When Apple started talking about watchOS 9 at WWDC 2022, I held my breath. I had been pretty excited about what watchOS 9 could look like for months leading up to the big event, but with that excitement came some anxiety. But that anxiety soon turned to pure excitement as Apple began to run through all the new and improved stuff coming to the Apple Watch.
It seems that Apple's plan for watchOS 9 is to give us more of everything. More features, more metrics to track, and more improvements to existing parts of the software. And while Apple didn't improve everything I would have liked (more on that later), I have a feeling watchOS 9 will be an excellent update for most people's best Apple Watch.
Fitness: New workouts and metrics
We are used to Apple introducing a few upgrades to the fitness experience on the Apple Watch with each new software release. However, in 2022, with watchOS 8, it really impressed, announcing 11 new features.
First, for any kind of workout, cardio or not, knowing what heart rate zone you're in can be very important for training, and watchOS 9 will be able to use the heart rate data from the Apple Watch sensor to show which heart rate zone you're hitting. What's more? The heart rate zones can be automatically created using your personalized health data, or you can manually set them if you have specific zones you want to ensure you are hitting.
Speaking of customization, you can also create custom workouts in watchOS 9, which will allow you to have structured intervals, meaning you can include rest intervals you want between sets, reps, or whatever you are doing. Finally, you don't have to use a preselected workout in the Workout app when you want to log your exercise. Plus, if you're a triathlete, the new multisport workout will let you track your cycling, swimming, and running all in the same workout.
It's not just about new features altogether regarding fitness improvements in watchOS 9. Apple has added a few crucial important metrics that runners will appreciate. With watchOS 9, you'll be pleased to know that watchOS 9 will include even more trackable metrics in running workouts, so you can get a sense of how you're performing. These new metrics include Stride Length, Ground Contact Time, and Vertical Oscillation. These new metrics will all be in the Health app, where you can see trends over time. On top of that, you'll be able to have the ability to race against yourself, choosing either your best or last result, meaning if you're training for a particular time on a specific path, you can easily see if you're on pace, exceeding pace, or lagging behind your past performance.
Sleep Stages are finally trackable in watchOS 9
Since the Sleep app came out in watchOS 7 and sleep tracking became possible on your Apple Watch, I have been hoping for a more robust experience, and watchOS 9 looks to have the answer.
With the introduction of Sleep Stages, using both the accelerometer and heart rate sensor in your Appel Watch, watchOS 9 will detect when you are in REM, Core, or Deep sleep. Of course, all your sleep stage data will be viewable on your Apple Watch in the Sleep app, and you can even view more detailed breakdowns of your time asleep in the health app on your iPhone.
The UI gets some help; I'd like to see more
While it didn't make the same waves like all the features announced during the keynote, some of the changes in watchOS 9 you may have missed are some slight UI improvements.
Notifications have been redesigned to be less interruption in watchOS 9, meaning the banners are much slimmer and take upon less screen space. These new notifications are also smart, and they will only use the new slimmer banners when your actively using your Apple Watch.
On top of that, the Apple Watch Dock is getting a little refreshed. The Apple Watch Dock once just showed your open apps in a list. Now, in watchOS 9, the Dock will promote the apps currently in use over all the other apps in the Dock. This will make it much easier to switch between apps when you want because you shouldn't have to search for the apps you're currently using.
While these are welcome changes, I was hoping for a much more significant change to the UI of the Apple Watch. I don't know how anyone uses the Grid view for their App View on Apple Watch — it's a mess. The List view (the only other view) is more organized, but it's no more useful. Instead, it's just a giant scrolling list of all the apps installed on your Apple Watch. I hoped watchOS 9 would improve the App View on Apple Watch, but alas, it looks like I'll have to wait until next year.
Excited to dive into the watchOS 9 betas
Even though watchOS 9 didn't give us everything I had hoped for, I'm pleasantly surprised that there are many new features and changes to explore.
I'm very excited to dive into the watchOS 9 betas over the coming weeks and months, and as Apple makes changes and new features come to light, I'll be sure to keep you all informed! \
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Luke Filipowicz has been a writer at iMore, covering Apple for nearly a decade now. He writes a lot about Apple Watch and iPad but covers the iPhone and Mac as well. He often describes himself as an "Apple user on a budget" and firmly believes that great technology can be affordable if you know where to look. Luke also heads up the iMore Show — a weekly podcast focusing on Apple news, rumors, and products but likes to have some fun along the way.
Luke knows he spends more time on Twitter than he probably should, so feel free to follow him or give him a shout on social media @LukeFilipowicz.