While we’re not expecting to see a new Apple Watch Series 6 until September at the earliest, but Apple usually announces new features for watchOS 7 at WWDC.
One of the great things about the Apple Watch is that older generations have still been updated with new features – and that’s because watchOS and Apple Watches are treated as separate entities.
For the uninitiated, watchOS is the operating system that runs on the Apple Watch – just like iOS runs on your iPhone, or to cross the technology divide, Windows runs on your PC.
Previous examples of features landing on watchOS updates at WWDC have been the Breathe app, new fitness tracking metrics, and the interface change in watchOS 3. If there are big additions or changes to watchOS it will happen at WWDC.
WWDC will take place this year on 22 June, but ahead of that we’ve mixed up the main rumors for the features that might land and our take on what we’d like to see.
A new kind of sleep tracking
Top of the wishlist since the original Apple Watch, sleep tracking seems a shoe-in for watchOS 7.
Apple has laid the groundwork for sleep on Apple Watch, and native integration (surely with the introduction of sleep rings) its addition looks to be a formality.
Apple already has the basics. Third party Apple Watch sleep tracking apps such as Pillow offer a decent experience and there’s parts of the OS already in place, such as snooze notifications until morning and Theatre Mode that stops the screen blinding you in the night. Automating these at bed time should be easy enough.
But Apple will want to make its own experience better than anyone else’s.
And we’d love to see Apple reinvent the idea of sleep tracking away from the standard practice of displaying deep, REM and light sleep stages and moving to its own metrics.
And this could be really exciting.
Sleep tracking should be about getting better sleep. And there are a few really important parts of sleep tracking – but the rest is just data.
Bedtime consistency, time in bed, atmospheric conditions, mindfulness and meditation, alcohol, caffeine and screen time – these are the actionable parts of getting better sleep.
The minutes in spent in REM sleep or the depth of your breathing – these are things we cannot control.
So we’d love to see Apple take sleep tracking in a different, more actionable direction which isn’t so focused on raw data, but none-the-less goal focussed.
Blood oxygen monitoring
It’s thought that every Apple Watch has housed a blood oxygen sensor, but it’s not a data point the smartwatch can access – yet. So it could be a feature we see offered in watchOS 7?
There are two ways companies can go with SpO2, and you don’t need to be an Apple expert to know what direction it will prefer.
The first is to add an SpO2 sensor, provide an app for measurement of blood oxygen on-demand, and let people work it out themselves. This is pretty much what Huawei, Oppo and other manufacturers do when they add an SpO2 sensor to their devices.
The second is to get FDA approval, and then analyse that SpO2 data automatically, preferably during sleep, and give users a heads up that it could indicate a condition such as sleep apnea and to consult their physician.
This is the process Apple has followed with ECG and Afib detection, and there’s little doubt it will be how it wants to proceed with blood oxygen.
But FDA certification will be standing in its way. The Withings Sleep Analyzer is stuck at the FDA stage trying to get clearance for exactly that, and to date, Apple is one of the few consumer companies that has managed to complete the process for Afib. Could it repeat the trick and set the standard here again? We wouldn’t bet against it.
Kids mode and GPS
One of the chief rumors around the next watchOS 7 is a kids mode, and we actually love this idea.
There’s two parts.
The current Apple Watch app only allows you to pair one smartwatch at a time. So if you want your offspring to wear your old smartwatch – it would need to be paired to their own iPhone. That’s unlikely. So watchOS 7 may allow for a second paired device, and a new Kids Mode.
Details about what a Kids Mode might offer are scarce, but rumors point to Schooltime, which lets you block out features during school hours, and a more kid-focussed fitness/wellness goals.
We’re big fans of this idea, especially for giving older devices a second life. But we’d love to see it go further.
Rumors haven’t covered the Apple Watch acting as a GPS tracking device for kids, which is still a very under-loved niche of wearable, and one that’s been beset by privacy worries.
Locating kids if they wander off is a real user need for some parents, and Apple Watch LTE devices (or even Bluetooth disconnection alerts) could do this effortlessly.
All this talk of sleep tracking is already giving us charging anxiety – and this is less widely reported in the rumor round ups, but something that will have to be addressed.
We recently re-tested all the top Apple Watch sleep tracking apps, and charging became a real headache. A few times we were caught out with a dead device before bed, or worse, just as we wanted to head out for a run.
Apple needs to work out how users will keep the Apple Watch charged while they’re wearing it to bed.
The idea of multi-day battery life just isn’t realistic, so there will need to be a different approach.
9to5Mac has pointed to alerts to remind us to charge the device before bed is the answer. Simple but imperfect.
We’d love to see rapid charging, so that five minutes on the charger before bed gets you through the night, or out for a run.
Keeping sleep tracking in a low power state could also be the answer. If tracking a night’s sleep only drains just a couple of percent, it would make it easier to manage.
Improve the always-on display
The move to an always-on display on Series 5 was welcome, but we feel it needs some tweaks to iron out kinks.
We’ve found that some apps – particularly fitness ones – are covered by the time during use, and it can become a little annoying. Try holding a timed plank and glancing at your Apple Watch to see how many seconds are left, just to see the screen blurred out.
A faster wake animation would make always-on less noticeable, and enabling more third-party apps to keep their screen illuminated during tracking would improve this dramatically.
Stress, mental wellbeing and wellness
Afib, sleep apnea, low and high heart rate: these have been incredible consumer health innovations brought by wearable tech.
But while they affect hundreds of millions of people globally, bringing benefits to even more people surely has to be the goal of wearables.
And rumors that Apple could look to track the symptoms and warn of the onset of panic attacks like it does Afib –would be of huge benefit to a lot of people. Add into that some form of stress tracking, combining with the Breathe app, and the Apple Watch could deliver benefits to even more people.
There are also interesting applications in the wake of the global pandemic. While a device that can tell us that we might be getting sick is years of validation and certification away, we’d love to see this kind of early warning system from smartwatches put us in closer unison with our general health.