watchOS 7 brings sleep tracking, hand wash monitoring, cycling directions

Apple’s annual developer conference saw the reveal of watchOS 7, as well as software updates coming to your iPhone, Mac, iPad and other devices.

Essential readingTop fitness trackers and health gadgets

This year, the Cupertino outfit has taken the event on-line for the first time. No audience to cheer the latest announcements, but this has not stopped Apple from revealing a host of exciting updates. As always, of most interest to us was the next installment of the Apple Watch operating system.

Here’s what’s new and different.


Sleep Tracking

This one has topped most people’s wishlist for a while now. It has been a glaring omission for those interested in tracking their health around the clock. Apple opted to leave out the functionality due to short battery life on the watch. Many users still opt to charge their watches overnight. It remains yet to be seen if this means the Series 6 will be able to run longer on a single charge.

Currently, those who want to track nightly rest on their Apple Watch need to rely on a third-party app. The other solutions are standalone devices or one of the rival companies’ fitness bands and smartwatches.

Native sleep tracking will be a part of watchOS 7. In addition to information on sleep phases, length of sleep and more, users will be able to set up sleep goals in the Health app. The software will also spit out recommendations for improving nightly rest.

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This also slaps on something called Wind Down, a feature developed by Apple to ease you into slumber by minimizing distractions. In the evening your smartphone will switch on the functionality based on your sleep schedule. This provides a calming experience and switches on do not disturb for your phone. You can also set it up, for example, to switch on a meditation app and more.

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The Apple Watch will then switch off its screen when you go to bed. Tap the display and you will see a minimalistic watch face.

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There’s also an alarm function which wakes you up via a silent haptic alarm or sound. When you are up, your watch will show the current battery level so that you can place the device on a charger if needed. If the battery is too low within an hour of bedtime, Apple Watch will remind users to charge it ahead of sleep.

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It will also display the sleep stats.

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The updated sleep section in the Health app shows all the data in detail. Apple says Wind Down will also be available to those without an Apple Watch in the form of a smartphone experience.

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Hand washing

COVID-19 has been on most people’s minds in the past few months. We’ve been all advised to make sure to wash our hands often. Apple is making this easier now with a Hand Washing app. The best part about the software is that there is nothing for you to do as everything is automatic.

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The watch monitors your hand movements and listens out for audio confirming you are washing your hands. When it determines you are doing so, the hand washing screen will switch on.

This will show a 20 second countdown, so you can make sure you have washed your hands long enough to be effective. If the user finishes early, they will be prompted to keep going. The Health app on the smartphone will show frequency and duration of the user’s handwashing.


Cycling directions

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Just like on iOS 14 – Cycling directions are coming to the Apple Watch. You can get directions, the best route, turn-by-turn directions, places optimized for cyclists and more. This will include granular details on dismounting, elevation, bike repair shops and more.


Dance and other new exercises

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Yes, the dancers out there will finally be able to get credit for their activities. The new functionality can recognize Hip Hop, Latin, Cardio dance and more. Apparently, this was quite difficult to implement. It relies on advanced sensor fusion – data from the accelerometer, gyroscope and heart rate was combined to figure out what you are doing.

Other new workouts include Core training, Functional Strength training and Cooldown. As before, all of this will be shown in the Activity app. In addition to design tweaks this has also been rebranded now to Fitness – which makes perfect sense.


Watch Faces

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Each and every iteration of Apple’s smartwatch operating system has come with new watch faces and customization options and watchOS 7 is no different. The company has now made it easier than ever to tweak existing watch faces with a choice of colors, styles and complications.

Users are able to share specific watch faces utilizing the share sheet from the Watch app with methods such as AirDrop. This is called Face Sharing. This works from friends or family, third parties, etc. Long press on the face, press share – and send to share the watch face on your device.

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Developers can also now enable multiple complications, which allows for richer watch faces. This means an app can, for the first time, have more than one complication all streaming at the same time. Plus, these rich complications are coming to more watch faces. New complications for native features include: Camera Remote, Sleep, and Shortcuts.

Finally there’s also a new watch face called Chronograph Pro. This includes a tachymeter to calculate speed based on time travelled over a fixed distance.


Other updates

  • The watchOS6 hearing functionality has been upgraded with support for hearing health with headphone audio notifications. Users can now understand how loudly they are listening to media through their headphones and when these levels may impact hearing over time.
  • Apple Watch owners can now use Siri to translate many languages from the wrist. Dictation is handled on device.
  • New Mobility Metrics available in the Health app include: low-range cardio fitness, walking speed, stair-descent speed, stair-ascent speed, six-minute walk distance, double support time, step length, and asymmetry.
  • Developers can create graphic complications with SwiftUI, and new developer tools such as Xcode Previews make building them even easier.

For a more detailed overview of these check out Apple’s press release.


What was not revealed

Ahead of the event, there were lots of rumors and leaks. The big one that has not been confirmed today is blood oxygen tracking. A pulse oximeter measures how well oxygen is sent to parts of the body furthest from the heart (such as arms and legs). This typically ranges between 95% and 100%, although levels above 92% are generally considered safe.

We were expecting this would be revealed today, but it hasn’t. Now you shouldn’t take this to mean the functionality is not coming to Apple Watch Series 6. Some had expected the feature would be coming to earlier iterations of the devices, as well, but it looks like these do not have the hardware necessary to track blood oxygen. As far as this one is concerned, we would say watch this space when Series 6 launches in September.

There were also rumors of parental controls. The functionality was supposed to be available from parents own phones to include features such as managing contacts and available music on their kids smartwatch. This would also allow parents to choose which apps and complications can be used during specific hours. Nope – none of this was mentioned.

Another feature that did not make it but was expected is a special Kids Mode. This was supposed to measure youngsters’ activities via a modified version of Apple’s Activity Rings.


Release date

WatchOS 7 is available to developers from today. The rest of us will be able to install it (at our own risk) as Beta sometime in July. The public iteration of the software will be available to all this fall.

Its worth pointing out, two Apple Watch models running watchOS 6 will not get the update. These include Apple Watch Series 1 and Apple Watch Series 2.

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