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watchOS 9 — the 5 new Apple Watch features to try first

watchos 9
(Image credit: Future)

watchOS 9 is officially out, which means it’s time to update your Apple Watch if you’re ready to take advantage of all its new features, tools and settings. But with all the upgrades you’ll find on your wrist, you might want to advice on what to try first.

In watchOS 9, the Apple Watch gets improved sleep tracking with sleep stages data, a collection of fresh watch faces, a revamped workout interface, AFib History, the Medications app found in iOS 16, slimline notification banners and more.

All the watchOS 9 supported devices also get Apple Watch low power mode — the battery life feature isn’t just reserved for Apple Watch Series 8 and Apple Watch Ultra. Some watchOS 9 updates are exclusive to select Apple Watch devices, but no matter which you have, installing the latest software version will make the best smartwatch even better.

Check out our guide on how to update your Apple Watch to install watchOS 9 and start using the new Apple Watch features. Here are the five features you should try first when you get watchOS 9 up and running. 

1. Change your Apple Watch face

There are more Apple Watch faces to choose from now than ever before, with the addition of four new faces in watchOS 9: Metropolitan, Lunar, Astronomy and Playtime. We actually interviewed 2D/3D illustrator Joi Fulton as well as two Apple execs to learn more about how this collection of watch faces came together

Certain existing watch faces have new customization options, too. As always, you can make a library of many watch faces, but now your iPhone’s Focus presets can also include assigned watch faces. That means if you enable a specific Focus state on your iPhone, your Apple Watch face can change automatically to reflect your preferences of the given Focus.

2. Set up the Medications app

One of the iOS 16 features we couldn’t wait to use actually supports use of both your iPhone and Apple Watch. While the new Medications app might not sound exciting, it’s plenty practical for anyone who takes any kind of medications, helping you build a more complete digital Health profile. 

In the Health app on your iPhone, you can add your medications (either daily or temporarily, such as an antibiotic) and specify what time of day you take them. Not only will the Health app check for possible reactions with your medications, but it will send you reminders when it’s time to take them. These reminders will appear on your Apple Watch, prompting you to log intake quickly and discreetly from your wrist.

3. Close your Apple Watch rings

The Apple Watch fitness app received a rather large overhaul in watchOS 9, so a great way to try out the new features is to get active. With multiple new running metrics, there are more ways to monitor your running and progress in watchOS 9 — vertical oscillation, stride length and ground contact time data let you further explore your performance. Custom workouts and recognition of routine routes can guide you towards running goals as well.

Another new metric for Apple Watch workout-tracking is heart rate zones. Monitoring your heart rate zones can help you get a sense of your intensity levels. You can see your heart rate zones in real-time in the Workout app. You can also now conveniently see progress on your Apple Watch rings without leaving the app.

4. Manage your Apple Watch’s battery life

Though it was a later announcement, Apple Watch low power mode is one of the most exciting watchOS 9 updates. Per Apple’s estimates, the Apple Watch Series 8’s battery life now extends from 18 hours to up to 36 hours. The company did not specify estimates for older Apple Watch devices, but you should see improvements to your Apple Watch’s stamina if you turn on low power mode in the control center.

Low power mode will disable power-draining features such as the always-on display, Cellular and Wi-Fi connectivity, automatic workout tracking and continuous heart rate monitoring. It might not be a feature you want to use all the time, but if you have a long day ahead or even an overnight trip coming up, see if low power mode keeps your Apple Watch alive.

5. Wear your Apple Watch to sleep

In watchOS 9, the Sleep app has been upgraded to include data on sleep stages. Previously, the Apple Watch could only tell your time in bed and time asleep with respiratory data. Now, you can see an overview of your sleep cycles. 

Using information gathered by the accelerometer and heart rate monitor, the Apple Watch should now be able to detect what stages of sleep you’re in throughout the night. You'll be able to see how much time you spent in each stage and when you might've woken up. Long-term sleep trends can be reviewed in the Health app on your iPhone.

Kate Kozuch is an editor at Tom’s Guide covering smartwatches, TVs and everything smart-home related. Kate also appears on Fox News to talk tech trends and runs the Tom's Guide TikTok account (opens in new tab), which you should be following. When she’s not filming tech videos, you can find her on an exercise bike, mastering the NYT Crossword or channeling her inner celebrity chef.