How WatchOS 9 paves the way for the future of the Apple Watch

This story is part of WWDC 2022CNET’s full coverage of and about Apple’s annual developer conference.

What’s happening

Apple’s WatchOS 9 update brings new athletic performance metrics to the Apple Watch, alongside other key improvements in health and fitness tracking.

Why it matters

The update could set the stage for the rumored rugged Apple Watch, which is expected to debut this year.

What’s next

Apple will launch WatchOS 9 in the fall, potentially alongside three new Apple Watch models.

The rumor Apple Watch Series 8 isn’t expected to debut until fall, but Apple gave us a glimpse of what’s in store for its smartwatch lineup over the course of the year Watch OS 9 preview of his World developer conference Principle. One message was clear: the future of the Apple Watch is all about health and fitness.

The update brings more sports performance tracking metrics (especially for runners), deeper sleep monitoring, and medication logging tools. It’s impossible to know what to expect until Apple announces its next smartwatch (or smartwatches). But WatchOS 9’s focus on athletic training seemingly sets the stage for the rumored Apple Watch Explorer Edition, which we could see later this year.

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The new software suggests that Apple wants its smartwatch to appeal to professional athletes, casual athletes and those who need to monitor heart health at the same time. The next generation of Apple Watches rumored for fall will likely come with new hardware to better support that vision — hopefully with better battery life too.

WatchOS 9’s workout features would be great for an Explorer Edition Apple Watch

The Apple Watch Series 7

Lexy Savvides/CNET

Apple sprinkles a few new training tools and metrics in WatchOS 9. These include new running metrics like stride length and ground contact time, the ability to track heart rate zones, interval training, a multisport workout type for triathlons, and kickboard detection for swimmers. The announcement also comes after Apple made improvements the bicycle recognition of the Apple Watch last year.

Only Apple knows what the future will bring. But it seems no coincidence that this update is coming, as Apple is expected to release a rugged Apple Watch designed for extreme sports this fall. Bloomberg reports that an Apple Watch with added shock resistance, similar to Casio’s G-Shock watches, could be in the works. Sometimes referred to internally as the Explorer Edition, the watch may have a rubberized case for added durability, the report said. The device would reportedly be marketed as an alternative option for athletes and hikers alongside the standard Series 8 and next-gen Apple Watch SE.

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The Apple Watch already has a lot to offer fitness fans, with plenty of exercise options, activity goals and reminders, heart rate notifications, and metrics like VO2max and altitude. But until WatchOS 9 arrives, the Apple Watch will lack running-specific features that athletes might find useful. Garmin’s For example, running watches include tools like training programs for specific types of races, pace instructions, and running metrics like cadence and stride length, among other features that vary by model.

According to Counterpoint Research, the Apple Watch is already the most popular smartwatch in the world, accounting for 36.1% of global shipments in the first quarter of 2022. With the new measurements targeting runners in WatchOS 9, Apple could further solidify its market position by targeting the niche competitive sports audience.

Even with the new features in WatchOS 9, the Apple Watch still doesn’t offer runners quite as much feedback as some specialized watches. But the new software certainly brings the Apple Watch closer than ever.

What else WatchOS 9 could tell us about the future of the Apple Watch

Apple Watch sleep tracking

Apple Watch’s new Sleep Stages feature in WatchOS 9

Screenshot/CNET

Apple’s focus on fitness was at the heart of its WatchOS 9 announcement. But some of the other updates to the software could also hint at Apple’s future direction. For example, the company opened up more sleep tracking by introducing Sleep Stages, a feature that analyzes time spent in different sleep stages. Apple is catching up on this; competing fitness trackers from Fitbit, Our and Samsung have supported this feature for years.

Apple’s expansion of sleep tracking suggests Apple Watches are being worn overnight more often. That leads me to believe that Apple may be planning some sort of Apple Watch battery life improvement, although there’s no way to know for sure until the company unveils its next watch.

Apple says its smartwatch can last 18 hours on a single charge, and anecdotally I usually have about a day or two before it needs a performance boost. Apple Watch battery life hasn’t changed much in years, but Apple has gotten around this by implementing faster charging speeds with the 6 and 7 Series.

Apple will likely continue down this path rather than dramatically improving the watch’s battery life. But there’s also a possibility that Apple could introduce a new power-saving mode with more functionality than the watch’s current power reserve feature, Bloomberg says. According to the report, it should launch with WatchOS 9, although Apple didn’t mention a new low-power option during Monday’s event.

Considering that battery life has been one of the constant criticisms of the Apple Watch — and not to mention Bloomberg’s reliable track record — I wouldn’t be surprised if this feature were available in the future. And remember: Apple introduced new WatchOS 8 features for cyclists next to the Apple watch series 7 during its fall product event in 2021. So there’s a chance Apple will announce more software features later this year.

WatchOS 9 also provides another signal that Apple is expanding its efforts in the area of ​​general health and wellness. A new feature called AFib History allows people diagnosed with atrial fibrillation to access more information about their condition, such as: B. An estimate of how often their heart rhythm shows signs of A-Fib. Another highlight in WatchOS 9 is the ability to track prescriptions and get medication reminders.

These updates show that Apple is looking at its watch as a tool for tracking physical changes over time that can be shared with doctors. And if reports from Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal prove accurate, Apple will take this idea one step further and add a temperature sensor to the Series 8.

Many of the major Apple Watch turning points have historically been associated with new hardware releases. The Series 3, for example, was the first model to support cellular connectivity, making the Apple Watch feel more like a standalone product than an iPhone companion. The Series 4 brought ECG monitoring and fall detection, expanding the Apple Watch’s role as a healthcare device.

WatchOS 9 isn’t as big of a leap forward as these product launches. But it will bring features that could be critical to Apple’s mission of making the Apple Watch the ultimate health and fitness device. And that says a lot about Apple’s immediate and long-term plans for the Apple Watch.

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