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Here’s All The New Apple watchOS 8 Upcoming Features

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As part of Apple’s annual Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC), held each June – again this year held purely online, the company has outlined numerous aspects of their platforms (iOS, iPad OS, watchOS, etc..) However, for this post I’m going to purely focus on the wearables side of the house – which is watchOS, for their Apple Watch units.

As usual, today’s event outlined new software, they didn’t announce any new Apple Watch hardware. But that’s normal. Historically that comes instead in September (usually). Whether or not that happens this year of course remains to be seen, but Apple has largely shifted to a yearly refresh cycle for their Apple Watch series. Last year they launched the Apple Watch Series 6, so we’d assume that we’ll see Apple Watch Series 7 this September as usual.

But WWDC is all about developers, and specifically about how those developers will use Apple’s various platforms. It’s similar to Garmin’s Connect IQ conference, or Microsoft’s Build conference. Sure, sometimes new hardware comes out. But it’s more about software capabilities. And more importantly sometimes you see hints at what’s coming hardware-wise via the software features that are discussed but not yet possible to take advantage of.

With that, let’s dive into the details.

(Note: This update will be available for the Apple Watch Series 3, Series 4, Series 5, Series 6, and Apple Watch SE.)

Apple watchOS 8 New Features Outlined:

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Now, thus far, as far as Apple’s keynote goes, things were pretty slim on watchOS updates compared to past years. But then again, in a lot of ways we only get a small portion of the new features during the keynote, with many more being surfaced over the coming hours/days/weeks/months. Ultimately, watchOS 8 won’t be finalized and ship until after they launch Apple Watch Series 7 in September, typically the same day the new Apple Watch ships, they’ll go ahead and consider watchOS finally finished.

So, here’s what’s new on the Apple Watch specifically:

– Adding two new workout types – Tai chi & Pilates: This typically means some sort of basic calorie algorithms for that support, as well as occasionally some sort of data fields specific to a given workout type. We don’t have the complete details yet here though.

– Added more sleep tracking features: This includes time to sleep, average heart rate, and blood oxygen levels (plus the respiration rate in the next bullet).

– Added respiration rate during sleep tracking to Apple Watch: This will track your breaths per minute, and then surface that through trends and Apple Health. Note that Apple Health already supports respiration rate today (as do most other wearables).

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– Adding new Mindfulness app replacing Breath: This adds new animations, reminding users to calm down for a second, including some guided meditation.

– Adding new portraits watch face: This will automatically use your portrait mode photos, and allow you to then use the digital crown within that watch face to make the photo feel ‘alive’ by having it slightly tweak the composition.

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– Revamped Photos app on Apple Watch: Will now support sharing photo memories directly from the watch via messages and e-mail.

– You can now blend a message that’s dictated, scribbled (handwriting basically), and emojis all in one. It’s like the burrito of messages, for when you simply can’t get through a single text message without changing mediums.

– Added support for Find Me items directly from the wrist: This allows you to leverage the find devices from the Find My network

– Added multiple timers on the watch directly

– Added support for HomeKit enabled extended detail notifications on Apple Watch: Specifically doorbell previews and package detection (coming via new extended HomeKit features, for HomeKit enabled accessories/cameras)

– Added Home Keys support via HomeKit: Allows you to unlock doors using your Apple Watch, with supported accessories/platforms/systems.

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– Added support for UWB car keys: This would be for unlocking your expensive car

– Added support for ID cards via Wallet: This includes Apple Watch support as well.

– Added support for the always-on display to more apps: They’ve showed music, maps, and calculator. As a reminder, only certain apps have historically been able to use Apple’s always-on screen, not including most 3rd party apps. It sounds like that’s changing going forward, but we’ll have to see the details there.

– Added ‘Focus’ concept to Apple Watch, which is part of the larger Apple ecosystem update that basically tells your contacts when you’re doing something that needs focus (a new variant of do-not-disturb).

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Apple Fitness+ Updates: These are for Apple’s subscription service, Apple Fitness+ (Plus), which I’ve covered in the past. These updates are modest for now, though again, I expect far more updates in the fall here, in line with last year. In the meantime, these two new items will arrive later this month (June).

– Adding slate of new Artist spotlight series workouts: including Lady Gaga, Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez, and Alisha Keys.

– Adding new instructor Jeanette Jenkins, with her workout series focused on HIIT & Strength workouts.

– Added more filters for workout types

– Adding picture-in-picture for Fitness+, meaning you can see the workout being played while in another app in your phone.

