Apple officially unveiled the first details of watchOS 8 at its WWDC 21 developer conference, giving us our first glimpse at the big new software features that will be heading to the Apple Watch later this year.
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.
Read on for everything you need to know.
- Apple Watch Series 7 - everything you need to know
- Big interview: Apple VP Kevin Lynch on 8 years of watchOS
Which Apple Watches will get watchOS 8?
Apple's watchOS 8 will be compatible with the Apple Watch Series 3 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.
Apple watchOS 8 new features:
Apple Watch becomes your wallet
The Wallet app is already a big part of iOS ‚Äď 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 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 and share photos through Messages and Mail apps making it a vastly improved experience to spend some time looking through snaps on your wrist.
New Home app
During Apple's segment on improvements to its smart home platform, it also revealed that it's introducing the ability to view when someone rings your doorbell out front via a HomeKit-enabled camera and it's also bringing an intercom feature as two more ways to make its Watch more fully integrated into its smart home experience. You'll also be able to broadcast messages over Apple's HomePod and HomePod Mini speakers.
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.
Apple watchOS 8 health and fitness features
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.
Respiratory rate data during sleep
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.
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.
Apple watchOS 8 watch faces and timers features
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.
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.
Apple watchOS 8 watch communication and control features
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 ‚Äď 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.
Apple's watchOS 8 will work in conjunction with the new Focus tools being introduced to iOS 15.
It's a feature designed to stop Watch wearers from being distracted when using certain features on their smartwatch by filtering what notifications are received during different scenarios.
So when you're about to workout with the Watch, the Fitness focus profile will be suggested to help you focus on that exercise time with minimal distractions.
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.
Other exciting new watchOS 8 features to look forward to
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:
- Find items app to locate tagged items using Find My network
- More third party Apple Watch apps can make use of the Always-On display mode
- New Music app will let you share songs, albums and playlists through Messages and Mail
- New Weather apps will support severe weather notifications and 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.