The biggest features in watchOS 9 for Apple Watch
Apple has released watchOS 9 to millions of Apple Watch users and with it come a wide array of new features. Here's what's new in this substantial update.
As it typically does, Apple released the watchOS 9 update alongside iOS 16. If you'd like to learn more about the best iOS 16 features, check out our dedicated post.
New watch faces
With watchOS 9, Apple has added three entirely new faces to Apple Watch. They're called Lunar, Playtime, and Metropolitan.
Lunar is a moon phase watch face that can show the Islamic, Chinese, and Hebrew calendars around the celestial body. It supports four complications and has a variety of customization options including the color of the secondhand and a digital versus the analog clock.
The Playtime face is a lighthearted design created in partnership with Chicago-based artist Joi Fulton. It features a set of on-screen characters that react to your taps.
The characters will bounce away from the screen as you tap them, grimacing at your touch. If you tap them repeatedly, they'll bounce back towards the screen and then react as they run into the glass screen of your Apple Watch.
Metropolitan is our personal favorite of the new faces. It has plenty of color options and background color options as well as adjusting the style of the numbers on the face. It supports four corner complications.
While not technically new faces, the Nike faces are now available on all versions of the Apple Watch. Previously they were artificially limited to the Nike versions of the Apple Watch.
- New Lunar face
- New Playtime face
- New Metropolitan face
- Nike Analog, Nike Bounce, Nike Compact, Nike Digital, Nike Hybrid now available on all models
Updated watch faces
Several faces received updates with watchOS 9, even if not wholly new. For example, the Astronomy face got a major overhaul.
The Astronomy face has all-new visuals of the earth, moon, and solar system that are more detailed than before. They also can show the current cloud coverage when viewing.
Modular, Modular Compact, XL, and the Breathe face have new background options to choose from. Apple has added more colors and introduced a series of gradient options that look fantastic.
Simple and Utility both now support additional complications. The portrait face supports dogs, cats, and landscapes. Faces can be tied to Focus modes too and change automatically.
- Astronomy was updated with new graphics and can show cloud coverage
- Modular, Modular Compact, XL, Breathe have new background options including gradients
- Simple and Utility support new complications
- Portrait face now supports photos of dogs, cats, and landscapes
- Watch faces can change with Focus mode
Workouts received the largest overhaul with watchOS 9 with new metrics, capabilities, and workout types. No matter what you do for workouts, Apple Watch and watchOS 9 will have you covered.
Thanks to this update, there are new views during a workout. You can see mark splits and segments, see your Activity Rings and track your heart rate zones.
Heart rate zones are very cool and calculated for you automatically based on your body metrics entered into the Health app. If you prefer, you can set your heart rate zones in settings.
As you work out, the watch will let you know which zone you're in, helping you maintain the optimum burn rate.
There's a new elevation workout view that shows both your current elevation and total gain. This will display for an outdoor run, outdoor cycle, outdoor wheelchair run pace, hiking, outdoor walk, and outdoor wheelchair walk pace.
Runners will love the new running power view that displays how much power — in watts — is generated during your run. Runners get access to new metrics too such as stride length, ground contact time, and vertical oscillation.
During a run, as well as other outdoor workouts, you can race yourself. It will let you know if you are ahead, behind, or on track with your previous runs. That includes the update pacer that will tell you audibly — which you can customize.
If you'd like, you can create your custom workouts with repeating sets of intervals. These can be based on time, distance, or open goals. That goes for the new multisport workouts too.
Triathlons and duathlon can be tracked with Apple Watch and can automatically transition to the next leg.
Pool swimming can detect when you're swimming with a kickboard. Finally, Apple Fitness+ workouts have new on-screen callouts for added motivation.
- New workout views for splits, segments, Activity rings, heart rate zones, elevation, running power, and more
- New running metrics for stride length, ground contact time, vertical oscillation
- Create custom workouts with repeating intervals
- New pacer alerts and customizable alerts
- Multisport workouts
- Kickboard support for swimming
- Apple Fitness+ has new on-screen targets
When using your Apple Watch for sleep tracking, it's been updated to collect additional data. Using a combination of metrics from the heart rate monitor and accelerometer of your Apple Watch, it can determine your stage of sleep.
Once you awaken, your Apple Watch can show when you were awake, in deep sleep, in REM sleep, or in light sleep. This will show directly in the Sleep app on your Apple Watch as well as in the iPhone's Health app.
With this collected data, iOS will be able to plot your heart rate as well as respiratory rate on graphs in comparison to your time asleep.
