Apple Announces WatchOS 7: Sleep Tracking, Face Sharing & More

The Apple Watch is getting a software update with watchOS 7. The update, announced at Apple's WWDC keynote event, will include sleep tracking (finally), potentially endless new faces and complications, and new workouts. The new OS offers exciting new tools, some long anticipated, some novel, and some with great potential.

Related: MacOS Big Sur Brings Elements of iOS & Next-Level Privacy

Release Date & Compatibility

  • The new watchOS 7 is due out in September of 2020. Early adopters can get a public beta version in July of 2020. 
  • WatchOS 7 will be compatible with Apple Watches from Series 3, 4, and 5.

Watch Face Customization

With watchOS 7, it will be possible for app developers to design watch faces that show off the functions of their app. You’ll also be able to add more than one complication from the same app to a face. Complications are the little widgets on your watch face that offer additional info. Multiple from the same app means that an app could feed you a bunch of different pieces of information in real-time on your watch face. For example, a star-watching app could offer complications for moon phase, sun position, cloud cover, and humidity, and you could add all of those complications to the same watch face.

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You’ll also start seeing banners on app pages offering a watch face to show off an app’s special functions. For example, your jogging app might soon get its own app-specific watch face that shows off complications from that app. Don’t worry though, even if you don’t like the watch face your running app chose, you can still add that app’s complications to other watch faces to make your own just how you want it.

Watch Face Sharing

Once you’ve customized your watch face with complications you love, you’ll be able to share it with your friends right from the customization screen. Just tap the share icon next to the Customize button, and select a contact. App developers can also share customized app arrangements. If you activate a customized watch face that includes complications you don’t have, you’ll be prompted with the option to download the apps that provide them.

As someone who has never been satisfied with my watch faces, I’m looking forward to what I hope is a deluge of new complications and cleverly designed watch faces to show them off. This is a novel change, since it takes watch face design out of the field of specialty watch-face apps and hands it to every single app developer. Now watch faces aren't just designed by people thinking about their aesthetics, they'll be designed by people who want to provide a special display showcasing their app's special functions. This should lead to more functional designs.

Apple WatchOS7 Download a complication prompt

Maps Updates

Maps on your Apple Watch will get more powerful with the update, adding biking and walking directions that are large and easy to read. The cycling feature will only be available in places that Apple’s Maps offer biking service, but where they do, they include useful features like suggestions of bike shop locations and times when you could dismount to walk your bike, if it would let you take a shortcut.


Apple has added handwashing detection to help you stay healthy. While this is likely motivated by Covid-19, washing your hands has been an important recommendation from health experts since the first national hand hygene guidelines in the 1980s. The handwashing reminders will be a little like the Breathe reminders, with a helpful alert to keep you on your best practices. The watch will be able to detect the motions of handwashing, then listen for the sounds of running water. If it decides you’re washing your hands, it will count down for twenty seconds and even remind you to keep going if you stop early.

Sleep Tracking & Wind Down

The Sleep Tracking functions of the new watchOS are long anticipated. Sleep apps already help many people track and understand their sleep habits, which can be an important window on overall health. Apple is finally officially rolling out sleep tracking as part of the core function of the Apple Watch. Its approach will use machine learning to measure the depth of your breathing to learn about your sleep depth and quality.

In addition, Apple is introducing integrations with your iPhone designed to make going to sleep and waking up easier. When you set your bedtime, you’ll also be able to set a Wind Down period during which your iPhone tries to minimize your alerts by simplifying your lock screen, offering a selection of bedtime appropriate apps, and turning on Do Not Disturb mode. Waking up will be made a little easier with a selection of gentle alarm sounds and even a silent vibrate-only “taptic” alarm. 

The big question with sleep tracking has always been how to charge your Apple Watch. This remains an unanswered question. Apple hasn’t yet announced any game-changing new charging solutions that would let it track your sleep and still be ready to go when you wake up. So you’ll still have to choose when you want to wear your watch: when you’re awake, or when you’re asleep? Apple may also be planning to address this by increasing the battery life of the next iteration of the Apple Watch, expected to be announced this fall.

Apple Watch Sleep Tracking: Wind Down Mode

Mobility Metrics

The Health app will be upgraded so you can let it track a bunch of new metrics about your movement usually used by doctors and physical therapists to assist with mobility challenges and rehabilitation. Metrics include walk speed, stairs descent and ascent speeds, stride length, and a host of others.

Activity App Name Change & Makeover

The Activity app is getting a new name, it will be called the Fitness app. It’ll be more than just a name, with a new infographic display to help you understand all your activity, workouts, and trends all at once. Apple likes to tweak and update their infographics, so this is hardly surprising. The last update to iOS overhauled the Health app, so an update to the Health app's watch companion was only to be expected.

Apple WatchOS 7 New Features

New Workout Types Including Dance

The announcement included mention of four new workout types: Dance, Core Training, Functional Strength Training, and Cooldown. The Dance category is particularly interesting since there are so many different kinds of dance involving such different kinds of movements. Apple has engineered the Watch software to track your arm movements and heart rate to determine whether you’re moving mostly your lower body, mostly upper body, or both, so it can more accurately track the workout. Cool! Speaking of cool, I appreciate the addition of the Cooldown workout, since low-intensity periods between the activities are an important part of my routine.

On-Device Dictation

This is a feature I’ve long been excited about. With watchOS 7, Siri dictation will be handled on the device, using the Apple Neural Engine. This means that dication will be far faster and more reliable. You'll be able to create custom Siri commands with the Shortcuts app, now available on the Apple Watch. This could vastly improve the usefulness of the Apple Watch since the limited screen size for controls makes voice an appealing alternative to typing.

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Author Details

Cullen Thomas's picture

Author Details

Cullen Thomas

Cullen Thomas is a senior instructor at iPhone Life. For ten years as faculty at Maharishi University, Cullen taught subjects ranging from camera and audio hardware to game design. Cullen applies a passion for gadgetry to answer questions about iPhones, iPads, Macs, and Apple cloud services; to teach live classes; and to specialize in the privacy and security aspects of the Apple ecosystem. Cullen has dual degrees in Media & Communications and Literature, and a Masters degree from the David Lynch Graduate School of Cinematic Arts.

Offline, Cullen designs videogames with Thought Spike Games, writes fiction, and studies new nerdery.



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