Apple WatchOS 7 Preview

Consumer Reports has no financial relationship with advertisers on this site. Apple rolled out a

Consumer Reports has no financial relationship with advertisers on this site.

Apple rolled out a new version of its smartwatch operating system this week, timed to the release of two new Apple Watches.

WatchOS 7 will come installed on the new Apple Watch Series 6 and Apple Watch SE. The new operating system is also compatible with Apple Watches dating back to the Series 3, which the company continues to sell as a budget-friendly option, though not all features will work on the older models. 

The new watches officially go on sale Friday. Apple also is rolling out new iPads, an online fitness subscription, and options to bundle existing services, such as Apple TV+ and Apple Arcade, into a single monthly plan.

In addition to a new look that includes a handful of fresh watch faces designed with fun and productivity in mind, watchOS 7 includes new sleep- and fitness-tracking features. A new Family Setup feature lets your kids and other family members use Apple Watches to stay in touch without having to own an iPhone.

Also, in light of the ongoing pandemic, there’s a new hand-washing detection feature that kicks in automatically when the watch senses a scrubbing motion and helps you with the 20-second countdown. 

Before you get all excited and start downloading, here are some tips for making the process quick and easy:

• You’ll receive a notification when the update is ready. Once that happens, Apple recommends that you set the Watch to update overnight, because it can take some time. Also, just a heads-up that you’re going to need to update your iPhone to iOS 14, which can also take a chunk of time, before you update your watch.

• If you want to check for an update manually, open the Apple Watch app on your phone, then tap “My Watch.” Then go to General > Software Update. Download the update. If your phone or watch asks for your passcode, enter it. When the update is complete, your watch will restart on its own.

• When you update the operating system, make sure your watch is on its charger and that the battery is at 50 percent or more. Updating can take a lot of power. Make sure your iPhone is charging and in range, too.

What’s New in WatchOS 7

New ways to customize: There are a handful of new watch faces and more ways to personalize them. For instance, if you need a watch focused on swimming, you can add a handful of Complications to your watch face that give you direct access to your swimming-related apps.

Apple’s also making it easier for friends to share watch faces with each other. Just press on the display, choose a contact, and send it on its way.

Fitness focus: Apple is rebranding the Activity app (the one that shows you those three activity rings) as Fitness. And it’s adding four new activities to the watch’s automatic workout tracking feature: dance, core training, functional strength training, and cooldown.

Sleep tracking: Yes, Fitbit devices have been doing this for years, but this is new for Apple. Like Fitbit’s app, Apple says its tracking tech will show you your sleep habits over time. But, unlike Fitbit devices, Apple Watches aren’t designed to last more than one day on a charge, which means many people are accustomed to taking them off and plugging them in at night.

Apple is now advising users to quickly power their watches up before they go to bed or first thing in the morning. To help, the new sleep app will prompt you to top off the battery, if need be, right before you hit the sack and when you wake in the morning.

Family Setup: This feature allows parents to provide a child or an older relative with a watch instead of a phone. The device can be used to make calls, send and receive messages, use Apple Pay, play games, and track fitness goals.

It also permits a parent to track a user’s activities, receive notifications on the user’s whereabouts, and confine the user’s communication to trusted contacts. And if you’re worried about your kid paying attention in class, you can even limit the watch’s functions during school hours.

Family Setup is available as a free software update and works with Apple Watches with cellular service dating back to the Series 4. Compatible wireless plans are required, and the cost depends on the carrier, Apple says.

Hand-washing detection: Based on your movements, Apple says your watch will be able to tell when you’re scrubbing up. And then, based on audio cues, there will be a 20-second countdown, with sounds and haptics to keep you going. And, if you stop early, you’ll get an alert from your watch.

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