In the world of wearables, the Apple Watch gets a lot of attention and deservedly so, given that Apple has constantly been adding meaningful hardware features such as swim-proofing, the ability to make and receive phone calls, ECG, and now blood-oxygen monitoring. However, each year the improvements to watchOS do go a bit under the radar, and this year is no different.
Having used watchOS 7 for a while now's a time to highlight some features that we enjoy and others that we're still waiting for.
We've been waiting for watchOS' dependence on iPhones to reduce and particularly with the cellular variants of the Apple Watch, which has reduced to some extent. However, it is a bit sad to see that the Apple Watch still can't be paired with any device except an iPhone, even if you can use Apple Watch Family Setup to avoid buying multiple iPhones just to use the Apple Watch. It'd be nice to be able to pair Apple Watch to your iPad, if not a Mac.
Similarly, to download watchOS 7, you need to be on iOS 14. Given Apple's excellent track record of supporting older iPhones (iPhone 6S, released in 2015, was among the devices eligible for the iOS 14 update), this is not a huge roadblock.
With watchOS 7, you can now set up a bedtime routine to prepare you for sleep. With a raging global pandemic and lockdowns implemented in various regions worldwide, any tools to help you calm down before sleeping are welcome. Apple's given you the ability to set a simple wind-down routine before bed, with a gentle customisable reminder that bedtime is approaching and shortcuts to quickly launch apps that will help you transition from wakefulness to sleep. Our routine involves a simple meditation, some stretching, and keeping the iPhone away from the bed.
Once the scheduled bedtime begins, the Apple Watch's display is dimmed and your watch face is replaced with just the time and the alarm showing up on the screen. In the morning, the watch can wake you with a silent 'taptic' alarm or a tone of your choice. The Apple Watch is pretty good at sleep tracking too. In our experience, it's been able to pick up the time when we actually went to sleep, when we woke up during the middle of the night (and how long we weren't able to return to sleep), and finally when we actually woke up in the morning.
The only disadvantage of this addition to the Apple Watch is that you need to change your charging time. We used to plug the Apple Watch in at night, but since we began using watchOS 7, we've ended up running out of charge in the middle of the night more than once.
Speaking of charging, watchOS 7 lets you monitor your Apple Watch's battery health and optimised charging. It's common knowledge that over time, lithium ion batteries degrade and that's why your phone's battery life reduces over time. watchOS 7 lets you check your Apple Watch's battery health now (ours is at 97% of its original battery capacity) and you can enable optimised battery charging to reduce battery ageing, which is great too. Tap the digital crown > Settings > Battery to access these features on your Apple Watch.
watchOS 7's ability to detect and guide you towards safely washing your hands for 20 seconds is a stroke of genius. Before upgrading to watchOS 7, we didn't even realise that we were washing hands for barely 5 or 10 seconds, far below the recommended 15-30 seconds.
Apple says automatic handwashing detection works by using the motion sensors and the microphone on the Apple Watch. The moment we start washing hands, the 20-second timer begins. When we pause, the timer pauses too, and sometimes it even counts the few seconds you were washing hands before the handwashing timer shows up on the screen. Thanks to this feature, our hand washing habits have changed quite a bit.
However, there are a few times when the Apple Watch fails to detect hand washing, which can hopefully be fixed in future updates. Another limitation is that this feature only works on Series 4 or newer Apple Watch models, which is a bit of a shame given that Series 3 is still on sale. Apple says that this feature relies on the faster, more efficient processors on the Series 4 and newer devices, along with the Neural Engine that is missing on the S3 processor used on the Apple Watch Series 3.
Our favourite feature of watchOS 7 is the ability to change your activity goals. During this year, with strict lockdowns imposed in many places around the world, it's not always possible to hit move, exercise, and stand goals on the Apple Watch. While you could always change your move goal, this is the first time you can change exercise or stand goals. You can now set an exercise goal of 10 to 60 minutes, while the stand goal can be between six and 12 hours. Just open the Activity app on your Apple Watch and scroll to the bottom to find the Change Goals button.
There are several other features that may not be as big as the ones mentioned above, but these deserve a quick mention too. The ability to share customised watch faces is really useful. Just tap and hold any watch face and hit the share icon to get started.
Similarly, you can customise the Control Centre on the Apple Watch now. Swipe up from the bottom of the screen to access the Control Centre, and scroll to the bottom and tap Edit. This lets you quickly reorder or change how the icons are laid out.
Finally, the ability to clear all notifications is now much more accessible. There's a neat Clear All button right at the top of the notifications screen, which is great.
Which are your favourite watchOS 7 features? Let us know via the comments.
Are Apple Watch SE, iPad 8th Gen the Perfect ‘Affordable' Products for India? We discussed this on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.