watchOS 10 will introduce widgets and bring a new look for many built-in Apple Watch apps. But the biggest changes come to the Workout app, which adds features that serious cyclists have been demanding for years, including support for third-party Bluetooth power and cadence meters.
Digital Crown just got more useful with Apple Watch widgets
Back in watchOS 2, Apple introduced a feature called Time Travel that allowed you to scroll the Apple Watch’s Digital Crown to move time ahead on your watch face. The idea was for complications to show stuff that was happening in the future, like upcoming appointments or the battery drain on your electric car. In practice, though, it didn’t prove very useful. Apple quietly scrapped the feature a couple of years later.
Since then, scrolling the Digital Crown on the Apple Watch face has done precisely nothing. That all changes in watchOS 10, which introduces a new way to view information quickly from any watch face. When you turn the Digital Crown now, it reveals a Smart Stack of widgets, just like on iPhone.
The watch will present the widgets you use most automatically. And with a long press, you can add more, including one that holds your favorite complications. There are widgets for built-in apps like Stop Watch and Podcasts.
Backgrounds get colorful with redesigned apps
Apple Watch apps have traditionally always had a black background. There was never any choice of a light mode. The reason was simple: On OLED screens, black pixels don’t consume power. But the folks in Cupertino must be pretty confident about all their battery performance these days, because in watchOS 10, their app design choices are getting far less conservative.
For example, the World Clock app now features dynamic background colors to reflect the time of day. And the activity app has brightly color backgrounds for its new full-screen views.
Full screen views and corner icons
There are two notable changes to watchOS 10 app design layout. New Full Screen Views can be accessed by scrolling the Digital Crown. These are indicated by new white dots that appear next to the Digital Crown when you start scrolling. And corners icons trigger additional views.
These new design ideas are featured in all Apple’s built-in Apple Watch apps, and will also be made available to third-party developers via WatchKit.
More big improvements for the Workout app
The Workout app saw massive improvements in watchOS 9 last year. So I expected Apple’s fitness team would be cooling their heels this year. Not so. The Workout app takes another massive leap forward. Especially if you’re a keen cyclist.
Apple added support for third-party cadence and Bluetooth-powered sensors that you attach to your bike. This enables the Workout app to calculate Functional Threshold Power (FTP). It also brings the Power Zones view, already enjoyed by runners, to cyclists.
Another neat idea is iPhone integration, which turns your iPhone into a dashboard for your bicycle when you attach it to your handlebars, with cycling workouts showing up as a Live Activity on the iPhone screen.
Hiking takes big steps forward too
For hikers, the Compass app adds two important new waypoints, to indicate where you last had cellular reception and to show where you can make SOS calls. It also has a new elevation view, so you can see if you’re in for a long climb to call for help.
There’s a new topographic maps feature for U.S. users, plus you can search to discover nearby trails.
Is this the end for third-party workout apps?
An interesting new direction Apple is taking in watchOS 10 is the new Workout API, which enables developers of third-party apps like TrainingPeaks to create structured workouts on the iPhone that will appear automatically in Apple’s built-in Workout app on the watch. This eliminates the need for most third-party watch workout apps.
Perhaps this is no surprise. The Workout app has become so fully featured in recent years, there no longer seems much point to third-party workout apps. Perhaps this is why Apple’s long-term workout buddy, Nike, recently announced it would partner with Strava. It will be interesting to see if Nike continues its Run Club app on Apple Watch, or scraps it in favor of offering workouts on Apple’s app.