Apple watchOS 8: new mindfulness and health features dominate

What's new for the Apple Watch? Here's the key new details about watchOS 8
Apple watchOS 8 officially unveiled
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Apple has officially unveiled the first details of watchOS 8, giving us our first glimpse at the big new software features that will be heading to the Apple Watch later this year.

Announced at its annual WWDC 21 developer conference, the follow-up to watchOS 7 is set to improve how you communicate with others via the Apple Watch, how you can look back over photos you've snapped on your iPhone and even spend more mindful time with your smartwatch.

Surprisingly, watchOS 8 will be compatible with Apple Watch Series 3 smartwatches and later when it lands this Fall. That means pretty much every Apple Watch user out there will benefit from all these new features.

We're fully expecting it to land alongside a brand new Apple Watch Series 7, and there could even be an all-new Apple Watch SE too.

Here's what's new and coming to your Apple Watch this year.

New Mindfulness app

New Mindfulness app

Apple kicked things off by highlighting the importance of looking after your mind as well as your body, so it's introducing an enhanced version of its Breathe app along with introducing a new Mindfulness app.

The Breathe app landed on watchOS 3 back in 2016, but hasn't had a lot of love since then.

This upgraded version brings new animations for those guided breathing sessions and adds new Reflect prompts, which displays short messages designed to promote positive thoughts.

Track more in the Sleep app

Apple finally launched its first native Sleep app in watchOS 7, and now it's bolstering its skills to track your bed time with the ability to track respiratory rate.

It's not a new metric to smartwatches, but it does mean you can now track breaths per minute, which could offer an insight into your current wellness. While Apple does say this isn't designed as a medical feature, increased breathing rate can be an early warning system of respiratory illness.

You'll be able to view trends over time and while capturing and syncing that data to Apple Health, will send a notification to your phone if there's sudden trends in your respiration rate.

Apple Watch becomes your wallet

The Wallet app is already a big part of iOS – and Apple Pay is one of our favorite Apple Watch features. But now it's set to do more than payments. As outlined at WWDC 2020, your Apple Watch Series 6 with watchOS 8 will use Ultra Wideband technology to act as keys for compatible cars, smart locks and even hotel room entry.

What's more, you will be able to add ID cards such as drivers licenses to the Apple Watch, and apparently selected TSA checkpoints in the US will accept digital ID.

New Workout modes

New Workout modes

Apple went pretty big on adding new workout modes in watchOS 7, and now it's decided to bolster the ranks by adding dedicated modes for Tai Chi and Pilates.

Apple says the new modes use validated custom-built heart rate and motion algorithms to provide users with accurate metrics for these two new workout types. However, we're unsure whether there will be specific metrics, or whether it simply means that calorie burn and HR estimates will be more accurate.

Set multiple Apple Watch timers

Users of Apple Watch timers rejoice, as you can now set multiple tagged timers simultaneously via Siri on the Apple Watch.

The new update to timers means you can say, for example "set 10 minute potato timer" but also "set a 20 minute laundry timer". When the timer goes off you'll be notified of which is which.

More always on apps

The Apple Watch Series 5 and Series 6 brought an always on display, that dims to a power saving watch face when not in use. However, it can be heavily disruptive when using an app to have the screen head into low power mode.

Now Maps, Mindfulness, Now Playing, Phone, Podcasts, Stopwatch, Timers, Voice Memos, to name a few, will play nicer with the always on display.

AssistiveTouch gestures

Last month we covered some very cool gesture control for Apple Watch, that's designed for users with upper limb differences. And those are landing in watchOS 8.

That includes clenching the fist, pinching fingers, and incredibly, shaking the wrist to summon a cursor, which can be controlled by tilting the Apple Watch. It looks a lot of fun and we'll be trying them out with interest – although that's not to detract from the serious potential, allowing people who struggle to use the smartwatch for physical reasons to enjoy its best features.

Apple Fitness+ gets music boost

Apple Fitness+ gets music boost

Along with adding a series of new workouts for strength and HIIT to its fitness subscription service, Apple is adding new Artist Spotlight playlists where it's created curated workout playlists from the likes of Lady Gaga and Jennifer Lopez.

These features will actually land for Apple Fitness+ in July next month.

Portrait watch faces

Portrait watch faces

According to Apple, photo watch faces are the most popular watch face option for Apple users and while we find that pretty surprising, it's bringing new portrait watch faces that makes it easier to bring portrait mode pics captured on your iPhone and optimise them for that smaller screen to be used as a watch face.

You'll be able to adjust composition and the placement of time to make sure you get a good balance between watch and your (or someone else's) face.

New Photos app

New Photos app

In addition to making it easier to put faces on your watch faces, Apple is redesigning its Photos app to make it more useful to use on the Watch, So you'll be able to scroll through memories and multiple photos making it vastly improved experience to spend some time looking through snaps on your wrist.

Messaging support gets richer

Messaging support gets richer

If you spend a lot of time responding to messages on your Watch, Apple is improving the way you can respond to those messages and what you can send in those responses too.

Firstly, you now get the Contacts app on watchOS – and about time too. That will make it easier to select contacts to message from the wrist.

In watchOS 8 users can mix dictation and scribbles to compose and edit messages before they're sent. And you can now add emojis while in scribble view, and even send Gifs if you prefer communicate in images and symbols as opposed to hammering out big paragraphs. And let's face it, communicating via Gif is the most effective way to chat.

Answer the door

Answer the door

During Apple's segment on improvements to its smart home platform, it also revealed that it's going to introducing the ability to view when someone rings your doorbell out front and it's also bringing an intercom feature as two more ways to make its Watch more fully integrated into its smart home experience.

And more is coming...

Apple unveils watchOS 8 as it gets more mindful about your health

As is always the case, Apple doesn't talk about everything it's going to bring in its new watchOS update but did flash up a useful screen to give us an idea of what else is coming. Here's of some of those additional new features:

  • Use Apple Watch to find items
  • Next-hour precipitation
  • Live headphone audio exposure
  • Fitness+ to get picture in picture support

So, plenty to look forward to and we're sure one the beta version of watchOS 8 start rolling out we might even find there's more in store for the Apple Watch when it lands later this year.