watchOS 11 — the biggest new Apple Watch features and how to try them

WWDC 2024
(Image credit: Apple)

Apple's watchOS 11 software was officially unveiled at WWDC 2024, giving us a thorough overview of what wearable computing will look like for Apple Watch users throughout next year.

New features for activity and wellness are in tow, and there are a few new updates that help the watch feed you the most relevant information at a glance. A redesigned Photos watch face is sure to be a fan favorite, too. 

As the software that’s likely to ship on the Apple Watch Series 10 (and possibly Apple Watch Ultra 3) there’s plenty of reason to pay attention to watchOS 11, which is available now in public beta form. But whether you’re wondering if your older Apple Watch will be compatible with the new software, or what the new watchOS 11 features mean for your Apple Watch, here’s what we know about this year’s software refresh.

watchOS 11: Cheat sheet

  • Training Load: An insightful way to measure how your workout intensity is affecting your body over time. A new algorithm translates sensor data into effort ratings that are then used to calculate your training progress, revealing whether you’re ready to take things to the next level or need to take it easier.
  • Take a rest day from your rings: Not only can you customize the summary tab in the fitness app to see the information that’s most relevant to you, but you can now (finally!!!) take the day off from closing your rings without risking your awards progress. You can additionally adjust your Ring goals based on the day of the week.
  • New Vitals app: The vitals app can show you your health metrics in a snapshot, complete with trends for the week. You’ll get notified if you’re health has changed and you should pay attention, which should help you get better context when it comes to overall well-being. 
  • Improved pregnancy tracking: When users log a pregnancy, the Cycle Tracking app on Apple Watch will show their gestational age and allow them to log pregnancy-related symptoms. 
  • Smart Stack gets smarter: New widgets get added to Smart Stack more intuitively, such as translation when you’re in a new country or a weather forecast when rain is on the way. Live Activities will now be supported in the Smart Stack for apps like Uber.
  • More ways to Check In: Check In also now works on Apple Watch, with the ability to monitor your check in your Smart Stack. You can now set a Check In from the workout app, too.
  • Translation app: An Apple Watch version of the Translation app will let users more easily access translations for 20 different supported languages on their wrists.
  • Tap to Cash: Also featured in iOS 18, Tap to Cash lets users send and receive Apple Cash by simply holding their Apple Watch near another Apple Watch or iPhone.
  • Double Tap API: App developers will be able to leverage Double Tap, available on the Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2.
  • Redesigned Photos watch face: In the new Photos watch face, machine learning curates the best photos in your library that would be good for your watch face, and frames the clock around your image.

watchOS 11: announcement and release date

watchOS 11 was announced during WWDC 2024 on June 10 alongside iOS 18 and other software refreshes such as iPadOS 18 and the next macOS version

Following WWDC, a developer beta version of watchOS 11 was released the same day with a public beta following on July 15.

Based on past release schedules, watchOS 11 should become fully available in September, probably within the same few weeks as the Apple Watch Series 10 announcement.

watchOS 11: public beta

watchOS 11 public beta was released on July 15. Anyone with an Apple Watch Series 6 or newer, Apple Watch SE 2022, or Apple Watch Ultra (2) device can try it out.  Here's how to download the watchOS 11 public beta.

Once installed, there's plenty to explore, from the new Vitals app to overhauled Smart Stacks. Here are the seven best watchOS 11 features worth trying first

watchOS 11: compatible Apple Watch models

This is the year that the Apple Watch Series 4 loses update support. It’s running on a processor that’s approximately 6 years old, and in mobile tech years, that’s ancient. Not only that, the Apple Watch Series 5 is also not going to be compatible with watchOS 11. Neither is the original Apple Watch SE. This comes as a bit of a surprise, but for context, the Apple Watch Series 6 got a major processor upgrade that probably determined the eligibility cut-off.

