Apple has today released watchOS 2, marking the first major update to the Apple Watch operating system since the device was released in April.
According to Apple. this release brings a mixture of refinements and new features to the Apple Watch:
With watchOS 2, we’ve refined it. There are more faces to choose from. Faster, more powerful apps. Enhanced communication options. And innovative new ways to make your Apple Watch your own.
The new features that we think you will like
For blind and low vision users, the addition of new Watch faces may not excite. However, the ability to use 3rd-party Complications on Apple Watch faces may. For those who do not own an Apple Watch, so may not know what these are, a complication refers to any feature in a timepiece beyond the simple display of hours and minutes. In the case of the Apple Watch, these are elements on the clock face which display things such as the battery level, your next appointment, the current temperature, sunrise and sunset times, and so on. In most cases, double-tapping on a complication will take you to the related Watch app. It’s going to be interesting to see where developers go with this; It’s possible that some might even find ways to use this to specifically enhance the functionality and experience of the Watch for blind and low vision users.
Perhaps the most widely-anticipated change in watchOS 2 is support for native apps, which means that they run entirely on your Apple Watch. With these apps no longer needing to dynamically retrieve data from your iPhone, they should load more quickly and have the potential to offer greater capabilities.
Developers can also now use some of the features of the Apple Watch in their apps, such as the Taptic Engine, Digital Crown, accelerometer, speaker and microphone. In addition to the increased functionality that this should bring to mainstream apps, it’s also something else which those developing apps specifically for blind and low vision users could utilize to enhance the experience and feature-set of the Apple Watch.
Apple Maps on the Watch now includes information on public transport In selected cities around the world, so you’ll see detailed maps and accurate train, metro and bus timetables. If you are in one of those select cities, you will be able to use the Watch to get walking directions to and from your stop.
We are also looking forward to being able to reply to emails directly from the Watch and exploring the extra commands available through Siri.
For more information on what’s new in watchOS 2, MacRumors has a very good summary.
And what about accessibility?
Due to a number of factors, we have not been able to thoroughly test the beta of watchOS 2 before its public release. However, we are aware of at least one change in this release which will please a lot of people - turning off Speak On Wrist Raise in the VoiceOver Settings no longer also turns off Wake On Wrist Raise. Previously, if you wanted to have access to Siri by simply raising your wrist and saying “Hey Siri” you also had to have Speak On Wrist Raise enabled, which generally means putting up with VoiceOver announcing the time whenever you move your arm. We are sure that this change on its own will be enough to make a lot of us happy.
As for other accessibility-related changes, fixes and possible new bugs, please let us know in the comments of any that you find in this release.
How to update to watchOS 2
WatchOS 2 can be downloaded in the Apple Watch iPhone app under Settings> General> Software Update. In order for the update to install, the Apple Watch must be placed on the charger, should have at least 50% battery level and be within range of the iPhone it is paired to. Based on our experience with the beta cycle, we also believe that it is necessary for your iPhone to be running iOS 9 in order to update to watchOS 2.
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.