Apple last Tuesday released watchOS 4 to the public. Unlike iOS, I typically don’t put watchOS betas on my Apple Watch during the summer beta period. Thus, watchOS 4’s final release meant I got to see the new update alongside everyone else. And, frankly, I was excited—although I ran iOS 11 on my iOS devices since early July, it was neat to see watchOS 4 with fresh eyes. There were no pre-conceived notions; it was a true surprise.
After a few days with it, I am pleased to report the new software is quite good. watchOS 4 runs well on my “Series 0” (first-generation) Apple Watch, even though I’m slightly disappointed the device’s pokey S1 system-on-a-chip means the heart rate sensor’s new features are disabled on this model.
Nonetheless, watchOS 4 is pretty great. Here are some highlights for me.
The redesigned passcode entry screen. This is a radical change from watchOS 3 and before. Whereas previously the keypad and other buttons were small and low contrast, the new version features bigger buttons that are high contrast and colorful. There’s a cool animation when you tap a number that’s reminiscent of the keyboard animation on the iPhone. The OK and Delete buttons are green and red, respectively. Together, entering my passcode to unlock my watch is more accessible than ever. It’s a small detail, to be sure, but it makes a big difference in the overall Apple Watch experience for me.
Persistent media controls for music and podcasts. Whenever I’m listening to a podcast or music, raising my wrist now brings up the Now Playing screen so I can easily play/pause audio. This is a really handy addition, as I don’t need to pull out my phone to control what is currently playing. (I can double-tap on my AirPods to control audio as well.) This feature is one of those little touches Apple has long been known for; it reduces friction and enriches the experience. It’s just nice. As an Apple Music subscriber and unabashed AirPods lover, I am very excited for Apple Music streaming to come next month.
The Siri watch face. The Siri face is my new favorite. The information density is good, but what I like most about it is the face’s legibility. The date & time and info cards are set in a thicker variant of San Francisco that, to my eyes, is high contrast and easily readable. Glancing at a headline in Apple News or even the current time is easy with this font, which is a boon on a display as small as the Apple Watch’s. I’m a big fan.
Enhanced Activity reminders. I enjoy being notified throughout the day about my stats in the Activity app. It’s great how the app will ping you every so often to encourage you to meet one (or more) of your daily goals. These reminders also pop up on the Siri face occasionally as well, which is also helpful. My favorite part of these new reminders is how they now tell you what you did the day before, so you can see how you did. More than ever, the Activity app in watchOS 4 feels as though you have your own personal trainer with you on your wrist every day.