Apple has today released watchOS 6, bringing new and enhanced apps; new watch faces and complications; new health features; a dedicated App Store; and a more powerful Siri.
Below are some of the highlights.
An App Store on your Wrist
You can now search and download apps directly on your Apple Watch thanks to a new native App Store app.
You can search for apps using Siri, Dictation or Scribble; and then view app descriptions, reviews and screenshots.
Additionally, you can now install apps directly to the Apple Watch, which removes the need for a companion iPhone app to be installed.
Also new in watchOS 6 is the ability to delete stock Apple Watch apps. Sighted users can do this from either the Grid View or List View of installed apps. However, the Grid View is the more accessible option of the two for VoiceOver users - simply flick down on an app icon and double-tap when VoiceOver says “arrange apps”. Move VoiceOver focus to the app that you wish to remove, and then select ‘Activate’ from the VoiceOver rotor's Action menu. So, it's the same steps as you would previously have used to remove 3rd party apps, but which now also works with stock Apple Watch apps.
New Health Apps
In watchOS 6 the Apple Watch gains some new tools for monitoring and protecting your health.
There is a new Noise app that detects loud environments. When you open the app it will report the ambient audio level in decibels and tell you whether longterm exposure to this audio level has the potential to damage your hearing. The app will send you a notification if the noise level is too high. There is also a new Noise watch complication that allows you to monitor noise levels in realtime.
A new Cycle Tracking app allows women to log important information related to their menstrual cycles and see predicted timing for their next period and fertile window. The app's daily log function enables the quick addition of information related to the menstrual cycle, including current period, flow, symptoms, results from ovulation prediction kits and other elements of fertility tracking.
Some Siri Changes
- You can select the Siri voice to be used directly on your Apple Watch, and this can be also set to be the voice used by VoiceOver. * Note that this appears to be only available on Series 4 and 5 Apple Watch.
- You can now browse websites on your Apple Watch by asking Siri to go to a web address. For example, say “go to AppleVis.com”.
- If you ask Siri a question that involves a web search, the results can be viewed as web pages. For example, ask “how do I create an Apple ID?”, and Siri will give you a list of tappable links to some websites.
- You can now ask Siri what song is playing in the background (previously it would only tell you what song was playing locally on your Apple Watch).
- Siri integration with the redesigned Find People app now supports location queries.
A New Way to Keep Track of the Time
watchOS 6 introduces Taptic Chimes, which takes advantage of the Apple Watch's Taptic Engine to give you an alert on the hour, every half hour or every 15 minutes either with haptics or a customisable audible chime.
Finally, we have some other changes that don't have their own section, but are no less important or useful.
- There is a new stock Calculator app with the ability to calculate tips and split the bill.
- There is a new stock Voice Memos app. You can listen to Voice Memo recordings through the built-in speaker on Apple Watch or through a connected Bluetooth device. Recordings can be renamed with Dictation or Scribble.
- There is a new stock Audiobooks app that lets you sync audiobooks from Apple Books on your iPhone to Apple Watch. You can sync up to five hours of the book you’re currently reading or stream audiobooks when connected to Wi-Fi or a mobile network.
- There is a new stock Now Playing app which allows you to control playback of your local devices along with AirPlay connected devices like the HomePod and Apple TV.
- The Find People app has been redesigned and now lets you add friends, set notifications and change settings on Apple Watch.
- The Walkie-Talkie app has been redesigned.
- The Music, Podcasts, and Radio apps have redesigned Now Playing interfaces.
- In the stock Music app, you can now browse the tracks in playlists or albums (previously, selecting a playlist or album would begin playback of its first track). Additionally, personalised music picks are now available in For You.
- The Maps app has been updated and now supports the Favorites and Collections features added to Maps in iOS 13. It also includes Smart Guidance and spoken navigation.
- The Reminders app has been updated and now supports the Smart Lists feature added to Reminders in iOS 13, and also allows you to create reminders and view shared lists and subtasks.
- The Settings app has been reorganized in several places and also gained a number of options which were previously only accessible via the Apple Watch app on iPhone.
- There are new watch faces: California, Gradient, Modular Compact, Numerals Duo, Numerals Mono, and Solar Dial (the original ‘Solar’ is now ‘Solar Graph’).
- There are new watch complications for Audiobooks, Calculator, Mobile Data Connectivity, Cycle Tracking, Noise, Wind, Rain and Voice Memos.
- It is now possible to reorder watch faces directly on your Apple Watch.
- The ‘Tap to Speak Time’ feature previously only available on the Mickey and Minnie faces is now available across all watch faces. When VoiceOver is not enabled, you activate this by Holding two fingers on the watch face. There is currently no way to trigger this when VoiceOver is enabled. If you believe that it should have VoiceOver support, we would encourage you to email Apple's Accessibility Team and ask that they add it.
- Support for Sign in with Apple.
- if you use the List View option for viewing installed apps, this now uses larger text and icons.
For a more complete list of what’s new in watchOS 6, MacRumors offers a good overview.
And What About Accessibility?
We have only been able to carry out some extremely limited testing of watchOS 6 ahead of today’s public release, so have not yet been able to explore in full the new features and changes mentioned above.
Our early impression is that most appear to work well with VoiceOver, and at this time we are only aware of one issue:
- If you have VoiceOver configured to use the Siri voice, VoiceOver may continue to use the previously use Siri voice if you change Siri to use a different voice. Consequently, you may end up with Siri using one Voice and VoiceOver using a different Siri voice. Additionally, you may find that VoiceOver spontaneously reverts to using its own voice even though it is set to use the Siri voice. We have yet to determine a reliable way of correcting either of these issues when they occur.
One change that's likely to be welcomed by many Apple Watch owners in our community, is that it's now possible to change the speed of TapTic Time vibrations in Settings > Accessibility.
It is very likely that there are further changes in watchOS 6 which will affect blind or low vision users. We will update this post with anything else that we learn. To help with this, please add a comment below to let us know of any changes, improvements or regressions that you find during your own use of watchOS 6.
How to Update to watchOS 6
watchOS 6 requires iPhone 6s or later with iOS 13 or later, and one of the following Apple Watch models:
- Apple Watch Series 1
- Apple Watch Series 2
- Apple Watch Series 3
- Apple Watch Series 4
- Apple Watch Series 5
Note that watchOS 6 will be available only on the Series 3, 4, and 5 Apple Watches on launch, with the update set to launch on the Apple Watch Series 1 and 2 at a later date.
watchOS 6 is available by going to the Watch app on your iPhone and navigating to General> Software Update. To install the update, your Watch must be connected to its charger and have at least 50% battery power.
More information on how to update the software on your Apple Watch is available on this Apple Support page.
As always, we look forward to hearing your thoughts on this update. What do you like? What do you not like? Let us know by adding a comment below.