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Apple's new watchOS 7 features handwashing detection, new watch faces

Alongside comprehensive updates to iOs, MacOS, and iPadOS at the World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC), Apple has also announced new features and designs in a revamp of its Apple Watch operating system – watchOS 7.

“We’re energised by the positive impact Apple Watch is having on our customers and are excited to deliver meaningful new tools that support their health, fitness, and wellness,” says Apple chief operating officer Jeff Williams.

“watchOS 7 brings sleep tracking, automatic handwashing detection, and new workout types together with a whole new way to discover and use watch faces, helping our users stay healthy, active, and connected.”

Users can customise their watch faces in new ways, configuring them to suit any activity or lifestyle. The ‘infinitely customisable’ watch faces can be shared through Messages or Mail and can be discovered through the App Store.

Developers can now offer more than one complication per app on a single watch face. For example, in addition to showing the time and date, the Dawn Patrol watch face can show surfers tide, wind speed, and water temperature.

Also new in watchOS 7 is sleep tracking, which can provide tools to help users get the desired amount of sleep, get to bed on time, and create a pre-bedtime routine to meet their sleep goals. 

watchOS 7 does this through the detection of micro-movements from the watch’s accelerometer, which can pick up on respiration during sleep. After waking up, users will be delivered a report of the previous night’s sleep, including periods of wake and sleep.

All sleep data is encrypted on the device or in iCloud using iCloud sync.

Another major update to Apple's watchOS is the new automatic handwashing detection, all the more relevant amid the era of COVID-19.

The watch uses its motion sensors, microphone and machine learning capabilities to detect handwashing motions and sounds, at which point it will set a 20-second timer – and if the user finishes washing too early, they will be prompted to keep washing. 

Following on from the introduction of the Noise app in watchOS 6, which measures ambient sound levels, Apple’s newest software update adds further support by allowing users to understand how loudly they are listening to media, and how the sound level compares with World Health Organisation guidelines on safe decibel levels.

Users can also see how long they have been exposed to high decibel levels each week in the Health app on iPhone and can control the maximum level for headphone volume. 

Cyclists can now take advantage of directions from the Maps app tailored for bike routes. It allows users to choose routes without steep hills or routes that take the most direct path.

The Health app contains new mobility metrics, including low-range cardio fitness, walking speed, stair-ascent speed, step length, and asymmetry, and more.

Apple has also assured users that health data is encrypted on device or in iCloud, and is always in the user’s control.

Availability

The developer beta of watchOS 7 is available to Apple Developer Program members starting today, and a public beta will be available to watchOS users next month, Apple says.

watchOS 7 will be generally available this spring as a free software update for Apple Watch Series 3, Apple Watch Series 4, or Apple Watch Series 5 paired with iPhone 6s or later running iOS 14 or later.