Apple watchOS 3 release date, news and features

The Watch OS 3 release date is expected in two months, as Apple Watch app developers are right now beta testing the new software. Here’s what’s planned.

The next best thing to the Apple Watch 2 is almost here: Watch OS 3. It’s the highly anticipated refresh to your existing iPhone-compatible smartwatch, the Apple Watch that’s running watchOS 2 today.

The new firmware means the smartwatch is faster than ever before, yet is still able to deliver a handful of additional features, some in conjunction with iOS 10. It’s the Apple Watch done right.

We can’t fast forward time (that Apple Watch time travel feature doesn’t actually work like that), so we’ll have to wait a bit longer for Watch OS 3. In the meantime, here’s the breakdown of new features.

Cut to the chase

What is it? The next version of Apple’s smartwatch operating system
When’s it out? In the fall, likely September
What will it cost? Nothing, it’s an upgrade!

Apple watchOS 3 release date

There’s a three-month window in which the Watch OS 3 release date fits into the Fall 2016 calendar year, meaning we could see the next major Apple Watch update in as little as two months.

Fall officially begins on September 22, and wouldn’t you know it, that’s right around the time we expect the iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus and maybe even an Apple Watch 2 to launch in stores.

The Apple Watch 2 is rumored to be launching alongside the new iPhones for 2016, and while that’s just hearsay at this point, it’d really great to give the Watch OS 3 software a simultaneous hardware boost.

watchOS 3 beta

You don’t have to wait until watchOS 3 in order to upgrade your Apple Watch with the software. Yes, the release date is still slated for the fall, but there’s an ongoing beta.

This is very much a developer beta and Apple hasn’t announced plans for a watchOS 3 public, so it may be the only way to check it out before the official launch date.

It does require being part of the Apple Developer Program, which costs $100 (about £75, AU$131), but the good news is that the latest build is stable. By contrast, even iOS 10 public beta is buggy.

Apple watchOS 3 features: it’s faster

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

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, it’s lightning fast by comparison.

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.

My dock include 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 will work in a number of different languages too – you could 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.

Plus Minnie Mouse in now coming to Apple Watch too to join the popular Mickey watch face. You may have seen the WWDC demo in which the her outfits colors can be customized, but did you know they read the time aloud when tapped, too? It’s a neat, hidden watchOS 3 feature.

We’ll unlock more watch OS 3 beta secrets as updates roll out to our Apple Watch. Unlike iOS 10 and Mac OS Sierra, there isn’t a planned watchOS 3 public beta, so TechRadar will remain your best source for hearing all about what’s new for the best smartwatch for iPhone.