watchOS 11: What we want to see, and all the leaks so far

Snoopy on Apple Watch Series 9
(Image credit: Future / Britta O'Boyle)

In the decade since the original's release, the best Apple Watches have come a long way. Starting as what was positioned as a fashionable piece of technology, they are now considered an excellent health and fitness device.

There's plenty of chatter around the Apple Watch X, or Apple Watch 10 – expected to be the anniversary model of the Apple Watch in the same way iPhone X was the 10th anniversary model of iPhone – but what about the software Apple Watch runs on? With significant changes arriving with watchOS 10 in 2023, including a completely different way of interacting and using Apple Watch, is watchOS 11 likely to take a back seat this year, with a smaller update?

We are covering everything we have heard so far about watchOS 11, including what features we can expect and when it is likely to be released, as well as the features we'd love to see.

Cut to the chase

  • What is it? The next major software release for Apple Watch
  • When is it out? Likely September
  • What Apple Watches will be supported? Likely Series 5 and newer

watchOS 11: Rumored release date

Apple Watch Series 9 with Snoopy

(Image credit: Future / Britta O'Boyle)

Apple typically announces what features its next major software builds will offer during its Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC). The conference usually takes place yearly at the beginning of June with the main keynote taking place on a Monday. 

This keynote is often where Apple details what is coming in watchOS, iOS, iPadOS, and macOS later that year. Apple hasn't announced dates for WWDC 24 as yet – they are normally revealed around March – but based on previous patterns, we'd expect the conference to kick off on either 3 June or 10 June. 

Public and developer betas are usually then released around a month later in July, followed by the final build of the software in September when the new Apple Watch models and iPhone models are revealed. 

Again, the date for the September announcement is unknown as yet, but it's usually the first or second week of September, with the software made available to compatible devices in the week following the announcements. That means we could see watchOS 11 arrive on supported Apple Watch models as early as 9 September.

watchOS 11: News and leaks

Apple Watch Series 9 with Snoopy

(Image credit: Future / Britta O'Boyle)

The rumours and leaks surrounding watchOS 11 have been minimal so far but it's pretty early on, so that's not a huge surprise. Bloomberg's Mark Gurman also reported at the end of 2023 that work on the watchOS 11 and the other major software builds was briefly delayed, which could account for the lack of news so far.

That said, there has been some talk of Apple incorporating a Large Language Model into iOS 18, which would make Siri more useful and help Apple's assistant keep up with artificial intelligence advancements and adopt features that some of its competitors offer. If true, we'd expect some of that to filter down to Siri on watchOS 11 too, likely resulting in Apple's smartwatch being more capable of interacting with information and apps with less input from users. 

Apple has also confirmed RCS support, which is expected to come with iOS 18 – even though that element isn't confirmed with Apple only saying by the end of 2024. If RCS support comes to the iPhone in September (apart from no more green bubbles around your messages) it will also likely mean it will come to Apple Watch with watchOS 11.

In terms of compatibility, there are currently no leaks to suggest which Apple Watch models will lose support, but an educated guess would suggest the Apple Watch Series 4 will be on the chopping block, while the Series 5 and newer will support the new software. We will update this feature as more news surrounding watchOS 11 appears, as well as any rumors surrounding supported models.

watchOS 11: What we want to see

Rumours are thin on the ground for watchOS 11 for now, but there are a few things we would really like to see when the next major software for Apple Watch arrives.

1. A recovery ring

Apple Watch Series 9 activity rings

(Image credit: Future / Britta O'Boyle)

When the Apple Watch was announced in 2014, the three activity Rings played a key role in the interface and what the smartwatch was about – and they still do. The Move ring, Exercise ring and Stand ring are the measure in which Apple Watch determines how well you have done in terms of daily activity goals. You can now adjust all three to suit your preferences, but otherwise the basic precedent remains the same as it did a decade ago. 

