In September of 2020, after much anticipation, Apple released watchOS 7, an update that contains new accessibility features as well as new mainstream capabilities. New features include Blood Oxygen, more workout categories, sleep tracking, and the ability to share watch faces. Not all Apple Watch models can use every new feature. VoiceOver also adds the VoiceOver Rotor, the ability to use a braille display, and the ability to have VoiceOver speak seconds when telling time. The new watchOS can be used with Apple Watch Series 3, 4, 5, 6, and SE.
Apple also unveiled its newest watches in September: Apple Watch Series 6 and the Apple Watch SE.
WatchOS 7 can run on Apple Watch Series 3 and above. Your iPhone must be 6S or later, running iOS 14 or above. Though Apple still sells the Series 3 Watch, it's not compatible with several new features, including the new Blood Oxygen app. Some apps, such as ECG (electrocardiogram) and Siri Raise to Speak, can be used by watches that are newer than the Series 3.
Any new Apple Watch needs to be paired with your iPhone before it can be used. All Apple Watches pair the same way. Turn on the watch by holding the side button (not the round button) in for a few seconds. You can then click the round button, called the digital crown, three times and VoiceOver will start speaking. If you want step-by-step pairing and set-up directions, Jonathan Mosen gives an excellent description of unboxing and setting up the Apple Watch Series 6.
Apple has made some accessibility improvements in this newest watchOS release.
The VoiceOver Rotor is now available on the Apple Watch. The Rotor has the following options: characters, words, speaking rate, volume, headings, and actions.
Adding and Deleting Rotor Languages
To add a language to the Rotor, open the Watch app on your iPhone. Go to Settings > Accessibility > VoiceOver > Rotor Languages. Select the Add New Language button. A list of languages is then displayed on the next screen. Make your selection. If you want to add a language using your Apple Watch, open Settings and follow the same procedure.
To delete a language, follow the same procedure for adding a language until you get to the screen with the Add New Language button. Any languages on your rotor will be listed above the button. Choose a language and flick up to the Delete option. In the upper right corner is an Edit button. You can delete or re-arrange languages when this button is activated. On the Watch, go to the same screen. Double tap on the language you want to delete. Delete and Cancel buttons will then be on the screen.
In a major accessibility update, braille displays can now be connected via Bluetooth to the Apple Watch.
You can now have your watch speak seconds when saying the time. On your Watch or iPhone go to Settings > Accessibility > VoiceOver > Speak Seconds. There are three options: Always, Speak Seconds if Displayed, and Never.
Siri Now Available as VoiceOver Voice
You now have the option to use Siri’s voice for VoiceOver. On the iPhone or Watch, go to Settings > Accessibility > VoiceOver. Flick right to Siri Voice. Turn on this feature by double tapping on the toggle button.
Author’s note: My watch does not make the change to Siri’s voice. I checked the AppleVis website and I am not the only person having this issue. The very nice Apple Accessibility Advisor had me try several things with my watch but they didn’t help. He said he is filing a report for Apple and hopefully the issue will be resolved in the next update. When the Advisor checked, he found previous reports of the same issue.
The Apple Watch no longer uses the Force Touch gesture. This gesture was used for selecting Watch faces and other functions.
There are new Watch faces and complications. New faces include GMT, Chronograph Pro, and an assortment of Stripes faces. Some faces are not available on all watch models.
There are two ways to choose a watch face. On the iPhone, open the Watch app and select the face Gallery. Explore the gallery by flicking right and left until you find a face you might want. Select it with a one-finger double tap. The next screen will have a description of the face. If complications can go on the face, you will hear the number. If the face already has complications installed, you can change them if you wish. Add the face by selecting the Add button on the description screen. The button is under the face’s name.
On the Watch, flick up with one finger until you hear “Customize watch face.” Select that option and flick right to Add New Face. The next screen will have the list of face categories. Selecting a category will bring up the list of its faces. Select the face you want to add.
It's now possible to have more than one complication from the same app on your watch face. For example, the Weather app has complication options including air quality and humidity. On the iPhone, open the Watch app and select the Watch face you want to edit. Flick right or set the rotor to Headings and go to Complications. If the Watch has pre-installed complications, double-tap on one and a list of available complications will be offered. Select the one you want.
On the Watch, flick up with one finger until you hear “Customize watch face.” Select that option. Once your Watch face is selected, flick up again with one finger until you hear “Edit.” Double-tap on the complication you want to edit. A list of available complications will be displayed. Select the one you want.
You can share your Watch face, including complications. This can be done on either the Watch or on your iPhone. On the iPhone, open the Watch app and select the face you want to share. A new screen will load. In my case, once I made the face selection, VoiceOver just said the color of my watch face. Next, flick left to the Share button. Activate the button and choose the share method and recipient. On the Apple Watch, do a one-finger flick up until you hear “customize watch face.” Select this option. On the next screen, repeat the gesture until VoiceOver says “share.” Select that option. Next, choose a recipient, create a message, and select Send.
