watchOS 4 updates are said to be released this Fall.