If you didn't watch Apple's WWDC 2018 keynote, don't worry. We'll catch you up on all things wearable. While smartwatches might not have been first order of the day for Tim Cook and company, the Cupertino crew did find some time to talk about watchOS 5 and some new Watch Sport and Pride bands too.
Yes, watchOS 5 is coming later this year and if you own a Series 1 all the way up to the Series 3 (and whatever the new Apple Watch ends up being called), you can get in on the new features. Sorry original Apple Watch owners, this update is not for you.
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One of my main takeaways was the Walkie Talkie feature – which we later discovered was actually a feature announced with the first Apple Watch. There were also improvements made to the Siri watch face, which if I'm being perfectly honest I don't really use on my Watch.
Notifications support on the Apple Watch is probably the best I've used on any smartwatch. So it's good to hear that for watchOS 5, notifications can now be grouped and we will soon be able to modify aspects like restaurant reservations without opening another app. I was also happy to hear that some improvements were being made on the run tracking and general workout tracking front. It's nothing radical, more like welcome additions that make the Watch an ever improving option for people who do want to track sports from the Watch.
Away from what the Apple clan had to say on stage, I was inevitably drawn to the screen that popped up at the end of the watchOS segment (image above). The one that revealed there was a whole bunch of features coming, even though Apple didn't have enough time to talk about them all there and then.
While improved fitness and communication features are no doubt highlights and a bit more exciting to announce and demo live, it's the features that don't necessarily get shown off that often make a difference to using the Apple Watch day-to-day. The kinds of things that actually make people use their smartwatches more.
I've picked out a few of these features that I think Apple Watch owners will be keen to play around with once they become available to try.
FaceTime video as audio
Apple dedicated a lot of time to talking about the introduction of its new Group FaceTime feature, which basically enables video calling with up to 32 participants (including yourself of course). Participants can join the conversation using video or audio from an iPhone, iPad or Mac. What you might have missed is that you can also get in on the action with an Apple Watch too. It currently only extends to FaceTime audio, but it's nice to see that Apple managed to make its smartwatch part of the calling party too.
Checking whether you need to grab a jacket or reach for the shorts is always useful information to quickly glance at, and it's a feature I make a lot of use of on the Watch. Apple does a pretty comprehensive job of helping you keep a check on the temperature outside, whether it's through complications, Siri integration or third party Watch apps. With watchOS 5, some new features are getting thrown into the mix.
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The ability to add certain cities to the default Weather app is a nice touch albeit not a groundbreaking addition. UV index data will also be displayed and there's also going to be wind direction and speed data added, which I'd imagine would come in useful come storm season as well. But it's the air quality data that's really interesting here. While Apple only briefly highlighted its inclusion, having access to that data for indoors and outdoors is definitely something I'd imagine urban dwellers consider to be useful information. So it's good to see Apple is taking it into consideration that people would like to have this information to hand.
NFC being used outside of Apple Pay
Now this was spoken about by way of Apple's new Student ID cards. Specifically the hope that it can entice college students to buy one of its smartwatches now that you can assign your student card to, making it easier to buy things around campus. The big deal here is that Apple is opening up the ability for the NFC tech that's normally reserved for Apple Pay to be used for other payments, and potentially for other uses like getting access to buildings or your apartment as well. We know there are wearables that use NFC for things apart from payments, so it's not too ambitious to think that the Watch will use the tech in other ways too.
Enhanced Workout session APIs
Okay, so this is one for developers – but it feels like an important one to highlight. Especially while Apple continues to evolve its smartwatch to become a better sports watch. Apple highlights that making this new workout API available to Watch app developers will ensure improved data accuracy and more robust app performance.
Of the very few apps I probably do use on a regular basis on my Watch, fitness ones sit top of the list. Apple's own native fitness apps are pretty good on the accuracy front and offer a good place to review workouts, but there are definitely some third party options that could do with improvements. So any help devs can get to make this happen is definitely a good thing.
Parkinson's Research API
It's another one for the devs, but it does emphasis Apple's move into serious health tracking. Now devs and researchers will be able to access custom algorithms based on accelerometer and gyroscope motion sensor data, to create tools that will help doctors and patients better understand tremor and dyskinesia symptoms in response to treatment for Parkinson's Disease.
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Only recently we heard about Alphabet's Study Watch that was being used in a number of projects, including one with the Michael J Fox Foundation, to explore and identify patterns in the progression of Parkinson's disease. It's clear that Apple has designs to make its smartwatch and future smartwatches open to being used in a similar way.
Apple also announced it was opening its new Health Records API to developers, which may have gone unnoticed and unlocks the ability for various institutions to better manage medications, nutrition plans and diagnosed diseases. Like Fitbit, Apple clearly believes it can play a vital role in exploring and studying serious health issues and this is just the latest step of firming up those efforts.
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