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And with that, that’s all there is. Quick and easy! Again, I expect more features will bubble to the surface over the coming days, especially with the developer betas being released today. Typically we’re talking 3-4x the number of features outlined during the keynote for watchOS, will make themselves known. Usually more minor things, but every little feature is often a big deal to someone. And then again in September, we’ll likely see another slate of new features then with new hardware.

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With that – thanks for reading!

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47 Comments

  1. gideon

    is anyone going to buy a garmin after this hits the streets?

    • Mike S.

      Of course. Apple Watch has no appeal to me except for the nice screen.

    • Paul S.

      Why wouldn’t they? Still no ANT+, no support for power meters, limited battery life. I don’t know of an app that allows navigation and recording simultaneously (there may be one, but certainly not Apple’s native apps). There are many things that Garmin watches do much better than an Apple Watch (I’m sitting here with a AW5 on my wrist and a Fenix 5+ within reach). There are, of course, many things that an AW does much better than a Garmin watch, which is why I’m wearing the AW and not the Fenix, but an AW pales in comparison for certain uses.

      And of course, if you’re using an Android phone, there absolutely no point in getting an Apple Watch.

    • Jason

      I would. I have no interest in an Apple Watch so long as the battery life remains under 2 days. Charging the Fenix every 10 to 14 days is bliss. When they push the Apple Watch out to 5 days plus, *then* I’d look hard at whether I need the sport features of the Garmin versus the smart features of the Apple. In the meantime, Garmin is accumulating more data history that will make it harder for me to leave them…

    • Dalogan72

      Garmin, polar, Suunto and even Wahoo are better than Apple Watch

    • Dave

      The difference is that just about everything the Garmin offers (obviously not including battery life) is possible on Watch with the right app.

    • mpulsiv

      Apple Watch vs. Garmin battle justified by consumers has been around for years. People can’t seem to understand that the fundamental difference. Apple Watch is a smart watch and Garmin is a fitness watch.
      I have been in Garmin ecosystem since 2012 and to this day Apple Watch doesn’t appeal as cohesive fitness realm. Apple Watch is an amazing product for my non-fitness usage.

    • Indeed, I don’t really see anything here that’s going to change the dynamic in Apple’s favor any more than it was the day before. Meaning, nothing on this list of changes is a major decider.

      Ultimately, as others have pointed out, people have chosen one or the other for years, for a slew of reasons. That won’t change.

    • “The difference is that just about everything the Garmin offers (obviously not including battery life) is possible on Watch with the right app.”

      True.

      But, that sorta overlooks the main challenge: It’s only possible if you cobble together a slew of apps. And even then, it’s not really possible. For example, up till yesterday, 3rd party apps couldn’t take advantage of the always-on screen. And we don’t yet know what that looks like. So setting that aside for a sec.

      You’d have to cobble one app for structured workouts, another app for power meter support. Maybe you find one app that does them both. Want to ride/run a course? Recovery and related stats? Another app. Music? Another app, and so on. In some cases, you can pull many functions together – but not always, and not often to the same depth as any of the dedicated fitness watches.

      Of course inversely, there’s countless non-sport things Apple is better at that Garmin. Messaging, vibration alerts, screen clarity, Find My, etc…

    • Julien

      My 935 needs a refresh… and I am seriously considering moving to apple watch for running and keeping my edge for cycling…

    • usr

      Show the entire room that you like running marathons and such things vs show the entire room that you like sophisticated consumerism and new gadgets.

      Clocks are fashion, even if they also have another side that sites like this thankfully keep illuminated.

    • yep.
      there are triathlon apps, awesome mapping apps, great recovery stuff, superior sensors
      would I take an AW6 up Everest or do an IM or expect to monitor my anaerobic training load live as I run…no. Although someone could develop an app for the latter.

      you’d end up needing lots of apps tho…then again, how many CIQ apps can you integrate into an existing Garmin sports profile (none, ATM) and how many running CIQ data fields can you have? 2

      So long as you are making an informed choice, everyone’s happy.

      the issue isn’t that readers of this blog and similar blogs have to worry about using the Apple Watch (they won’t). The issue is that Apple Watch will eventually win many of the mass market sports/fitness users from Garmin as SMART further encroaches on FITNESS. Then Garmin’s highly profitable business model necessarily changes.

    • Henrik

      I would gladly pay for a Fenix watch as an app if it was running on a widely used smart watch platform that had support for both Bluetooth and ant.

    • KnopeKnope

      Pffft. AppleWatch is and always will be a secondary screen for an iPhone, not a standalone sport watch. Garmin’s not going anywhere.

