watchOS 9 preview: Finally unlocking the Apple Watch fitness-tracking potential

watchOS 9

Apple Watch has undergone numerous modifications over the years, as it has always been a significant product. Apple almost envisioned the very first one as a piece of jewelry — a stylish flex you could purchase that would look wonderful on your wrist and add exciting functionality to your iPhone. Subsequent watchOS 9 models concentrated on cramming more and more functionality into the compact area. After that, Apple Watch became increasingly health-focused, delivering life-saving functions such as fall detection and ECG readings. 

A Look into watchOS 9

WatchOS 9 is the most significant improvement to the Apple Watch’s fitness tracking features in years and finally elevates the Apple Watch to the ranks of the best fitness trackers. Now that the public beta is out to the general public, those who are willing to take chances with their devices can see what all the hoopla is about. If you are the epitome of physical fitness, I believe you will be pleasantly pleased.

Before I begin discussing watchOS 9, a brief reminder. watchOS 9 is still in development, so this is not a review, but rather a summary of the new features and my experience with them. In the fall, when the newest Apple Watch software is made available to the public in its entirety, I will provide a comprehensive evaluation and my thoughts on the product.

Custom workouts provide a great deal of workout versatility

I recognize that my prior statement that watchOS 9 propels the Apple Watch to the forefront of fitness trackers may be puzzling to some. The Apple Watch must already be a leading fitness tracker, right? Well, if you speak with the most dedicated fitness fans and athletes, you’ll discover that the Apple Watch — yes, even the powerful Apple Watch Series 7 — has fallen short of its use cases numerous times. The good news is that watchOS 9 endeavors to address this issue. The implementation of Custom Workouts is most likely the best illustration of this.

Before watchOS 9, you and your best Apple Watch were at the mercy of the workouts Apple preloaded on its own Apple Watch. Granted, the Workout app contains a variety of routines, and you may modify the goals of your workouts to be more focused on what you’re trying to accomplish, but it never provided you with true flexibility in how you exercise. Custom Workouts is altering the situation.

In the Training app, you can build a Custom Workout for any workout style. Multiple intervals for work and recovery are available inside a Custom Workout, making it easy to construct upsets. You may construct a Custom Run Workout that allows you to set up a two-minute work session and a 45-second recovery period, for instance, if you want to go for a run but are doing interval training because you’re terrible at running like I am. Alternately, you can adjust it such that you run for 1 km and then rest for 0.5 km. Additionally, you can repeat it if you so choose. So, if you want to run 5 kilometers, simply repeat it five times and you have a Custom Outdoor Run Workout that you can use whenever you want. You may even incorporate a warm-up and cooldown within a custom program, eliminating the need to exit the current activity to begin a separate cooldown.

This is only one example. Custom Workouts may be used for any workout type, and you can have multiple for each session, giving you a ton of flexibility to exercise how and when you want.

Enter the zone – the heart rate zone

Some individuals take the expression “getting in the zone” during a workout very literally. Heart rate zones have been utilized for a long time to assist people in exercising and demonstrating their overall fitness gains. You cannot run a marathon at your maximum heart rate zone the entire time; you will become exhausted before the end of the event. Instead, you should strive to maintain a comfortable pace for most of the race while maintaining a reasonable heart rate.

Many sports, such as hockey (sorry, I’m Canadian), rely on brief, intense bursts of movement. When a hockey player skates off the bench to begin their shift, they will likely be skating at or near their maximum target speed for the first 45 to 90 seconds. Therefore, when they work out, they must train for short bursts of energy, which necessitates knowledge of their heart rate zones.

In watchOS 9, every sort of workout may be configured to display your heart rate zones right on your Apple Watch. So, if you’re out for a run, you may check your watch to determine your heart rate zone. It is a very useful measure, and it is also customizable.

By default, your Apple Watch will use the data it already has to determine your heart rate zones and mark them from one to five, with one representing the lowest heart rate zone. This is fantastic for those who don’t want to take the effort to calculate their ideal heart rate zones (as it varies from person to person). If you desire greater control, you can manually set them to any value you desire.

So how do you interpret heart rate zones during exercise? Well, it’s part of a new Apple feature called Workout Views. When customizing an exercise in watchOS 9, whether it’s a pre-set program or a Custom Workout you’ve designed, you may choose which Workout Views are available to you throughout that workout. Once you have activated the heart rate zone Activity View for your Custom Outdoor Run Workout, for example, you can swipe up or down throughout the workout to view the various views you have enabled.

Apple has placed the Elevation and Power Views here so that you may monitor how far you’ve climbed during your run and your running speed. These are essential metrics for serious runners, and watchOS 9 will allow you to track many more.

Sleep stages

Two years after the Sleep app was added to the Apple Watch, it has finally received an addition that many users have been requesting: the ability to track Sleep Stages. In the Health app, you can now view the duration you spent in each of the four Sleep Stages: Awake, REM, Core, and Deep.

You may view all the data as a graph and even highlight the Sleep Stages for a closer look. Although it is not among the most comprehensive sleep monitors, it is the sleep-tracking function I was most pleased to see on the Apple Watch. As you can see in the screenshot above, I struggle to sleep and frequently do not get a lot of sleep each night. This information will help me better comprehend my sleep patterns and may assist me in achieving more restful sleep.

New watch faces and minor interface enhancements

The Apple Watch would not be an Apple Watch if it lacked a variety of watch faces. watchOS 9 follows Apple’s custom of providing new watch faces with each major software update.

When you get watchOS 9 (whether it’s the public beta now or the complete release in the fall), I’d highly recommend checking out all the new and redesigned watch faces, because beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder. Perhaps you’ll enjoy the newly revised Astronomy watch face, which features the earth in the front and peaks in front of the clock, similar to the new iOS 16 Lock Screens. Or perhaps the Lunar watch face, which illustrates the relationship between the Gregorian calendar and the lunar calendar, would pique your interest. Playtime is a crazy and interactive art watch face that was designed in conjunction with Chicago-based illustrator and artist Joi Fulton; it’s ideal for when you’re in the mood for a little silliness. The new Metropolitan watch face is, of course, as elegant as can be. Additionally, some older Apple Watch faces have been updated, such as the gradient backgrounds that may be added to the famous Modular watch face. The most important conclusion is that more watch faces translate to more personality with watchOS 9.

In addition to new watch faces, watchOS 9 includes minor UI enhancements that will make the Apple Watch experience even more fluid. When you are actively using an application, notifications will be reduced to a little banner at the top of the screen. You can press it to enlarge it and view the entire notification, but it’s great that new messages don’t take up the entire screen by default. In addition, the Dock is considerably more intuitive because it prioritizes the most frequently used programs over all other Dock apps. This makes switching between apps simpler when desired.

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