watchOS 9 — this is the new Apple Watch feature I'm most excited for

watchOS 9 upgrades for Apple Watch
(Image credit: Apple)

As we near the launch of the watchOS 9 public beta, I’m preparing to try out all the new features for Apple Watch. Though we don’t know the exact date the watchOS 9 public beta goes live, most signs point to it rolling out soon.

While there are many reasons I’m looking forward to watchOS 9 making the best smartwatch even better, there’s one upgrade I’m more excited about than the rest. Yet compared to the sweeping changes in the Apple Watch Workout app, expanded sleep tracking tools and collection of new watch faces, this one is rather minor — it’s the visual change in how users will receive notifications on their wrist.

I have a love-hate relationship with the current Apple Watch notification animations. On one hand, they’re pronounced enough that I don’t question which app is alerting me at any given time. On the other hand, the notifications take up the whole screen, which is distracting when I’m looking at something else on my Apple Watch.

watchOS 9 slimline notifications

Notifications in watchOS 9 will appear in slimline banners when you're actively using your Apple Watch. (Image credit: Apple)

Since I know how to use Focus mode in iOS 15, and have carefully curated which apps can send push notifications to my Apple Watch, I’ve learned to make the most of the notifications feature. But watchOS 9 will alleviate many Apple Watch notifications woes by offering slimline notification banners instead of full-screen alerts.

This means that a small banner will appear on the top of your Apple Watch screen when you’re already looking at your wrist and receive a notification. As is the case on iPhone and iPad, this notification style won’t block what you’re doing on your Apple Watch at the moment, whether it’s checking your workout data, getting an upcoming weather report or calculating the tip for a bill.

watchOS 9 notification upgrade — why it matters

I’m a big believer in the Apple Watch moving towards autonomy. With the bigger Apple Watch 7 sizes, it’s possible to do and see more on my wrist. Assuming the Apple Watch 8 design is similar to the Apple Watch 7, watchOS 9’s new slimline notification banners should enhance the user experience of the next-gen device.

Not only that, the list of watchOS 9 supported devices does not include the Apple Watch Series 3, the last Apple Watch model that retained the original 38mm and 42mm sizes. Several new and compelling Apple Watch upgrades are clearly leveraging the larger screens.

watchOS 9 makes it obvious the Apple Watch is adopting the iPhone’s foundational features, enabling situations in which you can do the same things on your Apple Watch as you can on a 6.1-inch handset. Being able to keep using an app when you get an alert is a small upgrade with bigger implications than you might realize. 

When the watchOS 9 public beta releases, look out for reporting on how and whether the slimline notification banners change the way I use my Apple Watch. We'll also be showing off a lot of the new watchOS 9, iOS 16 and iPadOS 16 features on the Tom’s Guide TikTok (opens in new tab) account, which you should go follow if you don’t already. 

Next: A surprise WatchOS 9 upgrade might just be the best thing about Apple Watch 8

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.