watchOS 7 is one of those software updates that makes your Apple Watch feel faster without upgrading to a new model. Subtle enhancements to how launching apps works on watchOS 7 contribute to this effect. These include changes to the Dock and Apple Pay on all Apple Watch models with watchOS 7 and the always-on display on Apple Watch Series 5.
Always-on, always tappable
Apple Watch Series 5 is the first model to introduce an always-on display. Earlier models turn the display off to save battery life, but a new display controller in Apple Watch Series 5 keeps the screen on without draining the battery.
In watchOS 6, Apple Watch Series 5 has two display states: an active mode just like on all Apple Watch models, and a resting mode that dims the screen and lowers the refresh rate.
When the screen is resting, you need to wake up the display with a tap, click, or wrist raise for the watch face to be active. For example, if you tap a Weather complication on watchOS 6 while the screen is dimmed, the watch interprets the tap as screen wake just like if you tapped anywhere else on the display.
This behavior mirrors what happens on Apple Watch Series 4 and earlier when the display was off and it made no sense to interpret where you tapped.
Starting in watchOS 7 beta, Apple Watch Series 5 now lets you launch apps from complications on the watch face even when the display is inactive. This may sound like an extremely subtle change, but the impact on how responsive the watch feels is significant.
watchOS 7 beta removes the need to determine if the watch face is “awake” or “asleep” which is especially useful on versions of watch faces that don’t dramatically change appearances between states. You can see the complication when the watch face is inactive, and now there’s no cognitive load from determining if you need one tap or two taps.
Dock on turbo
watchOS 7 also speeds up the Dock for launching recently used or favorited apps when you click the side button.
That’s because it prioritizes launching the Dock with one click now rather than waiting to interpret a second click for activating Apple Pay. The cost is a slightly less visual animation when you double-click to launch Apple Pay, but it’s totally worth the speed boost when you want to quickly launch an app.
watchOS 7 does not address other always-on display opportunities like providing an API for always-on states for third-party apps or even expanding always-on mode to more built-in apps than just Workout.
Always-on mode also could benefit from an inactive display state analog clock when using apps (the current one is digital-only even if you use an analog watch face). Apps like Now Playing and Maps could also benefit tremendously from supporting the always-on display, but we’ll have to wait for future watchOS updates for those features.
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