Apple Watch speed boost coming Sept. 13 with WatchOS 3

Apple will give its smartwatch core software better performance and a streamlined interface. New Apple Watch models are coming too.

Stephen Shankland Former Principal Writer
Stephen Shankland worked at CNET from 1998 to 2024 and wrote about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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Stephen Shankland
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​Jeff Williams, Apple's senior vice president of operations, shows WatchOS 3.
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​Jeff Williams, Apple's senior vice president of operations, shows WatchOS 3.

Jeff Williams, Apple's chief operating officer, shows WatchOS 3.

If you own an Apple Watch, your gadget is going to get faster and better at communicating on Sept. 13 with the release of WatchOS 3.

Apple announced the smartwatch's new software version at its iPhone 7 launch event in San Francisco on Wednesday, while touting new features for communications and health.

"There are so many features in WatchOS 3, people are going to absolutely love it," said Jeff Williams, Apple's chief operating officer.

Smartwatches are generally an expensive accessory, not an essential gadget like a phone. But with WatchOS 3 Apple hopes to give you new reasons to wear a computer on your wrist, to consider it as something useful instead of just a status symbol.

Along with the new software, Apple also announced the Apple Watch Series 2 starting at $369 and a revamped Series 1 with a better processor starting at $269.

Perhaps the most important feature is better performance, with apps launching nearly instantly, according to Apple. That makes it more likely you'll want to glance at your wrist for information or fire up an app to respond to an alert.

Apple first showed WatchOS 3 in June at WWDC, its conference for outside developers who have been so important to making iPhones a success by creating more than 2 million apps. Better Apple Watch performance will provide those developers a big new incentive to support Apple Watches: We just don't use apps as much if they're slow to launch and use.

The new software has a totally different interface that shows promise in improving the Apple Watch. The side button now opens a list of apps, and they can show a little bit of preview information. WatchOS 3 also brings a control panel similar to the swipe-from-below option on iPhones and iPads. That gives quicker access to options like turning on airplane mode. And you can swipe left and right to change watch faces, including the new Minnie Mouse option.

Apple Watch Series 2 unwrapped at iPhone 7 event in San Francisco

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Another Watch OS 3 feature is a "scribble" ability that translates fingertip writing in messages into text. In addition, you can send Apple's suggested smart replies directly from a message notification.

A new Apple-supplied app called Breathe is designed to get people into a calming meditative state, and the watch's fitness tracking now supports people with some disabilities, too. Activity sharing brings a social element to your fitness achievements.

You'll need a relatively modern iPhone to use the Apple Watch: an iPhone 5 or newer model running iOS 8.2 or later.

For the lowdown on the iPhone 7, the MacOS Sierra 10.12 and iOS 10 ship dates, and partnerships with Nike and Nintendo, check out all of today's Apple news.