Apple watchOS 3 and watchOS 3.1 features and updates

WatchOS 3.1 has launched for Apple's smartwatch

Update: Did you feel that on your wrist? Your watchOS 3 update has quietly become watchOS 3.1. Here's what's new in both versions for the Apple Watch and the new Apple Watch 2.

WatchOS 3 and WatchOS 3.1 are the new software updates that make owning an Apple Watch and Apple Watch 2 a worthwhile investment.

It's a big refresh for anyone who is still running watchOS 2. Your smartwatch is instantly faster (in speed, not actual time, silly), yet it's still able to deliver powerful new features without slowing anything down.

The interface is cleaner in watchOS 3 and we've experienced fewer bugs with the October launch of watchOS 3.1. Paired with an iPhone running iOS 10, and it's the Apple Watch done right.

Here's a breakdown of what we found from watchOS 3 and watchOS 3.1.

Cut to the chase

  • What is it? The next version of Apple's smartwatch operating system
  • When's it out? Download it today
  • What will it cost? Nothing, it's a free upgrade!

WatchOS 3.1 update - here's what's new

  • watchOS 3.1 update launched on October 24
  • Adds message effect replays and accessibility features
  • Resolves issues we found within watchOS 3

No more looking at your Apple Watch and waiting for the big update. watchOS 3 launched on September 13, and watchOS 3.1 got here 4 days later on October 24. Apple is steadily moving along with Watch updates.

watchOS 3.1 is more of a bug-fixing update than anything else. However, it does have a few front-facing features to get excited about.

watchOS 3

Ever miss a friend's iMessage animation? Bubbles and full-screen effects like balloons go bye-bye very quickly if you don't pay attention. Now you can replay these message effects thanks to watchOS 3.1.

Message effects now show up even if you have your Watch tuned to the more docile "Reduce Motion" setting within the accessibility menu.

Finally, you'll see more consistent Force Touch controls in conjunction with third-party apps, fewer Activity Ring watch face fails, no more Timer notification redundancies (I already hit snooze!), and zero charging errors.

Both watchOS 3 and watchOS 3.1 are compatible with all Apple Watches: the original Apple Watch, Apple Watch Series 1 and Apple Watch Series 2.

Best of all, they're completely free to download. You'll need an iPhone and a charged-up Apple Watch in order to complete the install process, however. 

Apple watchOS 3 features

The big update in watchOS 3 is in the optimization of your Watch, which makes it faster than ever before.

watch os 3

Remember this? It's now a thing of the past

Apple wants to have your apps respond instantly and have all the information you need before you even look at it. No more waiting around for third-party apps to boot up.

Apps will now pre-load information in the background, and some apps are seven times faster than on watchOS 2. Even in beta form, our Watch was lightning fast by comparison. It can only get even faster in the future.

There's a new Dock

There's a new Dock section on the Watch that allows you to access your favorite apps even quicker than the hexagonal grid (which is still here, too). There can be up to ten apps within this app-switching menu.

The Dock is accessed via the side button - a much better use of it than the accessing your friends list. Your friends haven't cared about your heartbeat since the week after everyone got their Apple Watch.

Our dock includes options such Messages, Timer, Workout, GoPro, Camera, Apple Home (new in iOS 10), Facebook Messenger, Mail, Google Tasks and Now Playing.

Control Center and SOS

The Dock means there's no more Glances, which were similar in practice, but access from a swipe up gesture. Now that same gesture is dedicated to Control Center, just like on an iPhone.

watchOS 3

Control Center has expanded with watchOS 3. There's a grid of toggle buttons: battery life, airplane mode, silent mode on/off, do not disturb, Find My iPhone, lock your smartwatch and AirPlay. It's great that all of these essentials are one swipe away now and not buried within Glances.

There's also another feature called SOS for when you're in trouble and need the emergency services. It works by you holding down the side button (like you're going to turn off the watch), and it ideal when you're in a dangerous situation.

watchOS 3

It'll ring the emergency services if your Watch is connected to your phone ,or use the internet if you're on Wi-Fi. SOS will work around the world, no matter what country you are in.

It even connects with a new Medical ID feature now included in watchOS 3 that allows you to keep your emergency details and vital stats on your person, rather than just on your phone.

Apple watchOS 3 Activity

The exercise based Activity app on watchOS is going to get an upgrade as well. The focus is on competition with a feature called Activity sharing.

If you swipe to the right of your activity ring it'll show your family and friends details too so you can start competitions.

WatchOS 3

Share and compete

It means you can send your heart rate to one of your friends or send a message with running details attached to show off your kickass workout.

Activity now also supports those in a wheelchair too. Apple has applied a number of major changes to the way Activity works on the Apple Watch for those who are in a wheelchair.

The notification "time to stand" will also switch to "time to roll" as well as the addition of two specific workout modes within the Activity app.

Apple watchOS 3 Breathe

Breathe is a new app to help you calm down after a stressful day at work - it'll give you breathing exercises to try to help relax you. You can set up smart notifications to remind you to use the app and you have the choice of doing workouts from one to five minutes long.

Watch OS 3

You can even do it with your eyes closed - just switch on haptic feedback and the buzzes will tell you when to breathe in and out.

Apple watchOS 3 messages

Ways to respond to your messages have changed in watchOS 3 by including easy to see shortcuts for voice messages and emoji to make it even quicker to reply. That's followed by your smart replies that sit just below the message you're reading.

Watch OS 3

There's also a new feature called Scribble that allows you to write a single letter on your watch at a time that will then build into a word. This works in a number of different languages too - you can even scribble in Chinese.

Apple watchOS 3 faces

It's quicker than ever to switch your watch face - now it just takes a single swipe. You can even add elements such as the weather on top of your photo watch faces.

Watch OS 3

New activity faces

Maybe of favorite update: Minnie Mouse in now coming to Apple Watch, too, and joins the popular Mickey watch face. 

You may have already seen the Apple WWDC demo in which the Minnie Mouse's outfit colors can be customized, but did you know both Disney characters read the time aloud when tapped? It's a neat, hidden watchOS 3 feature.

We'll unlock more watchOS 3 secrets as Apple continues to updates roll out updates for the Apple Watch and Apple Watch 2. 

TechRadar will remain your best source for hearing all about what's new for the best smartwatch for iPhone.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Matt Swider is TechRadar's gadget-savvy, globe-trotting mobile editor in Los Angeles. As an expert in iOS and Android, he owns over 120 phones that someone keeps setting the alarms on – simultaneously. He received his journalism degree from Penn State University and is never seen without his TechRadar headphones.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

James is Phones, Wearables and Tablets writer for TechRadar and covers all the big announcements from the best manufacturers making gadgets for your palms, wrists and face. Based in London, James is often testing out the latest and greatest phones, smartwatches, VR headsets and - when he can be motivated to go outside - fitness bands. Be sure to follow him on Twitter for all the latest from the mobile world.