watchOS 7 at WWDC: sleep tracking and dance workouts announced for the next Apple Watch update

watchOS 7 promises better sleep, more workout options, more face options and… handwashing detection

watchOS 7
(Image credit: Apple)

watchOS 7 was just shown off at Apple's WWDC keynote. Alongside new software heading to your Apple Watch, we also got a glimpse at iOS 14, iPadOS 14, and macOS Big Sur.

Among the big updates heading to the Apple Watch is Sleep Tracking, a much-requested feature which will now be natively recorded in the Fitness app (which is the new name for the Activity app).

Apple is also giving you more ways to personalise your watch face, as well as new ways to find, download and share watch faces.

The Activity app got the biggest update, with the new name, and new workouts, including Dance, Core Training, Functional Strength Training, and Cool Down

You can read a full rundown of the updates below.

watchOS 7 release date and compatibility

watchOS 7 will be available this fall (autumn) as a free software update for Apple Watch Series 3, Apple Watch Series 4, or Apple Watch Series 5 paired with iPhone 6s or later running iOS 14 or later.

watch OS 7 news:

  • There are over 20,000 watch OS apps available
  • You can now use multiple complications from the same app on a single watch face
  • More watch faces added, including a stylish new Chronograph face
  • Apple is introducing 'curated' watch faces, allowing you to download and share pre-configured watch faces
  • Curated watch faces can be shared on social media, downloaded from websites, or found in the app
  • Maps on watchOS now includes cycling directions
  • Dance work out added!
  • Multiple dances tracked, including cardio, hip-hop, and Bollywood
  • Also now tracks core training, functional strength training, and cool down
  • Activity app is now called Fitness
  • Sleep tracking is now native in the Fitness app
  • Sleep tracking takes a holistic approach, and measures everything you do in the day to help you sleep better
  • Wind Down will help you transition mentally to bedtime – it's not just about tracking sleep, but helping to improve it
  • Watch screen will turn off in sleep mode
  • Silent, taptic, wake up alarm to wake you up in the morning (or noisy, if you prefer)
  • Will measure your breath, to know when you're sleeping and awake
  • Battery life will show when you wake up, so you know whether you need to charge
  • Apple Watch will detect when you're washing your hands, and will start a timer to ensure you're doing it for long enough

New watch Faces and sharing

The beautifully detailed and ultraprecise Chronograph Pro includes a tachymeter to calculate speed based on time travelled over a fixed distance, the Photos face offers filters, and the bold X-Large face now has an option to add a rich complication.

Developers now have the ability to offer more than one complication per app on a single watch face. For example, on one watch face, Glow Baby can display multiple complications that help new parents track bottle-feeding, breastfeeding, pumping statistics, and nap times, while Dawn Patrol can show surfers tide, wind speed, and water temperature from a favourite surf spot.

In the past, you could only have a single complication from an app, so now you can create something that's really tailored to your needs.

Sleep tracking

watchOS 7 introduces sleep tracking, taking a holistic approach to sleep by providing valuable tools to help users get the desired amount of sleep, get to bed on time, and create a pre-bedtime routine to meet their sleep goals. 

Through the detection of micro-movements from the watch’s accelerometer, which signals respiration during sleep, Apple Watch captures when the wearer is sleeping and how much sleep they get each night. 

In the morning, you will see a visualisation of their previous night’s sleep, including periods of wake and sleep. You'll also see a chart showing their weekly sleep trend.

To help you wake up, Apple Watch offers a silent haptic alarm or gentle sounds, while the wake-up screen shows the current battery level. Depending on personal charging behaviour, if the battery is too low within an hour of bedtime, Apple Watch will remind users to charge it ahead of sleep. 

Automatic Handwashing Detection

In a first-of-its-kind innovation for a wearable, Apple Watch uses the motion sensors, microphone, and on-device machine learning to automatically detect handwashing motions and sounds. 

It then initiates a 20-second countdown timer, and if you finish early, you will be prompted to keep washing. Apple Watch can also conveniently remind you to wash your hands when you return home.

The Health app on your iPhone will show the frequency and duration of your handwashing.

New workout Types and Fitness App

watchOS 7 brings four new workout types: Core Training, Dance, Functional Strength Training, and Cooldown.

The redesigned Activity app on iPhone, now called Fitness, provides a streamlined view of data including daily Activity, Workouts, Awards, and Activity Trends on one tab, and Activity Sharing and Activity Competitions on another.

Hearing upgraded

Following the introduction of the Noise app in watchOS 6 that measures ambient sound levels and duration of exposure, watchOS 7 adds further support for hearing health with headphone audio notifications. 

Customers can now understand how loudly they are listening to media through their headphones using their iPhone, iPod touch, or Apple Watch, and when these levels may impact hearing over time.

When total listening with headphones has reached 100-percent of the safe weekly listening amount, Apple Watch provides a notification to the wearer.

Existing story continues below…

Rumour has it that mental health will be a big part of the next-gen Apple Watch as well as watchOS 7, with a new blood oxygen sensor. Combined with the heart-rate sensor, the Apple Watch will be able to detect if the user is having a panic attack and can warn them before it takes hold. 

The news comes from trusted industry leaker Jon Prosser via the Geared Up podcast:

"What their biggest focus on is right now and I hope it comes this year, it might come next year, but I hope it's coming to WWDC is mental health capabilities. Where they can take the oxygen levels in your blood with your heart rate and determine if you're hyperventilating.

"They can identify a panic attack before it happens and warn you on your watch. Especially if you're driving, they'll ask you to pull over and they'll offer breathing exercises once you get pulled over."

While it would be great for the feature to go live as soon as possible, it may have to wait until the Apple Watch Series 6 launches, as older models won't be capable of supporting it. 

The new mental health features were first reported back in April, with insiders claiming that the Apple Watch Series 6 could detect stress and warn you about panic attacks, although blood oxygen monitoring wasn't mentioned as a way to determine this at the time. 

If it's not hardware-dependent, we could see older models outfitted with this functionality, and the update could drop fairly quickly; otherwise we're in for a few months' wait. 

Blood oxygen monitoring is part of some rival wearables, so it feels like just a matter of time before it hits the Apple Watch.