Now that watchOS 3 is out of beta and available for everyone as a free update, it’s time to start using the new features including a major speed boost, new watch faces, new apps and much more. See how to update to watchOS 3 here then read on to see what’s new in the latest Apple Watch software update:

Major Performance Upgrade

watchOS 3 is dramatically faster. Like way faster. Seriously. Here’s what you need to know: if you have an app complication on your watch face, it will stay in memory and launch instantly. Separately, if you have an app in your Dock, it will also be prioritized and launch quickly. Apps also support Background Refresh which helps apps stay up-to-date without launching them.

You’ll still see the slow loading screen on apps you haven’t launched recently that aren’t in your Dock or on your watch face, though, which is why Apple Watch Series 1 and Apple Watch Series 2 include a dual-core processor, but the experience is still night and day on the original Apple Watch for your most used apps.

Hello Dock, Goodbye Glances and Friends

But wait, what is a Dock? Basically Apple removed the Friends menu from watchOS 1 and 2 and replaced it with an app launcher. This is the screen you see when you click the side button below the Digital Crown. Now Playing is now an app on your Dock, not a Glance which also goes away with watchOS 3, and you can see recently launched apps as well. Apple wants Watch apps to be designed as well as Glances which were actionable from the first screen.

The Dock can hold up to 10 apps which are stored in memory and launch much faster than apps that aren’t saved in your Dock. Jeff Benjamin was so impressed with the Dock in watchOS 3 that he dedicated an entire hands-on video to it:

Control Center Just Like iPhone

Glances have been replaced with apps in the Dock, and Apple’s default Settings glance is now Control Center just like on your iPhone. Swipe up from your watch face and you’ll find actionable controls for battery life, airplane mode, mute, Do Not Disturb, Find My iPhone, locking your watch, and AirPlay.

Tapping the battery percentage lets you toggle between Power Reserve mode, long pressing the Find My iPhone button enables your iPhone’s flash, and the lock enables your passcode without removing your watch from your wrist. The AirPlay section lets you choose between various Bluetooth audio sources if you’ve paired anything.

It’s a more streamlined interface, but I do miss quicker access to Now Playing controls including volume which are now moved to the Dock which requires a button click versus a swipe up.

New Watch Faces and Easy Switching

The new watch faces on watchOS 3 may be my favorite new features. This includes two new Activity faces, the addition of Minnie Mouse, and a black and white version of the Mickey Mouse watch face which now talks!

  • Activity Analog
  • Activity Digital
  • Numerals
  • Minnie Mouse

Activity Digital is by far my favorite watch face to date. It has many of the benefits of the Modular watch face while clearly presenting your Activity progress. The updated Mickey Mouse and new Minnie Mouse watch faces are also downright delightful; tap either of them to have the Disney characters read the time to you.

Numerals is a very simple and customizable watch face that shows a numeral for the current hour and one complication behind watch hands. You can customize the font and color too. Very classy.

You can also now switch between your watch faces with an easy edge swipe. Previously changing watch faces from the Apple Watch required Force Touching the display then swiping left and right through a vertical list. The Watch app on iPhone is also seriously upgraded when it comes to managing watch faces and complications.

New Complications Galore

Speaking of complications, or those widgets you set on your watch face, Apple has a ton of new ones in watchOS 3. You can now use complications on some older watch faces like Motion and Timelapse that were more limited before, and Apple includes complications for Music, Workout, Reminders, Heartrate, Breathe, Home, Maps, and more. Weather can also show current temperature and current weather conditions in separate complications.

New Apps and More

Okay, I spilled the beans above on some of the new apps from Apple on watchOS 3. Now that glances are gone, Heartrate is now a standalone app that you can place in your Dock or access anytime from the honeycomb grid. Apple also has a new app for meditating called Breathe. This sends you reminders to take a break and focus on your breathing, then adds the time you’ve spent meditating to the Health app on the iPhone as Mindful Minutes under the Mindfulness section.

Apple’s new Home app for controlling HomeKit has a useful watchOS 3 version, Find Friends is now on the Apple Watch, and Reminders now lets you view and manage your reminders lists. Tons of other Apple apps are totally updated in watchOS 3 as well including Maps, Weather, Workout, and Activity.

Activity Sharing and New Workouts

Changes in Activity include the ability to share your progress with other Apple Watch friends. This works on the iPhone and Apple Watch and includes progress alerts and the ability to send encouragement or smack talk throughout the day.

watchOS 3 is also smarter when it comes to activity tracking. For example, wheelchair users can now use Activity to receive ‘Time to roll!’ reminders in place of Stand reminders, and the Workout app adds two wheelchair-specific activities. Apple Watch Series 2, which is swimproof, includes open water and pool swimming workouts too.

The Workout app also now lets you label your Other workouts and access recently used workouts from the top of the list. Finally, if you go for a run with Apple Watch and rest at a stop sign, watchOS 3 will intelligently pause the workout and resume tracking when you start running again.

Smarter Messages App

watchOS 3 may remove the Friends view in favor of the new Dock, but almost all of the social features are still available in Messages. For example, you can now use Digital Touch to draw sketches or send your hearth to your friends from Messages. New iOS 10 features like sticker packs and app effects are also supported in Messages on watchOS 3. Just check your recents list for access to your frequently used stickers, and phrases like ‘happy birthday’ and ‘happy new year’ will automatically set off app effects which are also visible on the receiving end.

watchOS 3 Apple Watch

Emoji are also larger in watchOS went sent as standalone messages or in groups of up to three in messages. Scribble is a new way to type messages by drawing, too, since Apple Watch is too small for a keyboard and dictation isn’t always possible. I’ve used it to sketch out a few messages so far and it really works well; I can draw letters faster than the first-gen Apple Watch can keep up so I’m hoping Apple Watch Series 2 is even better here.

Auto Unlock Your Mac with Apple Watch

Auto Unlock is a brilliant feature that replaces your Mac password with your Apple Watch. macOS Sierra intelligently knows when you’re nearby and wearing your Apple Watch, then skips the password screen and lets you get to work without worrying about your password. This requires newer Mac hardware so my poor 2012 Mac mini isn’t supported, but I’ve seen the feature in action and it’s pure magic. Check out Jeff’s video and tutorial for more:

Apple Pay Apps

Apple Watch is already a super convenient way to use Apple Pay in stores. Just double click the side button then wave your Apple Watch near the checkout terminal. watchOS 3 goes a step further and brings Apple Pay to apps just like on iPhone and iPad. I haven’t tested this in action yet, but this is what Apple says about the new capabilities:

Pay within apps. Reload your gift card. Add minutes to your parking meter. Order your favorite takeout meal. Now you can securely pay within apps using Apple Pay — right from your watch.

Sounds like a convenient step forward.


Finally, watchOS 3 makes the Apple Watch a brilliant emergency device with its new SOS feature. Just hold the side button down for a few seconds, then your iPhone dials 911 and notifies your emergency contact all without using Siri or fumbling for the Phone app. This should seriously come in handy for a lot of users, but be careful not to accidentally engage it!

Much More from the App Store

watchOS 3 also enables Apple Watch apps to be more capable and perform better so stay tuned for upcoming app updates that take advantage of the new software update! This is what Apple says about App Store apps:

Along with performance enhancements, watchOS version 3 gives developers tools for fitness, graphics, games, and media. So they can create richer apps, and you can enjoy even better experiences.

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About the Author

Zac Hall

Zac covers Apple news, hosts the 9to5Mac Happy Hour podcast, and created