- Determine sleep stages including awake, deep, core, and REM
- Charts respiratory rate against time asleep
- Charts heart rate against time asleep
- Now have to hold Digital Crown to exit sleep mode
- View sleep stages in watchOS app
A whole new app, Medications will track any medicine, vitamins, or supplements you may be taking. It works in tandem with the Health app on iPhone.
Medications can be added manually, or by scanning the bottle's label with your iPhone's camera. You can choose the shape of the medicine — pill, cream, powder, vial, et cetera — as well as the color and any other distinguishing marks.
The Medications app will help monitor for any harmful interactions between both other medications, as well as factors such as alcohol or cannabis.
Schedules can be configured that will allow alerts to appear on your iPhone or Apple Watch to help you remember to take your meds. You can log those meds directly from the watch's notification, without any need to launch the app or pull out your iPhone.
- New Medications app
- Track, log, and get alerts for your medicine, vitamins, and supplements
- View medicine and history in the Medications app
- Monitor for interactions in the Health app
- Smart notifications
Apple gave the Compass app an overhaul with watchOS 9, providing a new UI as well as a litany of new features. Upon launching the app, you can use the Digital Crown to change the information displayed.
At first, it just shows your bearing while zooming with the Digital Crown will surface your elevation, longitude/latitude, and incline. By tapping the marker icon in the lower-left corner, you can assign a waypoint for Apple Watch Series 6 and later.
Waypoints can have names, colors, and icons making it easy to find your way back to any marker you've set. Alternatively, you can rely on Backtrack which helps you find your way back to where you started your excursion.
- Wholly redesigned app
- Info panel with your position and ability to set bearing
- Digital and analog views
- Mark waypoints and POI with colors, icons, and names
Apple Watch can now track your AFib history over time. Available for those 22 years of age or older with an AFib diagnosis, this new feature can provide more insight into your heart.
With the measurements gathered from your Apple Watch, you'll get weekly notifications that let you know how much time you've spent in AFib. It will highlight what days and times your AFib is at its peak.
It can compare these spikes to other lifestyle factors that may contribute to your atrial fibrillation. These include exercise, sleep, weight, and alcohol consumption. At any point, your AFib history can be exported as a PDF.
- Regular notifications on time in AFib
- Highlights days and time of day spent most in AFib
- Tracks contributing lifestyle factors
- Share with others via PDF
- Works for those 22 years of age or older
With extended use, the Cycle app will now be able to alert users of irregular patterns. This includes prolonged cycles, late cycles, and more.
In the new calendar app, you can create new appointments. Tapping the icon in the lower-left also lets you switch the calendar between day, list, and week views.
In Reminders, you can edit items to add more information. The Apple Watch app supports tags, locations, and due times on Reminders.
With podcasts, Apple's added search support natively on the watch. It is also possible to follow and unfollow shows. Finally, a discovery tab helps you find new shows to enjoy.
A late addition, low power mode has arrived on Apple Watch. Low power mode will extend your battery life by nearly double by disabling the always-on display and limiting background capabilities.
Apple Watch will still track workouts and monitor for fall detection but Wi-Fi and cellular aren't persistent. SPO2 and heart rating monitoring are also disabled in low power mode.
Billed as an accessibility feature, you can mirror your Apple Watch to your iPhone running iOS 16. With your watch mirrored, you can interact with it with gestures and the hardware buttons.
Notifications in watchOS 9 got redesigned to take up less space. When actively using the watch, they will appear at the top of the screen in a small bubble rather than taking over the whole display.
The Apple Watch Dock will show apps that are running in the background rather than just recently accessed. Users can still choose between these background apps and their favorites.
Apple Watch supports international roaming with watchOS 9. Bluetooth keyboards can be paired, too. Finally, cardio recovery is tracked on Apple Watch and displayed in the Health app.
- Irregular cycle tracking
- You can now create events in the calendar app
- Calendar app can change between day, list, and week views
- Add tags, location, and a time to Reminders
- New search feature for Podcasts
- Follow and unfollow shows on the Podcasts app
- Discover new content in the Listen Now tab of Podcasts
- Low power mode
- Ability to mirror Apple Watch to iPhone
- Redesigned notification banners
- Updated app Dock
- Support for international roaming
- Bluetooth keyboard support
- Cardio recovery
Apple has released watchOS 9 for existing Apple Watch owners. All new Apple Watch Series 8, Apple Watch SE (second-generation), and Apple Watch Ultra models will ship with watchOS 9 installed by default.