On Monday Apple announced watchOS 7 which will offer several interesting new capabilities for Apple’s popular wearable, ranging from the long-awaited sleep tracking and sharing of watch faces to even monitoring your hand washing.
However, it looks like there are a few interesting things about watchOS 7 that Apple didn’t touch on during its presentation, including the fact that it will only be coming to new Apple Watch models and it will also be following in the footsteps of the iPhone in abandoning some advanced UI gestures.
On a positive note, however, it looks like for the first time ever, early adopters will be able to get their hands on a public beta of watchOS next month.
End of the Line for Older Apple Watches
For the first time, a major watchOS release is going to leave a significant number of older Apple Watch models behind. Specifically, the Apple Watch Series 1 and Apple Watch Series 2 will not be able to update beyond watchOS 6.
That means only the Apple Watch Series 5 (see below), Series 4, and Series 3 will be upgradable to watchOS 7.
- Apple Watch Series 5 GPS 40mm (Space Gray/Black) – $379.99
- Apple Watch Series 5 GPS 40mm (Silver/White) – $379.99
- Apple Watch Series 5 GPS 40mm (Gold/Pink Sand) – $379.99
- Apple Watch Series 5 GPS 44mm (Space Gray/Black) – $413.99
- Apple Watch Series 5 GPS 44mm (Silver/White) – $413.99
- Apple Watch Series 5 GPS 44mm (Gold/Pink Sand) – $413.99
While technically Apple did this once before with watchOS 5, which dropped support for the very first-generation Apple Watch, later known as the “Series 0,” that only affected very early adopters, especially since the original Series 0 was replaced the following year with the Apple Watch Series 1, a virtually identical model that sported a faster processor, although this did mean that watchOS 5 rather ironically left behind Apple’s $17,000 gold Apple Watch Edition models, although that wouldn’t exactly have represented a massive number of Apple Watch users.
This means that the Apple Watch Series 3 released in 2017 will be the oldest model that can take advantage of watchOS 7. This is actually a much shorter update lifecycle than Apple normally gives to its iPhones and iPads, which are usually supported for at least 4-5 years; for example, iOS 14 this year will still support the 2015 iPhone 6s, which is from the same year that the original Apple Watch (Series 0) was released.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that Apple will stop providing service and support for older Apple Watch models — that’s normally good for at least five years — you just won’t be able to update them to the latest version of watchOS.
Bye Bye Force Touch
When the Apple Watch first debuted six years ago, Apple introduced a new UI concept in the form of Force Touch, a feature whereby you could access additional menus and features by pressing more firmly on the Apple Watch display. This was arguably a necessary and useful way to add more control options to a device that was otherwise pretty constrained by its smaller screen with no room for navigation bars or menus.
In fact, Force Touch was clearly the inspiration for 3D Touch, which Apple introduced the following year with the release of the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus, and for the next few years, pressing harder on the screen of iOS and watchOS devices became the norm for accessing extra features.
Except that it wasn’t the most “discoverable” way to go, and often users didn’t realize that additional buttons were hidden behind a firmer press on their iPhone or Apple Watch screens, and last year Apple completely abandoned 3D Touch with the iPhone 11, although it continued to support most of the same functionality through a new long-press gesture known as Haptic Touch.
So perhaps it’s not a big surprise that the Apple Watch is sort of following suit, with watchOS 7 no longer supporting Force Touch. Unlike the iPhone, however, it appears that there won’t be a replacement — the gesture is simply going away. This suggests that the Apple Watch Series 6 won’t support this at all when it arrives later this year.
The change is highlighted in Apple’s new Human Interface Guidelines for watchOS 7, which note that “firm press and long press” from prior versions of watchOS 7 will no longer be supported, and that developers who used those gestures in their apps should “consider relocating the menu items elsewhere.” Apple offers several suggestions to developers as to how they can handle this.
In versions of watchOS before watchOS 7, people could press firmly on the display to open a hidden menu of actions relevant to the current screen. In watchOS 7 and later, watchOS apps elevate important items out of such menus and into the relevant screen or a settings screen.
Apple’s apparently logic for this is understandable, since many users didn’t even know Force Touch menus existed, and one of the classic examples was the method used to change the app layout between grid view and list view; more than a few people we knew have pored through the watchOS Settings app confused at their inability to find the option before looking it up and realizing that it’s hidden behind a Force Touch on the actual watchOS app screen.
In watchOS 7, the app layout option has been moved to the Settings app, along with other settings that were previously hidden behind Force Touch gestures, such as changing the calendar view and changing the move goal in the Activity app. Much like Haptic Touch on the iPhone 11, however, in some cases, long-press gestures are still being used, such as when customizing watch faces.
A Public Beta Is Coming
Four years ago, Apple introduced a public beta program for its major software releases, originally encompassing the iPhone, iPad, and Mac, and later expanding to also include tvOS for the Apple TV. However, the Apple Watch always remained conspicuously absent from the program, meaning that while users could update their iPhone to a pre-release version of iOS, they had no way of getting their hands on the corresponding watchOS version unless they were a registered developer.
This actually potentially created problems for some members of the public beta program, with reports last summer of battery drain problems that could have been the result of running the iOS 13 beta on an iPhone while the Apple Watch remained at the general public release of watchOS 5.
It was never clear if this problem was due to a mismatch between versions, but developers who were running the watchOS 6 betas reported that they weren’t encountering the problem, suggesting that Apple hadn’t optimized the iOS 13 betas to work with the older watchOS versions — something that the company probably didn’t feel it needed to worry about since watchOS 6 supports all of the same models as watchOS 5.
While Apple never explained its reasons for excluding the Apple Watch from the program, many speculated that this was simply due to the fact that it wasn’t possible to downgrade the Apple Watch to a more stable release version if there were problems. However, since downgrading an iPhone or iPad isn’t exactly an easy task either, we were never convinced as to whether this was the real reason or not.
Regardless, however, it looks like Apple has had a change of heart here, and is planning to release watchOS 7 into the public beta program next month, probably at the same time as the iOS 14 public beta becomes available. Apple has announced this on its Apple Beta Software Program website, although it hasn’t yet provided instructions inside the portal for exactly how you’ll go about getting it; since none of the public betas have been released yet, the information still pertains to the last major sets of releases.