    • “AppleWatch is and always will be a secondary screen for an iPhone, not a standalone sport watch.”

      Why’s that?

    • Paul S.

      It may not always be, but even with a 5LTE that’s the way I think about my Apple Watch. It’s the part of my iPhone that I wear on my wrist. They’ve slowly been getting more independent of the phone, and eventually there’ll be a Watch that’s essentially a wrist iPhone, where you don’t even need an iPhone to fully use the Watch. That isn’t the case now. (Playing Angry Birds on that tiny screen won’t be much fun, though.)

    • Robert

      Apps don’t add buttons to the watch.

      I really want a start/stop and a lap button on a running watch.

    • Sepi

      As a general purpose *smart watch*, those are like a decade behind.

      For sports, it’s a different story and depends on what you need. For casual joggers etc. Apple Watch is totally fine as a sports device.

    • Steve

      I will. Apart from the fact that I don’t have an iPhone, I have the notifications on my Garmin turned off most of the time and only on when in an activity.

      I have no need for a “Smart Watch” but do want the data collection and tracking for review.

      Everyone will have there own pro’s and con’s list.

    • Alan Wynn

      I routinely wear my Apple Watch when I am not carrying my iPhone, especially when in the pool or the ocean. Having just been snorkeling in and around St Thomas, it was really nice to be able to get iMessages on my watch even when my watch was not there. While I do not expect them to add more physical buttons, my experience with the always on screen (except under water) has made me less interested in having more buttons.

      There are now rumors that Apple with be releasing a rugged version of the watch, designed for sport/adventure users. Seems like it will have a larger battery for longer life, among other enhancements.

      The real question is can they get better and being a sport watch faster than Garmin gets better at being a sports watch.

  2. John

    The tidbit about opening up the always-on screen to third party apps is one of the only things that’s interesting for fitness. This potentially makes third party apps relevant again for workout tracking. Intervals Pro and ismoothrun give you a Garmin-like experience but they’re pretty lame without access to that always-on screen.

  3. Andy

    I really don’t get the frustration with the Apple Watch battery life? There aren’t many smartphones where it will last for days so clearly we can learn to live with a relatively short battery life? (Even if reluctantly).

    It would indeed be nice if the Apple Watch connected to Power Meters for an example. I recently had a ride where my Garmin unexpectedly died so I used the Apple Watch instead. Missing power was a shame but it didn’t wreck my ride.

    I think the Apple Watch is just fine as it is. It would be a shame if it was so focused on sports metrics – this would remove my need to have a Garmin/Sunto/Polar “Watch” shaped devices as well.

    • Dave

      Exactly. If I was going to run anything over a 50k, or do a 70.3, full IM or a long SwimRun again (the latter especially, as they can be *gnarly*), I’d grab an Instinct. Otherwise, the Apple Watch does everything very nicely.

    • Robert B

      The frustration is the same for wear o/s the need to charge it everyday negates the availability or 24/7 heart rate tracking. Charging once a week is the bare minimum for me. I’ll stick with my withings and pace 2 till “any brand” smart watch gets to 7 days plus battery life.

    • Suleileika

      If I want the apple watch to do sleep tracking via an app in addition to some tracking tasks during the day I have give the watch a 1h charge in the morning as well as another charge before bed. (Missing out all tracking in the meantime). I’m baffled that theres anybody willing to put up with this to begin with.

      If they lasted so long and charged so quickly that you could at the very least viably charge it every second day or so whenever you take a quick shower then it could work out but until we get there its appeal is beyond me.

    • Chris

      I’m using an AW6 with Always On Display enabled and use a 3rd party sleep tracking app every day. When I wake up in the morning the AW has about 50% of battery left. When I go for a shower I put the AW on the charger and it charges to about ~90% in less than 30 minutes. It works for me because it is a daily routine.
      When I go for a run I use a Polar Grit X and I have to charge it every 2 or 3 weeks. Sometimes I forget to charge it in time and I end up with incomplete data…

    • inSyt

      Garmin/Polar/Suunto/Coros/Amazfit users are used to their watches not dying on them half way through a run/cycle/sleep, even if said watch has a battery that is 2 years old.

      Also, while you usually let your smartphone charge while you sleep, you want your watch on your wrist tracking sleep and recovery.

    • Paul S.

      Yeah, rechargeable batteries are just the wrong way to power watches (or cars). What we need is what they were talking about 50 years ago (along with the personal jet packs and flying cars), mini fuel cells. A little shot of hydrogen in the morning and you’re good to go. (Apollo was powered by big fuel cells, which is how we had heard about them.)

