The best part of Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference is getting a sneak peek into all the new features Apple’s got planned for its product lineup. In the case of the Apple Watch, today’s keynote gave us a look at all the updates coming later this fall—and maybe a few hints at what Apple’s got in mind for the forthcoming Series 7.
Some things we knew were coming, while others were a legitimate surprise, but here’s a rundown of everything you need to know about watchOS 8.
No, we didn’t get third-party watch faces this year. (C’mon now, you didn’t really think that was going to happen, did you?) That said, Apple did introduce a cool new watch face of its own
This year, we’re getting Portrait photo watch faces. It’s exactly what it sounds like. Basically, you can make your watch face a super fancy version of the faces of your loved ones. This is the sole new watch face, which is a bit surprising since we generally see two or three.
Say what you want about Apple’s walled garden, but the fact remains that it does make for a seamless ecosystem of gadgets and services. Last year we got Fitness+, the first Apple service to showcase the Apple Watch, so it’s no surprise to see some updates here. Fitness+ is introducing a new set of workouts with popular instructor Jeanette Jenkins, who teaches strength and HIIT. This is the second new instructor added since launch. Also coming to Fitness+ are Artist Spotlights—or playlists based on a particular musician via Apple Music. (This is very similar to what’s offered on other services like Peloton.)
The Photos app is also being redesigned to include memory highlights, featured photos, and favorites. There’s also a new mosaic layout, and it’ll be easier to share photos and messages from the wrist. Specifically, you can now scribble directly onto the watch so you can edit your texts more easily as well as access the Contacts app. Texts are also getting an update: You can now send reaction gifs. Also mentioned was support for multiple timers that can be given specific labels (i.e., “laundry timer) via Siri. Lastly, the Apple Watch will work more seamlessly with HomeKit so you can view who’s at your house from the wrist. You can also speak into the watch to turn the HomePod, HomePod mini, or other compatible devices into an intercom. The Apple Watch Home app is also getting a redesign.
There were a few more features that Apple didn’t get into during the keynote that tie directly into some of the updates we saw for iOS 15. For example, the new Focus feature can be started directly from the wrist or mirrored from your phone. If you start a workout, for example, it’ll recommend the “Focus for fitness” setting. watchOS 8 will also feature the same updates to Wallet, allowing you to display your ID from the wrist in certain states and select TSA checkpoints. You can also use the watch to double as keys for the car, home, office, and hotel—provided it has UltraWideband support (i.e., the Series 6). Speaking of UWB, the watch will also have new Find Items and Find Devices apps to help you find tagged items via Find My.
More apps will now be able to support the Always-On display on the Series 5 and 6, including Maps, Mindfulness, Now Playing, Phone, Podcasts, Stopwatch, Timers, and Voice Memos. Last but not least, the Weather app will get Severe Weather and Next Hour precipitation alerts, as well as updated complications.
When Apple finally brought native sleep-tracking to watchOS 7 last year, we were underwhelmed but confident Apple would improve on it in the future. Well, this is the future. In watchOS 8, you’ll now be able to track your respiratory rate, or how many breaths you take per minute. You’ll also be notified if a meaningful trend in your respiratory rate is detected.
Each iteration of watchOS also brings some improvements to the Health app and workout types. Last year we saw a new Dance workout. This year, Apple’s adding Tai Chi and a new Pilates workout type, which should make your results more accurate.
Another major health update is a new Mindfulness app that gives you insights into how to be more reflective during the day via “Reflect” sessions. It replaces the Breathe app and will also offer an “enhanced” Breathe experience.
Apple didn’t mention it in the keynote, but also coming to watchOS 8 is Assistive Touch. This was previously announced last month as part of a slew of new accessibility features and will allow you to use gestures to control the watch with just one hand.
Apple’s adding three new features to the Health app. The first is walking steadiness. iPhones already record mobility data, but now you’ll get to see whether you’re at risk of falling. It’ll also give recommendations for movement exercises to increase your strength and balance.
Another feature Apple is expanding on is lab results. You can already look at your lab results—if you enable that in your Health app—but now you can view those results over time as well as get extra context. For example, you’ll be able to see if your LDL (the “bad” kind of blood cholesterol metric) is within an acceptable range. In that vein, Apple is now monitoring something it calls Trends. This is something similar to what you already get in the Fitness app, but less workout-focused.
Apple is also building a way for you to share your recorded health data directly with your physicians. You can also set up sharing relationships with family members—specifically elderly relatives or children—so you can get notified of changes in their health.
So there you have it. There weren’t a whole lot of watchOS 8 rumors coming into WWDC, but Apple still delivered some solid updates that have got us hyped for the Series 7 in the fall. Don’t worry though, you don’t need to get a Series 7 to get a lot of these features.
One warning, watchOS 8 will work with the Series 3. This might tempt you to snag one, as it’s the cheapest available watch. Like Bernie Sanders, I am once again asking you to not buy a new Series 3, even if you happen to spot a deal on it ahead of the Series 7's launch this fall.