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watchOS 9 compatibility — which Apple Watch models could be eligible?

Apple Watch 7
(Image credit: Future)

With watchOS 9 all but guaranteed to be revealed during the WWDC 2022 keynote later today, you might be wondering about watchOS 9 compatibility. As in, which Apple Watch models will be eligible for watchOS 9?

Apple has established a reputation for supporting its older devices with software updates even several years after they’ve launched. The iPhone 6s, which came out in 2015, got iOS 15 or the same software on the iPhone 13 series, for example. When it comes to Apple Watch, the first and second-generation models have been phased out, though all versions since 2017 still get annual watchOS overhauls.

Though it’s possible certain watchOS 9 features will be optimized for the rumored Apple Watch 8 (that ended up being the case for watchOS 8 and the Apple Watch 7) earlier Apple Watch models should get the latest software. But one model in particular could be excluded, the Apple Watch 3.

We don’t know yet how far back watchOS 9 compatibility will reach, but that’ll all be revealed soon during WWDC 2022 on June 6. Be sure you know how to watch WWDC 2022 live stream to follow along with the watchOS 9 announcements as they happen. Until then, here’s what we expect in terms of watchOS 9 compatibility.

watchOS 9 compatibility — what we expect

Based on previous watchOS updates, we have some idea of which Apple Watch models will be eligible to upgrade. There’s truly no doubt that the Apple Watch 7 will upgrade, in fact, that’s the smartwatch we’ll most likely test the watchOS 9 beta with. Not to mention, it’s the best smartwatch overall right now.

As for earlier Apple Watch models, we’d guess all versions since the Apple Watch 4 will get watchOS 9. If you know how to use the Apple Watch, the experience isn't significantly different between generations. Besides the new Apple Watch 7 sizes, the only notable feature is the always on display that debuted with the Apple Watch 5.

Here are the Apple Watch models we expect to support watchOS 9 compatibility:

watchOS 9 — what about Apple Watch 3?

You might notice we didn’t include Apple Watch 3 among the Apple Watch models we expect to be compatible with watchOS 9. Apple still sells its third-gen smartwatch, making it the best Apple Watch for those looking to spend under $200 as well as one of the best cheap smartwatches.

We’re not really sure why the Apple Watch 3 is still around. Besides the fact that it gets some of the best Apple Watch deals during holiday seasons, it’s pretty outdated. You can’t buy an LTE version of it anymore, and its big bezels almost make it look archaic next to the Series 7.

Whether Apple pulls Apple Watch 3 software support this year is perhaps the biggest question we have for WWDC’s wearable-related announcements. On one hand, support has to end on a 5-year-old smartwatch at some point. On the other, it wouldn’t seem fair to those who bought the Series 3 this year to lose support. 

We think the latter point is reason enough to offer watchOS 9 compatibility for Apple Watch 3. That said, we wouldn't be surprised if certain features don't work on the Series 3. And as a bit of forward thinking, should Apple stop selling the Apple Watch 3 later this year, there's a chance watchOS 9 will be the final software overhaul it gets.

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.