Of course, there will be some watchOS 11 features that are exclusive to Apple Watch models with always-on displays, newer health sensors and more spacious displays. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are updates that work only for the Apple Watch Ultra lineup, too. Otherwise, these are all the watchOS 11-compatible models:

  • Apple Watch Series 6
  • Apple Watch Series 7
  • Apple Watch Series 8
  • Apple Watch Series 9
  • Apple Watch SE (2022)
  • Apple Watch Ultra
  • Apple Watch Ultra 2

watchOS 11: Training Load and Pause Activity Rings

WWDC 2024

(Image credit: Apple)

While there weren't very many changes to the activity and fitness for watchOS 11, Apple has finally welcomed a feature that users have been waiting for, and it comes via Training Load. 

Training Load is a new metric to measure how your workout intensity is affecting your body over time. A new algorithm on the Apple Watch translates sensor data and your health parameters into an effort rating that is then used to calculate your training progress. Your Training Load will tell you whether you’re ready to take things to the next level, or need to take it easier.

With that, you can finally take a rest day from your rings. Pause Activity Rings lets you take the day off from closing your rings without risking your awards progress. 

watchOS 11: Vitals app

WWDC 2024

(Image credit: Apple)

Despite being a highly capable health device, the Apple Watch never had a version of the Health app that gives a unified snapshot of your health trends. Instead, we're now getting the Vitals app, a new destination for better understanding how different markers (ie. activity, sleep, heart rate) are impacting your health.

The Vitals app is also set to notify you when a concerning trend in your health emerges. When you sleep poorly a few nights in a row, for example, it could indicate your body is trying to tell you something. 

watchOS 11: Improved pregnancy tracking

WWDC 2024

(Image credit: Apple)

watchOS 11 introduces more intuitive health features with pregnant users in mind. Now, when users log a pregnancy, the Cycle Tracking app on Apple Watch will keep track of the gestational age and prompt logging pregnancy-related symptoms. Your Health app will suggest you make some changes to your profile as well to better reflect your pregnancy, such as changing your heart rate alerts threshold.

watchOS 11: Smart Stack upgrades

WWDC 2024

(Image credit: Apple)

Smart Stack, the hallmark watchOS 10 feature, gets some useful updates in watchOS 11. It'll more intelligently curate your Smart Stack so that the most relevant information is being prioritized at the top of the stack. For example, if it looks like it's going to rain soon, your Smart Stack will lead with a forecast widget. Similarly, if you're traveling to a different country, you might be prompted with a location-based translation widget. (That's right, the Translation app comes to Apple Watch in watchOS 11.)

That's not all — Smart Stack can now be used to manage a Check In. Check Ins can also now be started from the workout app, say, if you're going for a run later at night alone. Other Live Activities from iPhone will be mirrored in the Smart Stack in watchOS 11, too.

watchOS 11: New Photos watch face

WWDC 2024

(Image credit: Apple)

New watchOS versions typically include new watch faces. For watchOS 11, we only get one new watch face, and it's technically a redesign of a familiar favorite. The Photos watch face has been completely modernized, complete with machine learning.

Your watch will now suggest which photos to use as your watch face based on the best finds in your library. The time will then be framed intelligently around your image, and you can tailor the final product with a variety of color filters. 

watchOS 11: Double Tap API

Apple Watch Series 9

(Image credit: Future)

Separate from the existing accessibility gestures baked into the Apple Watch, double tap is powered by a machine learning algorithm made possible by the upgraded processor in the Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2. The algorithm pulls information from the watch's accelerometer, gyroscope, and optical heart sensor to detect when the gesture — tapping the thumb and index finger of your watch hand together twice — is initiated.

But double tap only worked in certain native Apple Watch apps. For watchOS 11, Apple is releasing a Double Tap API that lets developers integrate double tap functionality in their own third-party apps.

Kate Kozuch

Kate Kozuch is the managing editor of social and video at Tom’s Guide. She covers smartwatches, TVs and audio devices, too. Kate appears on Fox News to talk tech trends and runs the Tom's Guide TikTok account, which you should be following. When she’s not filming tech videos, you can find her taking up a new sport, mastering the NYT Crossword or channeling her inner celebrity chef.