WatchOS 3 and WatchOS 3.2 are the new software updates that finally make owning an Apple Watch and Apple Watch 2 a worthwhile investment.
Your smartwatch is instantly faster (in speed, not actual time, silly) than watchOS 2, yet it’s still able to deliver powerful new features without slowdown.
WatchOS 3’s interface is cleaner and since the October launch of watchOS 3.1, it has had fewer bugs. Pair it with an iPhone running iOS 10, and it’s the Apple Watch done right.
Now that Apple watchOS 3.2 is in beta, there’s a lot more to explore. Here’s a breakdown of what we found from watchOS 3 through watchOS 3.2.
Cut to the chase
- What is it? The next version of Apple’s smartwatch operating system
- When’s it out? Download it today
- What will it cost? Nothing, it’s a free upgrade!
watchOS 3 to watchOS 4
Just a heads up: We may see watchOS 4 on June 5, with a watchOS 3.2 update happening sometime in between now and then.
We don’t have a watchOS 4 features list at this time – not even rumors yet – so let’s move onto the next update: watchOS 3.2 while we wait.
watch 3.2 beta and watchOS 3.1 update
- watchOS 3.2 launched on Monday, March 27, 2017
- Theater Mode (in Control Center) turns off raise to wake
- Adds message effect replays and accessibility features
watchOS 3.2 launched alongside iOS 10.3 on Monday, March 27, and in that five-month wait between it and watchOS 3.1 on October 24, we got useful features.
The new Theater Mode turns off the ‘raise to wake’ feature we love most of the time. It’s a real problem when we’re in a darkened movie theater, for example.
Before watchOS 3.2, you were always ‘that person’ every time you moved your arm in the movies. Accidentally sleeping with the Apple Watch on was a problem too.
Now, you can just flip open Control Center (swipe up from the bottom) and tap the comedy/tragedy Greek theater masks. It’ll initiate theater mode.
Your Apple Watch turns to Silent Mode and the screen remains darkened until you do one of three things: tap the screen, press the Digital Crown or hit the side button.
watchOS 3.1 was more of a bug-fixing update than anything else. However, it did have a few front-facing features to get excited about.
Ever miss a friend’s iMessage animation? Bubbles and full-screen effects like balloons go bye-bye very quickly if you don’t pay attention. Now you can replay these message effects thanks to watchOS 3.1.
Message effects now show up even if you have your Watch tuned to the more docile “Reduce Motion” setting within the accessibility menu.
Finally, you’ll see more consistent Force Touch controls in conjunction with third-party apps, fewer Activity Ring watch face fails, no more Timer notification redundancies (I already hit snooze!), and zero charging errors.
Both watchOS 3.1 and watchOS 3.2 are compatible with all Apple Watches: the original Apple Watch, Apple Watch Series 1 and Apple Watch Series 2.
Best of all, watchOS 3.2 is completely free to download. You’ll just need an iPhone and a charged-up Apple Watch in order to complete the install process.
Apple watchOS 3 features
The big update in watchOS 3 is in the optimization of your Watch, which makes it faster than ever before.
Apple wants to have your apps respond instantly and have all the information you need before you even look at it. No more waiting around for third-party apps to boot up.
Apps will now pre-load information in the background, and some apps are seven times faster than on watchOS 2. Even in beta form, our Watch was lightning fast by comparison. It can only get even faster in the future.
There’s a new Dock
There’s a new Dock section on the Watch that allows you to access your favorite apps even quicker than the hexagonal grid (which is still here, too). There can be up to ten apps within this app-switching menu.
The Dock is accessed via the side button – a much better use of it than the accessing your friends list. Your friends haven’t cared about your heartbeat since the week after everyone got their Apple Watch.
Our dock includes options such Messages, Timer, Workout, GoPro, Camera, Apple Home (new in iOS 10), Facebook Messenger, Mail, Google Tasks and Now Playing.
Control Center and SOS
The Dock means there’s no more Glances, which were similar in practice, but access from a swipe up gesture. Now that same gesture is dedicated to Control Center, just like on an iPhone.
Control Center has expanded with watchOS 3. There’s a grid of toggle buttons: battery life, airplane mode, silent mode on/off, do not disturb, Find My iPhone, lock your smartwatch and AirPlay. It’s great that all of these essentials are one swipe away now and not buried within Glances.
There’s also another feature called SOS for when you’re in trouble and need the emergency services. It works by you holding down the side button (like you’re going to turn off the watch), and it ideal when you’re in a dangerous situation.
It’ll ring the emergency services if your Watch is connected to your phone ,or use the internet if you’re on Wi-Fi. SOS will work around the world, no matter what country you are in.
It even connects with a new Medical ID feature now included in watchOS 3 that allows you to keep your emergency details and vital stats on your person, rather than just on your phone.
Apple watchOS 3 Activity
The exercise based Activity app on watchOS is going to get an upgrade as well. The focus is on competition with a feature called Activity sharing.
If you swipe to the right of your activity ring it’ll show your family and friends details too so you can start competitions.
It means you can send your heart rate to one of your friends or send a message with running details attached to show off your kickass workout.
Activity now also supports those in a wheelchair too. Apple has applied a number of major changes to the way Activity works on the Apple Watch for those who are in a wheelchair.
The notification “time to stand” will also switch to “time to roll” as well as the addition of two specific workout modes within the Activity app.
Apple watchOS 3 Breathe
Breathe is a new app to help you calm down after a stressful day at work – it’ll give you breathing exercises to try to help relax you. You can set up smart notifications to remind you to use the app and you have the choice of doing workouts from one to five minutes long.
You can even do it with your eyes closed – just switch on haptic feedback and the buzzes will tell you when to breathe in and out.
Apple watchOS 3 messages
Ways to respond to your messages have changed in watchOS 3 by including easy to see shortcuts for voice messages and emoji to make it even quicker to reply. That’s followed by your smart replies that sit just below the message you’re reading.
There’s also a new feature called Scribble that allows you to write a single letter on your watch at a time that will then build into a word. This works in a number of different languages too – you can even scribble in Chinese.
Apple watchOS 3 faces
It’s quicker than ever to switch your watch face – now it just takes a single swipe. You can even add elements such as the weather on top of your photo watch faces.
Maybe of favorite update: Minnie Mouse in now coming to Apple Watch, too, and joins the popular Mickey watch face.
You may have already seen the Apple WWDC demo in which the Minnie Mouse’s outfit colors can be customized, but did you know both Disney characters read the time aloud when tapped? It’s a neat, hidden watchOS 3 feature.
We’ll unlock more watchOS 3 secrets as Apple continues to updates roll out updates for the Apple Watch and Apple Watch 2.
TechRadar will remain your best source for hearing all about what’s new for the best smartwatch for iPhone.