Alongside its big unveil of iOS 15 at today’s Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple also showed off watchOS 8, the latest update to the operating system for its popular wearable device. As has usually been the case in recent years, watchOS 8 doesn’t pack in too many groundbreaking new features — the most significant changes are likely being saved for the unveiling of the Apple Watch Series 7 this fall — but Apple technology VP Kevin Lynch did have a few smaller quality-of-life improvements that will be coming in the update for current Apple Watch devices. Read on for 7+ new things coming to watchOS 8 later this year.
New Mindfulness App
Five years ago, Apple unveiled a new Breathe app in watchOS 3 as an effort to help users focus on a commonly neglected aspect of their fitness: relaxing and unwinding by stepping back from your work and stress and taking a few deep breaths.
The Breathe app has generally remained unchanged in the years since, although Lynch notes that it’s been growing in popularity, no doubt as the world gets more stressful. Hence, in watchOS 8, Apple will be expanding it into a new “Mindfulness” app.
By the looks of it, on one side the Mindfulness app will include the same features as Breathe, but it will add a new “Reflect” mode to help prompt users to be mindful and meditate in a whole new way.
When using the Reflect feature, the Apple Watch will prompt you to think about certain things, such as “something you love to do and why it brings you joy,” and then display a gentle animation to help you focus and take your mind off whatever is stressing you out at the moment. As Lynch explains, these regular mindful moments will lead to an increase in positive emotions and well-being.
Improved Sleep Tracking
One of the new features that made last year’s watchOS 7 update more significant was the addition of Sleep tracking. The debut of a new Sleep app allowed a user to wear their Apple Watch to bed, where it would track information like heart rate and hours of sleep.
With watchOS 8, Apple is expanding that with a new metric to track your respiratory rate while you’re sleeping, in the form of breaths per minute.
Since a person’s respiratory rate should normally be fairly consistent when they’re sleeping, changes in this could indicate a problem, and this will be tracked in the Health app. An active notification will also be shown whenever a significant change is identified.
New Fitness Features
The Apple Watch is already a great fitness device, and it seems that perhaps Apple is running out of things to add in this area. The company’s director of Fitness Technologies, Julz Arney, took the virtual stage to talk about a couple of new workouts that the wearable will be able to track in watchOS 8, but more of the presentation centres on Apple’s Fitness+ service instead of the Apple Watch itself.
According to Arney, watchOS 8 will add support for a new Tai Chi workout, and a new Pilates workout type.
Beyond that, however, it’s the new features for Apple Fitness+ that seem to be getting more of the spotlight, with a new series of workouts coming from popular fitness expert Jeanette Jenkins, plus a new Artist Spotlight Series from Apple Music with focused workout playlists from Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban, and Alicia Keys. Those are all coming later this month, long before watchOS 8 is expected to even arrive in a public beta.
Find Items and Devices
Unlike the Find My app on the iPhone, iPad, and Mac, the Apple Watch only includes a Find People app for locating your friends and family who are sharing their location with you.
Following Apple’s recent debut of its Find My network and AirTag item trackers, however, it looks like watchOS 8 is going to add the missing pieces for the more complete Find My experience.
Rather than including a single Find My app, however, we’ll be getting a separate “Find Items” app for locating AirTags and other Find My network-compatible items, and a “Find Devices” app for tracking lost Apple devices.
New Watch Face and Photos App Improvements
The Photos app on the Apple Watch has always been fairly basic, but it looks like it’s finally time for it to grow up in watchOS 8 into a more full-featured counterpart to the iPhone version.
As Shandra Rica, the senior manager of watchOS Software Programs explained during today’s presentation, the new Photos app in watchOS 8 will now include memory highlights and featured photos, along with a new mosaic layout to make browsing through your favourite photos on the Apple Watch even more enjoyable.
Lynch also noted that you’ll be able to use Portrait Photos in a new watch face to make subjects really stand out on the smaller screen.
You’ll also be able to share photos via Messages and Mail directly from the watchOS Photos app, but that’s not all, as the entire Messages app appears to have also grown up into a more feature-rich experience.
For instance, you can now finally add emojis to scribbled or dictated messages, so you’ll no longer have to follow up a text-based message with a separate emoji.
Scribble view also allows text to be edited in-line, tapping to select words to remove, and using the Digital Crown to move the cursor, so you can insert additional text.
There’s also an app shelf in the Messages app on the Apple Watch, which includes the #images app to let you send GIFs right from your wrist. Presumably other apps supporting things like stickers will be able to plug in here as well, although it’s not clear if the existing iOS versions will just work as-is or developers will need to update them specifically for watchOS.
Many Other Changes
- watchOS 8 will also enhance several of the other built-in apps. Although these weren’t mentioned specifically on stage, it looks like Music and Weather will also be gaining new features, while more apps will be able to take advantage of the Always-on Display on the Apple Watch Series 5 and Series 6 models.
- A redesigned Music app will enable sharing of songs, albums, and playlists directly from the Apple Watch, while the Weather app will gain support for severe weather notifications and next-hour precipitation alerts, along with updated complications.
- There’s also a Contacts app coming in watchOS 8, allowing users to browse, add, and edit and share contacts using a simplified user interface.
- The Always-On display will also now work with Maps, Now Playing, Phone, Podcasts, Stopwatch, Timers, Voice Memos, and the new Mindfulness app, among others. There’s also a new Always-On API, so developers can take advantage of the display to show relevant information as well.
- Lastly, it also appears that Apple Watch users will finally be able to set and run multiple timers on their wrist, saving you the trouble of having to talk to a HomePod or reach for your iPhone when you want to time more than one thing at once.