Apple's WatchOS 3 Getting Performance Boost, New Health Features

Slated for release in the fall, the next version of the Apple Watch OS will get improved performance and key ease-of-use improvements.

watchOS 3, Apple Watch, smartwatches, Apple, health bands, fitness bands, WWDC 2016, Breathe, messaging

The third generation of the Apple Watch operating system, watchOS 3, will debut in the fall and include a wide range of upgrades that aim to make Apple Watch performance faster and more useful for customers.

Among the key additions to watchOS 3 are all-new health and fitness functions, instant app launching capabilities, enhanced user interface navigation, a new Breathe relaxation app and "significantly improved performance," according to Apple. The company showed off a preview of the upcoming OS at the opening day of the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference 2016 in San Francisco on June 13.

The new health and fitness features include direct tie-ins with social media platforms so that Apple Watch users will be able to instantly share their fitness experiences and compete with their friends to motivate each other to reach their fitness goals, according to Apple. Friends will get notifications about each other's progress, including completed Activity rings, finished workouts and earned achievements. This activity sharing will now be directly connected to the Messages app through a new Smart Replies function that is customized to report on a user's activities and workouts.

In addition, the Activity app in the upcoming watchOS 3 OS will be optimized for wheelchair users so they can monitor their wheelchair pushes and all-day calorie goals. For wheelchair users, the "time to stand" reminder that reminds users to keep moving will be changed to "time to roll," while also offering dedicated wheelchair-specific workouts.

A new Dock in watchOS 3 will allow users to press the watch face or the side button to instantly and easily access their recent and favorite native and third-party apps for fast viewing. Also new are capabilities to swipe up from the watch face to access a new and improved Control Center, swipe down to access the Notification Center, or swipe left or right to easily switch out a watch face.

Breathe App Calms Users

An all-new "Breathe" app for Apple Watch aims to help users relax by encouraging them to take moments in their day to do short deep breathing sessions. Breathe includes guidance for calming visualizations and uses haptic cues to guide users through deep, full breaths in sessions lasting 1 to 5 minutes, according to Apple. When the Breathe exercises are finished, users receive heart rate summaries to see how they relaxed.

The watchOS 3 update will also include improvements in how users receive and reply to messages they receive through their devices. The messages update will now include virtual stickers, handwriting, full-screen effects and invisible ink features, which reveal the message only after a friend swipes over it, according to Apple. A new scribble feature allows users to quickly write words on the display and Apple Watch will convert the handwriting to text.

Also new in watchOS3 is an SOS feature that allows users to get help by making a call to emergency services officials wherever they are using their iPhone or through WiFi. In addition the SOS function can notify a user's emergency contact by pressing and holding the side button to issue an SOS.

Apple Watch users will gain access to new watch faces including Minnie Mouse and simple and elegant Numerals, while also getting easier customization of watch faces.

"Apple Watch is the ultimate companion for a healthy life and with watchOS 3, there's now even more to love," Jeff Williams, Apple's chief operating officer, said in a statement. "Favorite apps launch instantly and are simple to access, and the breakthrough new fitness and health features like the Breathe app make it feel like a whole new watch."

Jan Dawson, chief analyst of Jackdaw Research, told eWEEK that the updates to watchOS 3 will likely be welcomed by Apple Watch users. "The updates to watchOS suggest that Apple understands the biggest frustrations with the first versions and wants to address them even before it introduces new hardware, presumably in the fall," said Dawson. "The new Dock is a recognition that the honeycomb of app icons is a poor model, while the Instant Launch capabilities should solve the single biggest frustration with using apps on the Watch."

The latest social features in the Activity app "close an important gap relative to competitors like Fitbit, which have majored on the social and competitive functions of fitness tracking, and the wheelchair features build on Apple's heritage of promoting accessibility," said Dawson.