We'd like a fourth ring introduced with watchOS 11: Recovery or Rest. This could automatically replace the Exercise ring for the days in which Apple Watch has analysed all that data it has gathered up and decided you are due a rest day, for example. Or perhaps it could be an additional ring that gets filled throughout the week based on your activity and sleep and once full, Apple grants you a rest day by blocking out the Exercise ring and the user choosing to accept or reject that day of rest.

2. Steps as a complication or goal

Apple Watch Series 9 step count

(Image credit: Future / Britta O'Boyle)

We still remember when the 10,000 steps a day metric was thrown out there as a good starting point for those who wanted to keep fit through walking. While the scientific evidence for whether 10,000 steps is enough or not enough is a little scarce, it's still a measure many people use and it's one that Apple Watch doesn't currently highlight particularly well. 

If you are someone who likes to ensure you have completed 10,000 steps a day alongside completing your Move and Exercise Rings, you have to open the Activity app on your Apple Watch and scroll down four screens until you discover your daily step count. If you hit the Digital Crown once on that page, the next time you open the Activity app, it will show the steps screen straight away – a useful tip for anyone who didn't know that – but we'd like to see steps more accessible with watchOS 11. 

It's never been a metric Apple has focused on but the ability to add steps as a complication on Watch Faces without downloading a third-party app, or set the Exercise ring as a step goal rather than minutes of activity would be great. 

3. More detailed sleep tracking

Apple Watch Series 9 sleep tracking

(Image credit: Future / Britta O'Boyle)

Apple improved the sleep tracking it offered on Apple Watch with watchOS 9 but while it's now possible to see sleep stages and various data like resting heart rate and respiratory rate, Apple Watch is still a little behind the likes of Fitbit and Whoop when it comes to sleep tracking.

We'd love to see watchOS 11 use the sleep data gathered by Apple Watch to give you a more holistic view of your overall fitness and provide more insights into whether you may need to take a rest and recovery day, or whether you should feel tip-top and ready to go in terms of exercise. Something similar to Garmin's Body Battery or Fitbit's Daily Readiness Score for example, would be one of our top requests for watchOS 11. This of course, feeds into our earlier Recovery ring request.

4. Flexibility on Watch Faces

Apple Watch Series 9 complications

(Image credit: Future / Britta O'Boyle)

With every major software release for Apple Watch, we get a couple of new Watch Faces. For watchOS 10, this included Snoopy, which was hands down one of the best features to come with the new software. It was added alongside Palette, which was also nice, but it was no Snoopy and Woodstock. 

For watchOS 11, we'd love to see third-party Watch Faces but we are aware that is highly unlikely, so instead, we'd ask for a little more flexibility with the Watch Faces that already exist instead. We'd like to be able to add a complication to Snoopy for example, or have Apple Watch suggest some useful complications based on our usage habits and what apps we have on our Apple Watch for Watch Faces that do have the complication capabilities. 

5. Programmable side button

Apple Watch Series 9 side view

(Image credit: Future / Britta O'Boyle)

Just as third-party Watch Faces are unlikely, so too is Apple making the side button on Apple Watch programmable, especially since it recently changed to launch Control Centre with watchOS 10. Still, we can dream. The Watch Ultra and Watch Ultra 2 both have the additional programmable Action Button, but the standard Apple Watch Series models don't have this as a feature. 

Being able to quickly start a workout or another app with one press of the side button would be very much welcomed with watchOS 11. Of course, that would mean moving the Control Centre: at the moment, swiping left to right or right to left from the Apple Watch home screen has no function, so surely the Control Centre could move there.

We'd still have Apple Pay launch from a double press of the side button, but we would really love the ability to program the single press. Pretty please, Apple?

Britta O'Boyle
Freelance Contributor

Britta is a freelance technology journalist who has been writing about tech for over a decade. She's covered everything from phones, tablets and wearables to smart home and beauty tech, with everything in between. She has a fashion journalism degree from London College of Fashion and was previously deputy editor of Pocket-lint, where she climbed three mountains with 9 fitness trackers on just to test them. You'll never find her without her Apple Watch on, aiming to complete her rings so she can justify the extra bar of chocolate.