Once a year Apple releases a major new version of watchOS, the operating system software that runs on all Apple Watch models; there are also smaller point upgrades from time to time in between. These updates are free, and can add new features to your watch, improve its speed and fix bugs and glitches.
The latest version is watchOS 7, which arrived in September 2020 and allows you to run multiple face complications from a single app, and share customised face settings with your friends. Most excitingly, it adds sleep-tracking features (if you're anything like me you'll have to learn a new charging routine if you want to use this) and there are new workout types, changes to the Activity app (now rebranded as Fitness), cycling directions and much more.
WatchOS 7.5 arrived in May 2021. Apple will be unveiling the next version - watchOS 8 - at WWDC in June 2021.
If you'd like to install the latest version of watchOS on your Apple Watch, you've come to the right place. In this article we show how to update an Apple Watch so it's running watchOS 7.
If you want to get a version of watchOS that hasn't yet become available to the general public, you'll have to install the beta.
Which Apple Watches can run watchOS 7?
The Apple Watch Series 3 and later can install watchOS 7; the original, Series 1 and Series 2 all miss out. You'll also need an iPhone running iOS 14.
The Apple Watch Series 6 and SE will both come with watchOS 7 preinstalled, so you won't need to worry about this process for those models. However, you can follow the procedure below to get later updates such as watchOS 7.1.
Some Watch 3 owners have encountered problems updating their Apple Watch, we address these below.
How to update your Apple Watch
Before the launch of watchOS 6, these updates had to happen on the watch's associated iPhone rather than on the watch itself - and we still think this is the easiest method.
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 that's available to install.
Tap install and accept the terms & conditions.
In order to install this new version your iPhone and Apple Watch will need to be in Bluetooth range, the watch must be connected to its charger and on at least 50% power and, as with all OS updates, you need to be on Wi-Fi.
The update can take a while but do not be tempted to take the watch off its charger before it's finished. We have done this in the past and it has disrupted the update process so badly that we have had to throw ourselves on Apple's mercy and get the watch replaced.
Update on the Apple Watch itself
If you've got watchOS 6 or later, you can install further updates without recourse to an iPhone. The update can now happen entirely on the Apple Watch itself.
Open the Settings app on your watch and tap General > Software Update. watchOS will check for available updates.
If an update is available, tap Install and follow further instructions. As with the iPhone update, the Watch will need to sit on its charger for the installation stage and be connected to Wi-Fi. It should also have more than 50% battery power.
Troubleshooting Watch update problems
Many Apple Watch Series 3 users have had difficulty installing updates to the watchOS operating system.
In the past, Apple has suggested that users temporarily delete apps and music before updating, if this doesn't work, Apple recommends that users should restore the system completely before updating.
The problem seems to be the small amount of storage space for the Apple Watch Series 3 (the GPS version of the Apple Watch Series 3 only has 8GB storage). This means that there is not enough space for the temporary installation files.
in 2020, for the first time, Apple released a public beta of watchOS 7. This means that from now on, anyone who's interested can try out new versions of watchOS ahead of their official launch. It's no longer limited to developers.
If you want the bragging rights of trying out upcoming watch updates ahead of everyone else, try our article demonstrating how to install a watchOS beta.