watchOS 8 preview has been released by Apple at its WWDC 2021 keynote. The new watchOS version, that will be available to Apple Watch users later this year, is aimed to help users “stay healthy, active, and connected” and carries updates including redesigned Breathe app that is now called Mindfulness, upgraded Home app, and Messages with support for GIFs. The watchOS 8 update will also bring the Contacts app to Apple Watch. Apple has additionally brought Focus to the latest watchOS version that is also available on iOS 15 to help users have a better digital experience, with reduced distraction.
watchOS 8 availability
Apple has initially released watchOS 8 for developers who are a part of the Apple Developer Programme. A public beta of the new watchOS version is also scheduled to reach users next month. Nevertheless, the watchOS 8 will be available this fall as a free software update on the Apple Watch Series 3 and later paired with iPhone 6s and later running on iOS 15.
watchOS 8 features
One of the latest additions that are coming to the Apple Watch through watchOS 8 is the new Breathe app that has been upgraded to the Mindfulness app. This carries an enhanced Breathe experience with new animation effects, along with a new session type called Reflect. The latter is designed to bring a positive frame of mind to users by asking them something like “Recall a time recently when you felt a sense of calm. Bring that feeling into this moment,” or “Reflect on one thing you’re grateful for and think about why you appreciate it so much.”
There is also an upgraded sleep tracking with ability to track sleeping respiratory rate — the number of breaths that a person takes per minute when sleeping. Apple said that the new measurement comes using the built-in accelerometer of the Apple Watch, in addition to the existing heart rate monitoring and blood oxygen tracking. The information is available for access through the Health app on the iPhone, along with trends over time.
Apple has not announced any major interface-level changes coming to watchOS 8, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to get a new look and feel. There is a new Portraits watch face that lets you set multiple portrait shots as a watch face on your Apple Watch, along with intelligent cropping to highlight the subject on the display. The watchOS 8 update also brings an updated Photos app with Memories and Featured Photos sections. Further, there is a new Share Sheet that lets users share photos through Messages and Mail — directly using the Apple Watch.
Users have also received the updated Messages app with ability to combine the use of Scribble, dictation, and emoji in a single message. Users can also edit the message they have dictated. Additionally, GIFs are available to make messaging more advanced and intuitive on the Apple Watch.
Alongside the new Messages app, watchOS 8 brings the Contacts app to the Apple Watch to let users browse, add, and edit contacts. Users can also share any of their existing contacts directly through the Contacts app available on their Apple Watch.
The watchOS 8 update also includes new Tai Chi and Pilates workout types, along with support for custom-built heart rate and motion algorithms. Apple Fitness+ service on the Apple Watch also has received features including Picture-in-Picture support, new filtering options and the ability to stop and resume an in-progress workout on any device. The service will also bring a series of workouts from fitness expert Jeanette Jenkins and a new Artist Spotlight Series with workouts featuring entire playlists from Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban, and Alicia Keys later this month.
Aside from the new fitness-focussed changes, watchOS 8 comes with the redesigned Home app that brings the ability to control connected devices directly from the wrist. Apple Watch users can also communicate with their family members and broadcast a message via HomePod, HomePod mini, and other supported devices by tapping the Intercom option.
Apple has also brought an upgraded Wallet to the Apple Watch through watchOS 8. The new Wallet app supports Ultra Wideband (UWB) to let Apple Watch users unlock their cars from a distance and start it from the driver’s seat, something that Apple initially showcased at WWDC 2020. Apple Watch users will also be able to add keys for their home, offices, and hotel to Wallet this fall. Further, Apple is enabling users to have their driver’s licence or state ID available virtually through the Wallet app that they could show at select Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoints. This will first arrive in some states in the US later this year.
As showcased last month, watchOS 8 brings AssistiveTouch to the Apple Watch to enable one-arm usage by sensing hand gestures to interact without requiring users to touch the display. It will use motion sensors to let users answer incoming calls, control onscreen motion pointer, and bring an action menu that allows to access Notification Centre or Control Centre — all using hand gestures.
The watchOS 8 also includes Focus support, that is also there on iOS 15, to better align notification alerts with usage patterns. There are also multiple timers, with the ability to include specific labels. Further, watchOS 8 brings support for the Always-On display to preloaded apps including Maps, Mindfulness, Now Playing, Phone, Podcasts, Stopwatch, Timers, Voice Memos, and Calculator, among others. Developers can also add Always-On display support to their apps using its API.
Apple Watch users received a new Find Items app to help locate tagged items using the Find My network. There is also a Find Devices app to locate lost Apple devices that are signed in with the same Apple ID.
The watchOS 8 update also brings an all-new Music app with options to share songs, albums, and playlists through Messages and Mail. Additionally, the Weather app has included support for Severe Weather notifications to display government alerts about weather events that are on high alert. The update app also provides Next Hour precipitation alerts and updated complications.
Apple has brought Family Setup with the ability to add transit cards from Hong Kong, Japan, and select China mainland and US cities. The preloaded Calendar and Mail apps on watchOS 8 also include Google account support.