Alongside iOS 11 and macOS High Sierra at WWDC 2017, Apple also announced a new version of the operating system software for the Apple Watch, watchOS 4, which adds a range of new features and interface tweaks. You can read more about these enhancements here: watchOS 4 new features.
watchOS 4 has now launched to the public (here's how to update your Apple Watch), but ahead of each launch you'll be able to download a pre-release beta testing version. Be warned that beta versions of software are not finished and may contain bugs.
In this article we explain how to install the latest beta of watchOS on your Apple Watch.
Install the watchOS 4 beta
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 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 4.
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.
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.
Down sides of installing a watchOS beta
Is it worth having a buggy experience, just so you can try out watchOS 4?
Unlike for iOS and macOS, there's no public beta for the Apple Watch software. What does this mean? The only way you're able to install the watchOS 4 beta is by signing up to Apple's Developer Program, which will set you back £79 per year.We're not convinced that it's worth paying £79 a year unless you want to develop apps for the platform, and wouldn't recommend this option just to go hands-on with the beta.
However, the price of Apple's Developer Program isn't the biggest reason to avoid using the beta. The biggest reason is that downgrading back to the original watchOS is quite an undertaking, and can't be done at home. Instead, the process involves sending your Apple Watch to Apple.
We can't really say more than that, as the instructions are under NDA within Apple's Developers Portal, so instead we'll say that unless you're a developer that wants to test their apps on watchOS 4, we'd wait until the official release in autumn.
watchOS 4 beta releases
There have been eight betas so far:
Beta 8 was released on 28 August and at time of writing is the latest version of watchOS 4. It's build 15R5371a.
watchOS 4 developer beta 7
This came out on 21 August. It added a new sailing workout and some stability improvements - more on this here.
Beta 6 arrived on 14 August. It's build 15R5357b. Now that we're so close to launch Apple is making very subtle changes and fixes with each beta, and this one doesn't contain all that much to thrill the layman - mostly patches to bugs.
The fifth beta dropped on 7 August.
iDownload Blog spotted a colourful new 'multiple notifications' icon, and a rearranged layout for the Control Centre; the 'Ping iPhone', for example, gets a slightly higher prominence. 9to5Mac reckons this is the first beta to include the promised full-screen celebratory visual effects when hit landmarks in Activity. And Neowin thinks there may be an issue with pool workout accuracy.
Developer beta 4 was rolled out on 24 July alongside iOS 11 developer beta 4. The biggest change in this beta appears to be battery performance: some developers are reporting up to an extra hour of battery life with this beta. We suspect that this is more of a fix to previous issues in beta 3 (discussed below) than a major leap forward, but we'll take what we can get.
Forbes reports that more jellyfish have added to the gallery of moving watch faces, and that a big that stopped Mikey Mouse speaking the time for some users seems to have been fixed, although Minnie remains unreliable for some. The Toy Story faces still don't say anything.
watchOS 4 developer beta 3
This was rolled out on 13 July. It's pretty short on major changes since we're getting closer to the final version, but there are some cosmetic changes you'll notice - the spinning firework animation that pops up in Activity when you close a ring now works, for instance - and of course some crucial if boring big fixes.
iDownloadBlog has made a video of the changes, and warns that it's a battery killer.
watchOS 4 developer beta 2
This came out on 21 June. It added the Toy Story watch faces, which weren't available in the initial beta, and fixes a wide range of bugs that have been spotted so far. 9to5Mac has the full release notes.
watchOS 4 developer beta 1
The original developer beta of watchOS 4 was launched on 5 June, the same night as the WWDC keynote when it was first announced.
When will the watchOS 4 public beta come out?
We don't think there will be one, although that hasn't been officially confirmed one way or another. There wasn't a public beta of watchOS 3, and you'll note that the Apple Beta Software Program page doesn't mention watchOS. (It does mention iOS, macOS and tvOS.)