Image source: Apple

Apple WatchOS 9: features, how to install, compatibility

The next version of the Apple Watch operating system is available to download from today. Here’s everything you need to know about WatchOS 9.

The software was announced in June at the WWDC. This is an information technology conference organised annually by Apple Inc. It is the preview ground for the next generation of the company’s operating system for a range of its devices including iPhones, iPads, Macs and its flagship smartwatch.

Essential reading: Top fitness trackers and health gadgets

Not much was known about the next version of WatchOS 9 ahead of the event. The company is obviously getting better at keeping things under lock and key ahead of official reveals. It turned out, the software got a few nice upgrades.

WatchOS 9 – how to download and install?

watchOS 9 is available on Apple Watch Series 4 and newer from today. So a week earlier than last year’s operating system. Apple Watch Series 3 has been dropped from the list of supported devices. Series 9, Watch Ultra and SE should come with the software pre-installed. Others will need to update their devices.

If your watch is compatible with the new operating system the installation can be done via the Apple Watch or via the iPhone. Most people will probably find it simpler to upgrade from their watch. It’s a matter of preference.

If you choose that route, make sure your watch is connected to Wi-Fi and that it has at least 50% of battery life left. These installations can take quite a while.

Open up the Apple Watch’s Settings app, tap on General and choose Software Update. Choose install and simply follow the on-screen instructions to complete the process. Once the installation is done the watch will reboot itself. The complete process should take no more than 15-20 minutes. It largely depends on the speed of your internet connection and which generation of the watch you own.

Alternatively, you can fire up the iPhone Apple Watch app. Navigate to the My Watch tab/General/Software Update. If available, watchOS 9 will be listed there. Tap on Download and Install and follow the prompts.

WatchOS 9 – what’s new?


As mentioned, the software comes with a few handy upgrades. This includes new watch faces, running dynamics metrics, a multi-sport activity, sleep stages, Afib history and medications management.

Four new watch faces

Apple has remastered the Astronomy face. Users also get a Lunar calendar, a Playtime watch face which has whimsical animated numbers, along with Metropolitan – which highlights watch typography. Rich complications have arrived to more watch faces. The company has also done some UI tweaks, and Siri and banner notifications have a slightly tweaked look.

New running metrics

Some will consider this the biggest upgrade to watchOS 9. The company has slapped on a few running metrics.

This includes vertical oscillation which measures how much you move up and down. The tech uses info from the accelerometer and gyroscope to arrive at its calculations. These sensors are also used to work out stride length and ground contact time. Both are also considered to be running form metrics.

All of this is nicely arranged in the new easy to read workout views – which let you see more at a glance. Simply use the crown to scroll between them.

The company is also introducing heart rate zones on the watch. This will help you train more efficiently.

Interestingly, Apple is adding running power. This is a feature that many sports watches do not have so the company is ahead of the curve here. The metric is expressed in watts. It uses information on altitude, heart rate and more to calculate how much energy you are expending in real-time as you are running. This allows you to tweak your effort so that you do not push too hard.

A useful feature for runners is the Pacer experience. This lets you select a distance and time goal for a run. The watch will calculate how quickly you need to move required to achieve that. Switch the functionality on the you’ll get pace alerts in real-time during the run letting you know if you are on track to hit the goal. Later this year, Race Route will let you race against your best or last result on routes you frequent often.

New multi-sport activity

Beyond that, there is a custom workouts feature. This helps you add structure to your run. For example you can customise a HIIT session as per your preference. Plus you can add alerts to keep you on track – for example to stay in a heart rate zone. It uses both haptics and voice to notify.

For triathletes – there’s the option to start a multi-sport activity. This automatically switches between different sports (swimming, cycling, running) so you don’t have to do a thing expect focus on the task in front of you.

Apple Multi-sport activity

The Fitness app is now available to all iPhone users

Apple is making the Fitness app available to all iPhone users. Those who do not have an Apple Watch can tap into the phone’s sensors to track activity. Or link apps such as Strava and the data will be synced.

Sleep Stages

Sleep tracking has been a long time coming. It finally had arrived a couple of years ago.

Now this is getting an upgrade that comes in the form of Sleep Stages. The watch on your wrist will automatically detect which stage of sleep you are in. This could be Awake, REM, CORE and DEEP. In the morning you’ll get a nice overview showing how efficiently you slept. The company has used best-in-class medical grade sensors to arrive at its alogorithms. Apple Heart & Movement Study participants will now be able to contribute sleep stage data to the scientific study.

Apple Sleep Stages

Afib History

The AFib feature that was introduced a while ago alerts if the device on your wrist suspects you have Afib. For those with the condition, the new Afib History helps you understand the time you spend in AFib. This is important to help you manage the condition.

It allows you to see how lifestyle factors such as exercise, sleep and weight are effecting Afib. The graphs allow you to identify date, time of day or week when you experience the condition. The company says it is expecting FDA clearance soon for this life-saving feature.

Apple Afib

Medications management

As its name implies, medications will let you track, manage and understand medications, supplements and vitamins. You don’t necessarily need an Apple Watch for this.

Just build your medications list. You can scan labels of medications to make the process easier. Create a schedule for reminders, add custom visuals to make it easy to remember and more. The software also spits out info on drug-drug interactions. If there is a critical interaction on your list you’ll get an alert.

Apple medications

Other new features

The above is not where the new features end. A few more worthy mentions include:

  • Swimming improvements (Kickboard has been added as a new stroke type for Pool Swim workouts, SWOLF score)
  • Redesigned Compass app
  • Compass Waypoints and Backtrack
  • Updates to Cycle Tracking
  • Enhanced privacy
  • Low Power Mode
  • International roaming plans
  • Quick Actions
  • Apple Watch Mirroring

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Ivan Jovin

Ivan has been a tech journalist for over 7 years now, covering all kinds of technology issues. He is the guy who gets to dive deep into the latest wearable tech news.

One thought on “Apple WatchOS 9: features, how to install, compatibility

  • do you know if Apple is going to add “Iceskating” to it’s activity list??????


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