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watchOS 4: The best new features coming to the Apple Watch

Apple first showed off its watchOS 4 operating system update back in June. Now, as we near its release, Apple has shown off even more functionality at its iPhone and Apple Watch 3 event. 

watchOS 4 release date: The new watchOS 4 will be available on September 19th, which is just ahead of the release of the Apple Watch Series 3 on September 22nd.

With each update to its watchOS operating system, Apple has been refining and tweaking its feature set. In the past this has included substantial performance improvements and app management. The new watchOS 4 update looks to continue this trend. Here are some of the most important features.

watchOS 4 – Siri Watch face

Apple is using Siri to proactively bring information to a new Apple Watch face. This face, powered by Siri Intelligence, will update contemporaneously with new information depending on the user’s needs and habits.

It’s powered by machine learning and, in essence, is just like the Google Now app on Android.


The watch face will refresh whenever users raise their wrist throughout the day and enable users to flip through cards serving up different pieces of information.

Related: Apple Watch 2 review

There is Photos, content from Apple news, coaching reminders from the Activity App, the weather, a reminder from the Breathe app. It’ll tell you what time the sunset is and give you options to control HomeKit enabled products, in line with that time of day.

watchOS 4 – Person to person Apple Pay payments

With watchOS 4, you’ll be able to make and receive payments between family and friends by using iMessage or Siri. Money you receive will be held in an Apple Pay Cash account, ready for you to spend anywhere Apple Pay is accepted or to send on to other friends when they call in your debt.

watchOS 4 – Activity app

The Activity app is also getting an overhaul with watchOS 4. Apple is introducing monthly goals and will deliver notifications to users that are approaching new streaks, in the hope of boosting motivation. Apple says these goals will be achievable because they’re based on the user’s actual workout history.

Apple has also expanded the swim mode, to automatically detect different sets. For Crossfitters or triathletes there’s also the ability to easily add a different workout to the same session for those involved in multiple activities.

watchOS 4

Big news for more hardened fitness fanatics is the addition of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). These are workouts built around periods of intense activity followed by recovery periods and are seen as a more effective workout over a shorter period of time compared to steady-state exercise, such as jogging.

Related: What is HIIT?

Heart rate monitoring of HIIT workouts have typically been an area where wearables have struggled but we found the Apple Watch Series 2’s heart rate sensor proved surprisingly capable. When conducting an Outdoor Run or more intense Outdoor Walk activity, the Apple Watch will also be able to estimate your VO2 Max, which is a function of many fitness trackers and running watches and is a great way to measure your overall cardiovascular fitness.

Related: What is VO2 Max?

Apple is also teaming with a number of fitness equipment providers like TurboGym, which makes it possible to directly sync workout data back to the Apple Watch. This will work through NFC.

watch equipment

Other useful fitness functions include the new ability to use the display as a safety feature to make you more visible when night running.

Some keen detectives at iHelp BR also poked around under the hood of watchOS 4’s beta and found some rather intriguing icons nestled away in the Workouts app. If the icons are to be believed, Apple is seriously bolstering the activities that the Apple Watch 2 can track and monitor.

Related: How the Apple Watch 2 stacks up against dedicated fitness trackers

The full list of icons include: badminton, barre, baseball, step training, surfing, sailing, skating, snow sports, pilates, paddle sports, kickboxing, jump rope, lacrosse, stretching, functional strength training, golf, fishing, fencing, equestrian sports, downhill skiing, dance, curling, cross training, cricket, cross-country skiing, core training, bowling, boxing, and climbing.

Here’s hoping this is more official support than what is already covered by the existing ‘Other workout’ option. We expect to hear more about these on September 12th.

watchOS 4 – Heart Rate app

A new Heart Rate app will give you live data from the Apple Watch’s heart rate sensor including resting heart and recovery heart rate, which will give you a indication of your cardiovascular health. The Apple Watch will also detect if your heart rate is abnormally high when you’re not actually exercising. This could potentially be an early indicator of health conditions such as an oncoming stroke. The Apple Watch will also be detecting heart rate rhythm. All of the heart rate data will plug into a major Apple Heart Study with Stanford Medicine, which could improve understanding of heart conditions.

watchOS 4 – Music

In watchOS 4, the Music experience is getting a redesign and revamp. “Apple Watch paired with AirPods has really become a magical combination,” Apple says. We’re not so sure about this, but go on…

Apple says it is automatically syncing content from the Apple Watch it thinks you’ll want to listen to, so your mixes and playlists and new albums will all be available on the Watch without you having to mess around with transfers.

watchOS 4 Music

Users will also be able to pick out a playlist to start in sync with their workouts, or alter the playlist from the workout app with a simple swipe.

There’s also new full-face album art designs arranged in a deck of cards that are easier to swipe through.

watchOS 4 – More new watch faces

Apple is continuing its partnership with Disney. Following on from the original Apple Watch’s Mickey Mouse face, watchOS 4 will introduce Buzz, Woody and Jessie from Pixar’s Toy Story franchise. Yes. Elsewhere there’s also a new kaleidoscope watch face that can be adjusted using the digital crown.

Toy Store

Related: Apple Watch 3 vs Apple Watch 2

watchOS 4 – The rest…

Apple has also added a Flashlight App in the new watchOS 4 operating system. There’s also support for audio recording in the background navigation, screen auto-rotate and native Core Bluetooth. The latter is a big deal for the future as that means greater support for external sensors and devices, such as oft rumoured glucose sensors.

Will Apple watchOS 4 tempt you into an Apple Watch purchase this year? Let us know on Twitter @trustedreviews

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