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watchOS 9: New fitness metrics, sports modes, health features, updates & more

Screenshot from Apple's WWDC 2022 keynote
(Image credit: Future)
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At WWDC 2022, Apple announced watchOS 9, the successor to watchOS 8 for Apple Watch 7 and beyond.

It's an all-new look for the Apple Watch 7 and earlier - although the Apple Watch 3 will no longer be supported, despite still being on sale - and brings improved running metrics, better sleep tracking, more medical capabilities and loads more watch faces too.

Here's everything announced at the latest keynote, and when you can expect to get your hands on the new software.

More from WWDC:

On test
- Hands on: MacBook Air (M2, 2022) review (opens in new tab)

All you need to know about...
- iOS 16 (opens in new tab)
- macOS 13 Ventura (opens in new tab)
- iPadOS 16 (opens in new tab)
- Apple M2 chip (opens in new tab)

watchOS 9: Cut to the chase

  • What is it? The latest big update for watchOS
  • When does it come out? This fall
  • How much does it cost? It's free

The new watchOS 9 is the latest update for Apple's own wearable operating system. No release date has yet been given, but we do know the update will be a free download for all Apple Watch users with compatible devices (Apple Watch 4 and above), and it's set to be available in the Fall. 

WWDC screenshot

New running metrics debuted at WWDC 2022 (Image credit: TechRadar)

watchOS 9: New features

There's a lot of new stuff coming to watchOS 9. First, four new watch faces were announced: a remastered Astronomy face, a Lunar watch face supporting Chinese, Islamic and Hebrew calendars, a Playtime face with interactive, whimsical numbers, and Metropolitan, with fog that dynamically stretches as you rotate the crown. 

Older faces are also seeing a, well, a facelift. Apple said "enhanced and modernised complications on some of the most classic watch faces, such as Utility, Simple, and Activity Analog" along with background color editing being available for favorites like Modular and X-Large. 

Chinese scripts have been added as options for two faces, California and Typograph, while Portraits shows the "depth effect" on more photos, including cats, dogs, and landscapes.

watchOS 9 introduces new banner notifications, and active apps that can be pinned to the top of watch faces. When listening to podcasts on the go, Search and Listen Now functions will be available on Apple Watch, controlled with the crown. Callkit allows you to start and mute calls. Six new QWERTY keyboard languages were also mentioned: French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese (Brazil), and Spanish (Mexico, Spain, Latin America).

WWDC screenshot

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Fitness features

Tons of new stuff here. watchOS 9 is adding three new running form metrics to track how efficiently you run, extrapolating torso movement separately from your arm swing via machine learning to ensure accuracy. Stride Length, Ground Contact Time, and Vertical Oscillation metrics are all brand-new to watchOS 9, and can be added to new easy-to-read Workout Views.

Familiar metrics such as splits and elevation are now reorganized. You can also see what Heart Rate Zone you’re in, which Fitbit and Polar have been doing for a while. However, you can add custom wrist-mounted alerts that will ping you when you're falling into and out of specific heart rate zones, allowing you to train for specific goals and fitness levels.

Speaking of, custom workouts allow you to improve specific metrics with interval workouts. The new Power metric can be monitored live during a session, including during running, hiking, cycling, functional strength training workouts, and more. 

Apple is gunning for Garmin's crown with its multi-sport mode. The new triathlon-focused mode will allow you to automatically switch between swimming, cycling and running on the fly. Apple also states: "swimmers can now track their efficiency with a SWOLF score — a stroke count combined with the time, in seconds, it takes to swim one length of the pool. Users can view their SWOLF average for each set in the workout summary."

Finally, there's more support for Apple Fitness+. Fitness+ workouts can now display on-screen guidance to your watch during HIIT, Cycling, Rowing, and Treadmill workouts. This guidance includes Strokes per Minute (SPM) for rowing, revolutions per Minute (RPM) for cycling, and incline for walkers and runners.

Fitness+ subscribers don't need Apple TV to stream workouts anymore, either. Users can now use AirPlay to stream workouts and meditations with all the usual on-screen metrics to compatible third-party TVs and other smart devices.

WWDC screenshot

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Health, sleep and wellness

In the Sleep app, your stages of sleep can determine and show you whether you're in light, deep and REM sleep mode. So far, nothing new: however, the watch can help you push forward “the science of sleep” by sharing your data with dedicated sleep scientists in the Research app.

Heart health receives a big upgrade with the catchy-sounding Afib History. This feature cross-references your lifestyle factors such as exercise, sleep and weight with your heart health, looking at how it affects your atrial fibrillation. Apple expects to receive FDA clearance for AFib History soon, allowing you to use your AH in a medical context.

You can also track and manage medications on your watch, or in the Health app on your phone. You can build medication lists, or use your iPhone camera to track medications by scanning the label, where it'll automatically add the medication to your existing list. 

In the US alone, drug interactions (a reaction between two or more ingested substances) cause 250k hospitalizations each year. Apple can now use your medication list to look at critical, serious or moderate drug interactions you're likely to encounter, which works with Health Sharing. You can easily invite your family members to share their health data.

watchOS 9: Supported devices 

We've just heard that watchOS 9 will be supported on Apple Watch 7 and Apple Watch 6, but support will run all the way down to Series 4 devices. 

If you have an older watch, this is great news, as you'll still be able to use many of the features previewed during the keynote.

Matt Evans
Matt Evans

With a Master’s Degree in journalism from Cardiff University, Matt started his digital journalism career at Men’s Health and stayed on for over two years, where he earned his stripes in health and fitness reporting. Since then, his byline has appeared in a wide variety of publications and sites including Runner's World, Women's Health, Men's Fitness, LiveScience and Fit&Well on everything from exercise, to nutrition, to mental health, alongside covering extreme sports for Red Bull. 

Stretching is Matt’s top fitness tip. He originally discovered exercise through martial arts, holding a black belt in Karate, and trained for many years in kickboxing. During COVID he also fell in love with yoga, as it combined martial-arts style stretching with a bit of personal space.

When he’s not training or writing about health and fitness, he can be found reading doorstop-thick fantasy books with lots of fictional maps in them.