Your Apple Watch is getting an upgrade - here are the best features in WatchOS 11

New WatchOS 11 features include a Vitals app and an improved Smart Stack experience. Here's the full list.
Written by Max Buondonno, Contributing Writer
Apple Watch
Kerry Wan/ZDNET

Apple hosted one of its biggest WWDC keynotes ever last week, and during the show, the company had a lot to talk about, including a new version of WatchOS. Called WatchOS 11, the next update heading to your Apple Watch has a handful of new features that aim to make the computer on your wrist even better.

Also: Everything Apple announced at WWDC 2024, including iOS 18, Siri, AI, and more

Below, we're breaking down the coolest new features coming to your Apple Watch in WatchOS 11, as well as when you can expect them all to roll out. Notably, WatchOS 11 won't be supported by the Apple Watch Series 4, Series 5, or the original Apple Watch SE. If you have one of those watches, it's time to upgrade.

1. Track your strain and recovery with Vitals and Training Load

One of the biggest additions to the Apple Watch in WatchOS 11 is the new Vitals app, which helps you contextualize your health by tracking your heart rate, respiratory rate, wrist temperature, and blood oxygen while you're asleep. These metrics are processed through an algorithm and displayed on a chart the next morning to give you an idea of whether you're in your normal range. 

If two or more metrics are out of whack, you'll get a notification alerting you that certain lifestyle changes, alcohol consumption, illness, or other factors could contribute. It's essentially a recovery tracking tool like what Whoop and many other fitness bands offer but in an easier-to-use package.

Also: The best Apple Watches of 2024: Expert tested and reviewed

Training Load is also coming in WatchOS 11, allowing you to keep track of the strain you put on your body during workouts. It'll compare the last seven days of workouts to the last 28 days to indicate whether you're making meaningful progress toward your goals. Each workout you record will receive an effort rating on a scale from 1 to 10 based on a new algorithm that measures your activity and gauges intensity based on things like age, height, weight, heart rate, elevation, and more.

Serious athletes will likely be drawn to these features since this is the first time Apple has shipped recovery and strain tracking on its watches, but plenty of casual users may also find these features useful when in the process of adopting healthier habits.

2. Pause your rings

Ever get sick one day or just need a break, and you're concerned about not keeping your streak to close your Apple Watch's rings? Now, you don't have to worry about missing out on the day's progress. In WatchOS 11, Apple is giving you the ability to pause your rings for a day, week, month, or longer until you're ready to get back in the game. I can already tell there's going to be a lot of people who get behind this feature -- myself included.

3. Better support for pregnancy

WatchOS 11 will allow those who are pregnant to log their physical and mental health during their pregnancy, as well as display their gestational age and log any symptoms they frequently feel. Your watch will also advise you to review features like high heart rate notifications since, when pregnant, your heart rate tends to increase.

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The feature plays into the Apple Watch's cycle tracking experience, so everything remains cohesive and easy to find.

Uber Live Activity in Apple WatchOS 11.

4. More widgets for your Smart Stack, including Live Activities

The Smart Stack, introduced in WatchOS 10, is improving slightly with some new widgets.

Apple is adding one for Shazam, Photos, Distance, and more. Plus, Smart Stack can now suggest widgets based on the time of day, the date, your location, common daily routines, and more to ensure contextual information is more accurately displayed. There are also some widgets that are interactive, so you can control apps directly from Smart Stack.

Plus, Live Activities are coming to Smart Stack, so you can keep tabs on live events, Ubers, food orders, and more on your wrist.

The new Photos face in Apple WatchOS 11.

5. The Photos face, powered by machine learning

The Photos face is one of the most popular faces on the Apple Watch, given its high level of customization, and it's getting a facelift (pun intended) with WatchOS 11.

Also: One of the best iPhone features at WWDC steals a page from Android (and I'm glad)

Your watch will use machine learning to analyze your photo library and find the best snaps to use as a watch face based on aesthetics, composition, and facial expressions. Apple's algorithm will then optimize the image for the watch face and add depth effects, different colored backgrounds, fonts, and more. You can customize it on your own to your heart's content, plus get treated to a new look every time you raise your wrist.

6. Double Tap now works with any app

One of the biggest complaints users had when the Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 came out was how limited Double Tap was. Up until now, the feature has only worked in select apps that supported scrolling by tapping your fingers, but now, it's being expanded to all apps and third-party apps with WatchOS 11. Apple will also roll out the Double Tap API which will give developers the ability to implement the feature in their apps.

Double tap gesture on Apple Watch Series 9

Double tap gesture on Apple Watch Series 9.

Jason Hiner/ZDNET

7. Check In comes to your wrist

With WatchOS 11, Apple is adding Check In. Originally from iOS 17, Check In allows you to keep track of your friend or loved one by having them confirm when they've reached their destination or have finished something like a gym session. Check In works within the Workout app and Messages.

8. Tap to Cash for quick payments

Also found in iOS 18, Apple is bringing Tap to Cash to WatchOS 11. Tap to Cash allows you to hold your Apple Watch near another watch or iPhone to quickly send Apple Cash to someone else. It's basically the coolest version of Venmo I've ever seen, and I'm here for it.

9. Translate on the fly

Apple is adding the Translate app to WatchOS 11 which will allow you to translate in one of 20 supported languages. When you're traveling abroad where a supported language is spoken, it'll automatically pop up in your watch's Smart Stack.

Also: Every Apple Watch model that will support WatchOS 11 (and which ones won't)

10. Improved workout tracking for GPS-specific workouts

Soccer, American Football, Australian Football, Outdoor Hockey, Lacrosse, Downhill Skiing, Cross Country Skiing, Snowboarding, Golf, Outdoor Rowing, and more are being updated in WatchOS 11 to take advantage of enhancements in GPS positioning for more accurate results. You can also view your route maps for more workout types.

11. Tickets in your Wallet get an upgrade 

If you often use your digital wallet on your Apple Watch, you'll be intrigued by the improved ticketing experience. In WatchOS 11, Apple is adding more information on the event you're going to see, such as when the venue opens, what time it starts, and more. Plus, once you've loaded a ticket into your wallet and that special day approaches, you'll find seating information and other notable tidbits in a widget in your Smart Stack automatically.

When does WatchOS 11 come out?

Right now, WatchOS 11 is available as an early developer preview, with public betas arriving this July. The software update will roll out to all supported Apple Watches come the fall, and if history is any indication, that most likely means September.

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