At WWDC 2023 Monday, Apple announced the watchOS 10 software update, which brings a complete rethinking of how we use and interact with the Apple Watch. While a leak ahead of the event that claimed the company was redesigning the famous Grid View of apps didn’t happen, other fundamental aspects of the interface have received major revamps.
“With watchOS 10, we’ve redesigned the interface, allowing users to experience Apple Watch like never before,” said Alan Dye, Apple’s vice president of Human Interface Design.
The most striking change is the introduction of the new Smart Stack, a collection of widgets accessible from any watch face (with a turn of the Digital Crown) that adjusts the information presented to the user based on the context: weather information at the start of the day, for instance, or boarding passes when traveling. By focusing on bite-sized versions of apps with key data rather than full apps, Apple is trying to find the optimal way to reduce interaction and maximize informativeness. This is the key battle when making a smartwatch interface usable.
Another example of this change in philosophy—away from apps and towards bite-sized chunks of data and mini toggles—is the new way Control Center is accessed. Instead of swiping up from the bottom of the screen, you use the side button, which should be a lot easier. The app dock (accessed in watchOS 9 using the side button) is now accessed by double-pressing the Digital Crown.
Numerous apps themselves have been redesigned, with the common theme being an expansion of their interfaces to take up more of the Apple Watch’s screen; framing furniture and blank space around the edge of the interface has been minimized. The Weather, Music, and Stocks apps, for example, get colorful background images to illustrate the current conditions or artist playing, or to match the stock currently being viewed. Similarly, incoming calls are signaled with a full-screen notification showing the contact image for the caller. And the Activity app gets extra icon buttons around the edge of the rings. Apple says some third-party apps have already come up with new designs to match this style, and that others will be able to follow soon.
Other apps have been redesigned more fundamentally to make them easier to use. The main interface of the Messages app is now organized according to contact, with contact face icons instead of the first line of recent messages; this seems more intuitive but the loss of those previews may prove a negative. These redesign decisions are so significant and fundamental that it will take time to evaluate their impact.
Health and fitness features
There are numerous less fundamental changes in watchOS 10, although this isn’t to downplay their importance.
The Apple Watch is continuing (and deepening) its focus on health and fitness. The Mindfulness app gets the ability to log emotions and moods, information that can then be analyzed in the Health app on iPhone to identify concerns and find solutions. Apple Watches running watchOS 10 will be able to measure time spent in daylight using the light sensor and this too can be monitored in Health. And the Medications app gains the ability to chase up with follow-up reminders when the user doesn’t log the use of a medicine.
On the fitness side, Apple announced the new ability to connect your Apple Watch automatically to Bluetooth cycling accessories such as speed sensors, as well as new algorithms for monitoring cycling performance. Cycling workouts will now show up on the companion iPhone and be offered as a fullscreen display so you can get more visual information when using a phone holder on your bike. This includes a new Cycling Speed view.
Like most watchOS updates, this one includes new watch faces. There’s Palette, a minimalist design whose colors shift over time, and a Snoopy face for fans of the Peanuts cartoons.
Also in the miscellaneous category, you can now view FaceTime video messages on your Apple Watch, and easily share your contact details by bringing your Apple Watch close to someone else’s iPhone.
Which devices get watchOS 10?
watchOS 10 will become available in the fall and is available for Apple Watch Series 4 and later. The companion iPhone needs to be an XS or later and must be running iOS 17.