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Apple watchOS 3 review: Revamp makes the Apple Watch better than ever

Faster apps, background refresh and new watch faces are just some of the features to look forward to in watchOS 3

When the Apple Watch launched, it might have been the most advanced smartwatch of its kind, but it still felt a little limited in some regards. With the next version of the OS, watchOS 2, the Watch became a lot better, to the point where it’s my day-in, day-out watch of choice.

With watchOS 3, Apple has refined the experience even more, with a host of tweaks and updates that make its Watch even more useful. What exactly is new, and which are the new OS’s best features, however? Read on to find out more.

Faster and more responsive apps 

One of the problems with the Apple Watch up to this point is that apps can be slow to load and then slow to update with the latest data. Apple tried to get around that with Glances, which were accessed by swiping up on the screen. A Glance was a cut-down version of the app, letting you do simple things, such as pause your music, but they required you to jump into the full app to get full functionality.

WatchOS replaces this system entirely with the new Dock, accessed by pressing the side button, which in turn replaces the old Friends screen, which I rarely used. The apps that you set to appear in the Dock are the full thing. They load instantly and update in the background, which is a huge improvement, as it speeds the Watch up generally, and makes using apps much faster.

watchOS 3 beta dock

The easiest way to put apps in the Dock is to simply use the Watch app on the phone. Recently used apps appear in the Dock automatically, and as long as you keep using them they’ll stay there. However, if you use a lot of apps they will eventually disappear from this view, so watchOS 3 gives you the option to keep your favourites in the Dock if you want. You can’t remove apps from the Dock using the Watch, but you can reorganise them order by long-pressing, pulling your finger down and dragging left or right.

watchOS 3 beta reorganise dock

A better Control Centre

With Glances gone, swiping up on a watch face now brings up my favourite part of watchOS 3: the redesigned Control Centre, which looks much more like its iOS counterpart than it did before. Getting to this menu in one quick swipe is much easier than with the old Watch, where you might have to slide up and then scroll furiously through your Glances. In addition to allowing you to toggle flight, silent and do not disturb modes, and ping your phone if you’ve lost it down the side of the sofa, the new Control Centre has a battery capacity read-out and a lock button for security. Another huge improvement.

watchOS 3 beta Control Centre

You can reply to messages

Replying to a text or iMessage on the Apple Watch used to be a bit hit or miss. You could do it, but I’d often find the stock phrases didn’t fit the situation. With watchOS 3 you get an extra option: Scribble. This lets you draw a response, letter by letter directly onto the screen, and it works beautifully. You wouldn’t want to write a very long message this way, but for quick and personalised replies, it’s perfect.

watchOS 3 beta Scribble

Unlock your Mac

Here’s another small but really useful feature. With watchOS 3 and Mac OS Sierra installed, you can use your Apple Watch to securely unlock your Mac without having to enter a password. Timing how long the signal takes to hit your Mac, macOS will only unlock when its sure your Watch is close and not on the other side of the room.

The feature isn’t turned on by default, but setting it up is straightforward. Just go to the Security & Privacy settings in your Mac’s Preferences menu and tick the box that reads “Allow your Apple Watch to unlock your Mac”. Simple.


Breathe is a new app, designed to help you take a one-minute break from the world, concentrate on your breathing and take a moment of calm. It’s neatly implemented using a combination of the Watch’s advanced haptic feedback (the famed Taptic engine) and on-screen graphics to get you to follow the exercise, but I’m not sure it does a lot for me. Ironically, most of the time when it. Still, if you like that kind of app, it’s on your wrist ready to go.

New Watch Faces

A new version of watchOS can’t pass without new watch faces. This time, you get Minnie Mouse to accompany Mickey, an Activity watch face to help you keep track of your exercise, and the clean Numerals face, which just shows the current hour on the display. Apple has managed to fit more third-party complications onto many of the watch faces, such as the Photos one, which always looked a little bare.

To go with it, the new Watch app in iOS 10 has a Face Gallery, so you can flick through the available faces and add them to your Watch, and once you’ve added them, it’s now a touch easier to flip between faces on the watch itself, by dragging your finger across the screen from edge to edge. 

watchOS 3 beta Watch Gallery

Wheelchair users

Apple has reworked the Apple Watch to put in a special wheelchair mode. Every hour, instead of getting the ‘Time to stand message’, you’ll get the ‘Time to roll’ message. Apple has also added two workouts for wheelchair users, too.

Emergency calling

If you find yourself needing help and can’t get to your phone, the Watch can now be used to dial the emergency services. Well, it can in the US. It seems that, as yet, Apple hasn’t got the go-ahead from the authorities in the UK to allow this to work. It’s a shame, but I can see why there’s a reluctance to allow it. Although Apple has sought to prevent accidental calls by making it accessible only via a long-press of the side button, it is still possible to activate the feature while leaning against the edge of a table. 


All told, I rather like watchOS 3. It’s a big update – a radical one, even – but it makes the Apple Watch more intuitive to use, more practical and (in some respects) quicker. I’ve experienced some slowdown on the original Apple Watch I’ve been using for this review, but only occasionally, and the new Dock and features make up for these small hitches.

It’s the best update to the Apple Watch’s software yet and solidifies Apple’s position at the top of the smartwatch market. 

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