Apple has added four new activities to their Workout app. They are Core Training, Dance, Functional Training, and Cool Down. Your exercise and stand goals can now be adjusted to meet your needs. On your Watch, open the Activity app. Flick right to Change Goals. The first option is to change your Move goal. Next is Exercise and then Stand.
The Family Setup feature lets a family member have their own Apple Watch, without requiring an iPhone. One person sets up this feature and adds family members. This only works with watches that have cellular capability. Apple Watch Series 4, 5, 6, and SE can use this feature if running watchOS or later. An iPhone 6S or later, running iOS 14 or later is required. Participants must have their own Apple ID.
Each family member has their own phone number. The Find My app can be used to locate people. Parental controls are also available. Configuring Family Setup is a multi-step process.
The Series 6 Apple Watch contains a blood oxygen sensor, which measures the percent of oxygen in your blood. It is not meant to be a diagnostic tool and does not take the place of trained medical professionals.
On the Watch, go to the Blood Oxygen app. The first control is whether you want this app on all the time. If you choose this option, the app will take background readings that you can view in the iPhone Health app. There is also an option to have Theater Mode automatically activated when the Watch is taking a reading. This turns off the red light that is on during the reading.
You can take a blood oxygen reading anytime. Open the app. Make sure your watchband is snug on your wrist, but not uncomfortably so. When the Watch is taking a reading, you need to be still. Place your wrist on a flat surface such as a table and press the Start button. The watch will start beeping, indicating that the sensor is taking a reading. When it stops, flick right to the result.
Initially I could not get successful readings when I manually tried to use the Blood Oxygen app. The app did take background readings. I tried moving the watch further up my arm and that solved the problem.
There is a new Hand Washing app. Once turned on, the watch’s microphone and motion sensors will detect the sound of running water and hand movement, and will start counting down for 20 seconds. If you stop before 20 seconds, the watch will encourage you to continue. When you have washed your hands for 20 seconds, the watch says, “Good job.” Make sure VoiceOver’s volume is loud enough to be heard over running water.
WatchOS 7 brings a new Sleep app to your Apple Watch. It lets you pick a sleep schedule and set bedtime routines. There are many options for bedtime, reminders, choosing alarms, and more.
Begin the process by opening the Sleep app. The first choice to make is how many hours you want to sleep. By default, 8 hours is selected. You will then choose which days you want the app to monitor your sleep. When that button is activated, the new screen will have two unlabeled buttons at the top. They just bring you back to the previous screen. Next are the Cancel and Done buttons. Below the buttons are days of the week. By default, all days are selected. Double tap on one to unselect it. Once days are set, choose a bedtime and then choose an alarm. The rest of the setup process is straightforward. If you would prefer to set up the Sleep app on your iPhone, go to the Health app on the phone. Select the browse tab at the bottom of the screen. Next, select Sleep. On the next screen, flick right until you hear VoiceOver say, “Set Up Sleep.” Double tap.
Siri can translate ten languages: Spanish, Russian, Arabic, Brazilian Portuguese Japanese, French, Italian, German, Mandarin Chinese, and Korean.
Dictation is now done directly on the Watch. This should make the feature more responsive.
Siri Shortcuts can be run on the Watch. In addition, they can be added to your Watch face as a complication. Tell Siri which shortcut to run. Siri shortcuts will be listed in your available complications.
The ECG app lets the user take an electrocardiogram with their Watch. Once the app is activated, just put your finger on the digital crown and hold it there. If you have sound activated in the ECG app, you will hear the watch during the ECG. When the sound stops, flick right to hear your results. This app does not take the place of a medical ECG done and read by a doctor or other qualified health professional.
Fall Detection is designed to get assistance if you have taken a fall. The Watch will first alert you that it has detected a fall. Next, it will do taps on your wrist and sound an alarm. Finally, if there is no response, it will call emergency services. By default, this feature is turned off. Turn it on by going to Settings > SOS.
Siri Raise to Speak
The Siri Raise to Speak feature is a great convenience. I found that bringing the watch close to my face and speaking towards the microphone gives the best results.
The option to arrange your apps in Grid or List view is now in Settings on the watch. Go to Settings > App View and make your selection. If you put them in List view, they are arranged alphabetically.
WatchOS 7 has some useful new features. Although an Apple Watch is a significant purchase, there are many things you can do with it. My own experience has been very positive. If you haven’t upgraded to watchOS 7, the upgrade is stable and works well on supported watches.
If you need assistance with any Apple product, call 877-204-3930 to speak an Apple Advisor who is trained in accessibility.
This article is made possible in part by generous funding from the James H. and Alice Teubert Charitable Trust, Huntington, West Virginia.
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