watchOS 5 complete guide: New Apple Watch features have landed

We break down what you can look forward to in the new watchOS update

Apple's watchOS is the most polished wearable operating system we've seen, and watchOS 5, which focusses heavily on fitness and communication is now available to download.

Apple noted that these two areas are the ones Apple Watch users were enjoying the most, particularly with the arrival of the Apple Watch Series 4.

Essential reading: Apple Watch tips and tricks

The ultimate goal here isn't just to help people get as fit and healthy as possible, it's to be able to deliver information as seamlessly as it can. After all, smartwatches are best when used for quick, lightning-like bursts of information.

watchOS 5 is available for the all-new Series 4, naturally, but those with a Series 3, Series 2 and Series 1 all get the update too. As with watchOS 4, those with an original Apple Watch will sadly miss out.

We've been using watchOS 5 for a while new - since the early beta. Here's a breakdown of the key features to look out for.

watchOS 5: Health and fitness

watchOS 5 complete guide: New Apple Watch features have landed

In the realm of fitness, one of the biggest new features is automatic workout detection, something we've been waiting on for a long time. However, it's not exactly the automatic detection you're used to. The Apple Watch will send you a notification telling you that it thinks you're working out, but you'll need to tap a button to start tracking, and to confirm that you are in fact doing the workout it thinks you are. Once you do so, it'll give you retroactive credit for the amount of workout you've already done. Similarly, if you forget to end a workout it'll prompt you to do so.

Read this: How to update Apple Watch

As for actual workouts, the two new big ones are yoga and hiking. Yoga's algorithm is built off your heart rate, while hiking takes pace, heart rate, and elevation gain into consideration. As for the current workouts, outdoor running is wildly popular so Apple has made several improvements in this area.

watchOS 5 complete guide: New Apple Watch features have landed

Outdoor running now has support for rolling mile paces, so you can see your progress from your previous to current running pace. There's also a custom pace alert, which will let you know when you're above or below the pace you set. There's cadence support too, so you can see your steps per minute, which is available for indoor runs and both outdoor and indoor walks.

Kevin Lynch, Apple's vice president of technology, said one of the most popular parts of the Activity app is sharing. So Apple is doubling down with competitions: you can now challenge any of your activity-sharing friends to a seven day competition. You get a point for each ring you close, and you'll be able to check your progress between you and your friend every day. At the end, the winner gets an award.

Finally, Apple has been busy calibrating its calorie scoring. The company revealed that it's collected 6 terabytes of data from 12,000 study participants – that's 2.3 million burned calories. Apple says its the largest collection of biometric data "of its kind." The result of this is that calorie counting is now more accurate in watchOS 5.

watchOS 5: Communication and notifications

watchOS 5 complete guide: New Apple Watch features have landed

Apple has done a lot to improve the communication powers of the Apple Watch over the years, but it figured that phone calls and messages may be too intensive a lot of the time. Talking on your watch is something of a battery drain and messaging often takes so long that you may as well pull out your phone - so with watchOS 5, Apple has turned its smartwatch into a walkie talkie.

The new Walkie Talkie app is exactly as it sounds. You can choose a person you want to use Walkie Talkie with, which will send them a request. If they accept, you'll be able to talk to them at any time. It's clear this feature is best for the closest people in your life, like your immediate family.

Before a voice comes through on your Watch, you'll get some haptic feedback and hear that familiar walkie talkie beep. Then your buddy's voice will pop through the Apple Watch's speaker, ready to talk to or annoy you. It's available on every Apple Watch supporting watchOS 5 (so all save for the original) and works over both cellular and Wi-Fi.

Read this: Best Apple Watch apps to download first

Another way watchOS 5 makes the Apple Watch a more seamless experience is with interactive notifications, so you can complete tasks without having to jump into individual apps. For instance, you can use Apple Pay to pay within a notification. Or, a Yelp notification will let you change your reservation.

Plus - and this is a biggie - watchOS 5 has brought grouped notifications, something that also arrived with iOS 12. Now, should you receive multiple notifications from the same app, you'll see them appear as a stack. Tap the stack and you can view each individually.

Oh, and if you've ever been annoyed that your friend sent you a web link in Messages and all you got was a prompt to open your iPhone, you'll be happy: WebKit has got watchOS integration, so you'll be able to actually see that linked content on your wrist. You won't be able to see full websites, but for menus and articles it's good enough.

watchOS 5: Siri

From workouts to Walkie Talkie: What you need to know about watchOS 5

Apple has made several improvements to Siri, and most of them are in the Siri watch face, which has become a Wareable favourite. Using machine learning, Siri will now be able to serve up more information based on what you're doing.

For instance, it'll show you your heart rate after a workout, commute time via Maps at a certain time in the day, or sports scores if your favourite team is playing.

Read this: A complete guide to the Apple Watch heart rate monitor

Third-party apps can now be integrated into the Siri watch face too, so you'll be able to see your Nike+ Run Club runs or Citymapper routes when you need them. And speaking of Siri, say goodbye to "Hey Siri" on the wrist. Apple said the call phrase was essentially redundant as people needed to raise their wrists, say "Hey Siri" and then give their request. So now you just need to raise your wrist and say your piece. It works much faster.

watchOS 5: Podcasts

watchOS 5 complete guide: New Apple Watch features have landed

The Podcast app has been one of our most requested features since the Apple Watch was born, and it finally arrived in watchOS 5. You can now listen to your favourite shows on the go, and everything syncs up with your iPhone and Mac, so you can pause halfway through an episode on one device and pick up on another. That also means all your subscribed shows will show up on the Watch from the get-go.

The app gives you the choice between playing podcasts directly from the Watch or selecting 'On iPhone' to instead use the Apple Watch as a playback controller for your phone. If you have an LTE-running Apple Watch, playing from the wrist means you can do so without your phone nearby. If you don't have LTE, fear not, as you can easily download episodes to the Watch for offline playback.

What we're saying is, with the addition of Apple's podcast app, the Watch has completed its transformation into the new iPod.

watchOS 5: More control for everyone

watchOS 5 complete guide: New Apple Watch features have landed

Many of the best improvements in watchOS 5 are the ones that are less obvious. There are so many small refinements which, when added together, make the wearable operating system much better, much more customisable to both users and developers.

For example, developers have new tools for background audio, which means music, audiobooks and meditation sessions from apps like Pandora, Audible and more will be able to be synced for offline playback without an iPhone nearby. It's a small but important step in making the Apple Watch more independent and less reliant on the iPhone. If only there was a Spotify app to take advantage of this.

Even things like being able to now customise the icons in the Control Center make the Watch feel more like, well, your watch. We also like how you can now customise Do Not Disturb mode for a set amount of time or until you leave your current location.

watchOS 5 complete guide: New Apple Watch features have landed

Another neat feature for students in watchOS 5 is the ability to add Student ID cards to your Apple Wallet, and you'll be able to gain access to places like dorms and libraries, or even pay for things like snacks. The program is rolling out at Duke, University of Alabama and University of Oklahoma this fall, while Johns Hopkins, Santa Clara University and Temple University will get access next year.


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