Alongside iOS 10 and macOS Sierra at WWDC 2016, Apple also announced a new version of the operating system software for the Apple Watch, watchOS 3. WatchOS 3 improves the Apple Watch experience with a new app dock that helps you to launch apps more easily - and because apps now update quietly in the background, they should launch quicker too.
WatchOS 3 is available for all Apple Watch owners to download and install for free. In this article we explain how to install watchOS 3 on your Apple Watch, and outline some of the tweaks and new features that make it worth the (very minor) effort of updating.
How to update an Apple Watch: watchOS 3 release date
watchOS 3 is available to download now. It was made available to the public on 13 September 2016. You can download and install it now for free on any model of Apple Watch; we explain how to update your Apple Watch to watchOS 3 software in the next section.
In fact, some more minor point updates of watchOS have been released since the main watchOS 3 launch. The newest version of watchOS available to the public at time of writing is watchOS 3.1.3. And Apple has released several beta testing versions of watchOS 3.2, but they're a bit harder to get hold of.
How to update an Apple Watch: How to install watchOS 3 on your Apple Watch
Updating your Apple Watch is easy. Here's how to get watchOS 3.
Installing watchOS 3, like most significant Apple Watch tinkering, takes place on the watch's associated iPhone rather than on the watch itself. Grab your iPhone and open the Apple Watch app. Make sure you're in the My Watch tab along the bottom menu and then tap General.
There may well be a little orange '1' next to the Software Update option, indicating that an update is ready (there'll be a red '1' next to the My Watch tab too); however, you may have to get the app to check for updates before you see this. Either way, tap Software Update and the app will run a check, then show you the details of the new version of watchOS.
In order to install watchOS 3 (or any other watchOS update) there are some hoops to jump through: your iPhone and Apple Watch need to be in Bluetooth range; the watch must be connected to its charger and on at least 50 percent power; and as with all OS updates, you need to be on Wi-Fi. Other than this, simply follow the onscreen instructions and (after a bit of waiting) you'll have an updated Apple Watch.
How to update an Apple Watch: How to install a beta version of watchOS
At any given moment, there will one or more beta versions of watchOS that aren't yet available to the general public. Sometimes these will be major updates - watchOS 3 itself was made available in beta before emerging in its final form - and it may be worth the extra effort to get hold of the beta version and try out the new features early. (This is certainly the case for app developers who need to make their software work with the new OS.) At time of writing, the beta version is for watchOS 3.2, and this has only a few changes from watchOS 3.1.3, which is easy to obtain through the normal means.
If you're keen to try out a beta version of watchOS, here's how it's done. But be warned that beta software is never as reliable as the public-release stuff, so don't do this if you're not prepared for things to go wrong on your Apple Watch. Remember to back up any important data.
Before you install a beta version of watchOS, you'll have to install a beta certificate on your device. The beta certificate tells your iPhone to look for and allow you to install the watchOS beta directly OTA (over the air), much like a standard software update. Follow these steps to install a beta profile on your device and make it applicable for the watchOS 2 update.
Before you try to install the watchOS beta certificate, you'll have to be running a beta version of iOS too.
1) Log into the Apple Developer Portal on the iPhone paired with your Apple Watch.
2) Navigate to the watchOS download page.
3) Tap 'Download watchOS [x] beta Configuration Profile', for the appropriate version.
4) When prompted to choose a device, tap 'iPhone' then 'Install'.
5) Enter your Passcode, tap Install and then again to confirm.
6) Tap 'Restart' to reboot your iPhone and complete the configuration profile installation.
Once your iPhone has restarted, the watchOS beta update should appear as an update option within the Apple Watch companion app. From here, the update process is pretty standard.
How to update an Apple Watch: Is it worth installing watchOS 3?
Yes, it's definitely worth it. It's very easy to update your Apple Watch, and there aren't really any down sides.
Most fundamentally, watchOS 3 changes the function of the side button (the button that isn't the Digital Crown dial). It's no longer used to bring up the contacts page; instead, it activates an app dock. Believe us, this is far more useful.
Apps should launch faster in watchOS 3 than they did in watchOS 2 and watchOS 1, thanks to a feature called instant apps: this causes commonly used apps to update in the background so they're ready when needed.
There's a new Breathe app for mindfulness/meditation; the ability to unlock your Mac with your Apple Watch; and a load of new faces. It's all good stuff.
Read more: Best new features of watchOS 3
watchOS 2 new features
If you update straight from watchOS 1 to watchOS 3, you'll get the new features of watchOS 2 thrown in.
Before watchOS 3 came along, watchOS 2 brought a bunch of new features too, such as new watch faces to choose from, including a number of time-lapse videos from around the world. You can also set the watch to display a random photo from a specified album every time its display is activated, giving you that extra personal touch.
As well as a face lift, third-party developers are also able to get more creative with their Apple Watch companion apps. Why? Because Apple is finally allowing third-party apps to run natively on the smartwatch, and will also let them add complications (the tiny on-screen widgets) to the watch face. That’s not all though, as developers can also make use of the suite of on-board sensors and hardware to make actions like sending voice notes via WhatsApp from the Apple Watch a reality (if WhatsApp decides to support the function, anyway).
For more information regarding the features of watchOS 2 and what you can expect when it's finally released, you should read ’12 awesome new features coming to the Apple Watch with watchOS 2’.
Macworld poll: Will you update your Apple Watch to watchOS 2?
Are ou convinced? Are the tweaks and new features in watchOS 2 enough to convince you to update your Apple Watch? Have your say in our latest poll.
Next page: Read on for information related to earlier versions of watchOS.