Apple Watch: 11 new features in WatchOS 3

After updating to WatchOS 3, the Apple Watch will feel like a brand-new watch. Here's what you need to know.

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iPhone and iPad users aren't the only people being treated to a huge update with the release of iOS 10. For those with an Apple Watch, after installing iOS 10, your next step is to install WatchOS 3.

A lot has changed with WatchOS 3, leaving some familiarity and a lot of new ground to cover. Below are 10 tips and tricks for WatchOS 3.


Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

With WatchOS 3 you can write your text responses -- literally -- using Scribble.

If an app gives you the option to reply to a message, be it Mail, Messages or Facebook Messenger, you'll find the Scribble button. Tap on it, and use your finger to write each letter in the dotted square.

The best part? You don't have to wait for the watch to recognize each letter. Write as fast as you want, each letter on top of the last and the watch will figure it out. Scribble is one of those features that sounds like more work than it's worth, but in reality is one of the most useful features in WatchOS 3.


Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Along with the dramatic changes to Messages in iOS 10, WatchOS 3 gets to join in on the fun. That doesn't mean you'll have access to iMessage sticker packs or apps, but you can view the fun bubble or screen effects.

It also means you can use a Tapback reply to quickly acknowledge a message instead of using Scribble or dictating a new message altogether right on your wrist.

Long-press on a chat bubble, and then select the proper Tapback.

Application dock

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

After installing WatchOS 3, when you press the side button it will now open the Application dock. Think of the dock as a shortcut to your favorite apps.

As you begin using apps on WatchOS 3, your Apple Watch will fill in the dock with recently used apps. The next time you open the dock and view apps, you are asked if you want to keep an app in the dock or ditch it. You can keep up to 10 apps in the dock.

A couple of gestures to help you manage the dock include:

  • Long-press on an app to rearrange the order.
  • Swipe up and select remove to get rid of an app.
  • Alternatively, you can edit and arrange apps available in the dock through the Watch app on your iPhone.

Unlock your Mac

When combined with MacOS Sierra, you can use your Watch to automatically unlock your Mac when you're nearby. Here's how to set up the Auto Unlock feature.

Disable screenshots

I don't know about you, but my iPhone's camera roll is full of Apple Watch screenshots I accidentally captured when bending my wrist just right.

On your iPhone, open the Watch app and select General. Scroll to the bottom of the page, where you'll find a new button labeled Enable Screenshots. Slide the switch to the Off position.

Edit watch faces on your iPhone

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Instead of tinkering and adjusting a watch face on your Apple Watch, you can now create, edit and browse watch faces in the Watch app.

Open the Watch app on your iPhone, and the first section is titled My Faces. This is where you can find watch faces you've already created and have stored on your watch.

A new tab at the bottom of the Watch app called Face Gallery offers up watch faces put together by Apple. You can add and customize them as you see fit.

Switch between watch faces

You can now quickly switch between watch faces by swiping left or right across the screen of your Apple Watch. The new method makes it easier to move between watch faces with complications for work, home or a night out.

Control Center

Glances on the Apple Watch are no longer a thing. Instead, you can swipe up from the bottom of the watch's display and view Control Center. Just as Control Center on iOS gives you shortcuts to common settings, so does the Apple Watch.

With Control Center you can check current battery level, turn on Airplane Mode, turn on silent mode, enable do not disturb, ping a lost iPhone, lock the watch or control AirPlay for Music playback.

Activity sharing

A big part of the Apple Watch is its fitness and activity tracking. But up until now, it's been a lonely journey.

With WatchOS 3, you can now share your current activity stats with friends and family members. Hopefully, seeing how much someone is up and moving around will be enough to motivate you to do the same.

Open the Activity app on your iPhone, tap on Sharing and then add a friend. Once the invite is accepted, you will receive an alert and gain access to your friend's activity stats.

Wheelchair mode

For those Apple Watch users in a wheelchair, Apple has added a new wheelchair setting that changes how the Watch calculates and tracks activity.

To enable the new feature, open the Watch app on your iPhone then select Health. Edit your Health profile, and set wheelchair to Yes.

SOS mode

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

In case of emergency, hold in the side button on your Apple Watch until your watch dials emergency services. Before your watch calls, however, you will hear an alarm and a countdown will show up on the display in an effort to eliminate accidental calling of 911.

Using the Watch app on your iPhone, you can set up to three SOS contacts that will each receive a text message letting them know you used the SOS feature, and a link to your current location. You can disable the default behavior, opting instead to slide the SOS button across the screen to begin an emergency call once the feature is triggered, in the Watch app under General > Emergency SOS.