    • tfk, the5krunner

      @Suleileika there are tens and tens of millions of people who put up with this!

    • scdc

      Love the AW6 as my Running and Swimming watch. Not a fitness watch??? Please. Use WORKOUTDOORS as your fitness app. The AW sensors do a superior job over my Fenix. My Fenix isn’t useful for me anymore. I like to be connected and able to do everything from Fitness to having everything I need to be without a phone, on my wrist. Let alone streaming Pandora.

      I never have to carry my phone to be in touch and I get about 2 full days of battey life, even with a 10k outdoor run and 2 hours in the pool swimming laps.

      To each there own. Always will be like that.

    • Alan Wynn

      My Series 6 can easily go two days without a charge. I need to charge it for 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes when I am watching TV in the evening. I have no issues with sleep tracking using it. Given how much I do on my watch, including stream music/podcasts, I cannot imagine any watch giving me 8 days (would need to be 8 days so I could always charge the same day, just as I always charge the same times, not worrying about how full it is).

      I would not be surprised to see faster charging, and I would not be surprised to see a battery that lasted a full day with active tracking/GPS, but I would be surprised to see one that got more than two days.

  4. ReadyKilowatt

    Still no way to look at workout data on one of those “gorgeous” Mac or iPad screens. Well, you can if you share it to Strava, a major privacy faux pas. Maybe they’re headed in that direction with the improvements to iCloud but I wonder if they even realize that some people really do want to review their workout activities, not just log them.

    I recently had to replace a faulty Watch. While waiting on AppleCare to get their act together I dug out an old Casio Protrek. Nostalgia was kind to this watch. It was actually a pretty terrible watch, especially if one attempted to use it for basic navigation. But it got me thinking about hiking and camping and how lousy an Apple Watch is once you get out of cellular range, and so I splurged on a Fenix 6. For the last few weeks I’ve been switching between the Fenix and AW, and they both are very strong in their own ways. But the real kicker was actually getting to review workout data on Garmin Connect, on my 27″ monitor, or 10″ iPad, or my phone. Being able to plug it into a computer to push software and updates instead of waiting for a Bluetooth transfer is pretty nice too. But it isn’t a smart watch, at least not if you’re in the Apple world.

  5. Pavel Vishnyakov

    > Adding new Mindfulness app alongside Breath

    A small correction – Mindfulness app will replace Breath completely

  6. Alberto

    In my case, I use AW6 for daily watch but always a garmin for my workouts. I have tried to use it on a few occasions; for normal runs no more is needed, but it is uncomfortable for interval training, for example, the absence of a lap button. With a simple change like the one shown in the garmin 945LTE that recognizes an interval training without having to program it and a lap button that is not touch screen would already be a great improvement. Leaving aside the analysis of sports metrics that any well-made third-party application could do, even Garmin itself, although it would go against itself.

    • mpulsiv

      I like your preferred usability, where AW6 serves the purpose of smart watch and Garmin serves the purpose for your fitness needs. Perhaps some day Apple will release stripped down version, without fitness for $150. Removing sensors (e.g., GPS, heart rate, compass, etc.) will likely yield longer batter runtime.

  7. Nathan M.

    There are some sources that suggest this year we will see noninvasive blood glucose monitoring I think it’s kind of ironic Health gets updated to share blood glucose levels with family members you can see it in the graphic for the health app during the Keynote. Maybe this is a hint that this will actually be a feature which would be incredible if they could pull this off for the first time.

    • @Nathan
      It won’t happen this year nor next. It’s too hard to get right and Apple doesn’t seem to me to be a super innovator that’s first-to-market. You can share blood glucose levels sourced from 3rd party hardware

      there seems to be a gradual drip drip effect of incremental additions each year. Even the simple ones haven’t all be added yet:

      2020 saw blood oxygen/SpO2 from a new oHR but this year it will be via software/accelerometer for respiration. Next year it will likely be skin temperature like the Fitbit.

      Even 2022 for non-invasive blood glucose will not be easy.

  8. Laramie W

    I’m wondering which versions of the AW will work with watchOS 8 or has that been announced yet?
    I have AW 4 so just curious if it will be included and just lack the always on features.

    • Aw3 will be supported IIRC
      However your AW4 won’t support every new feature if the right bits of hardware are not there in your watch

      you have the AW4 which DOES have the new accelerometer +gyroscope combo so I reckon you should get the breath rate feature…we shall see.

  9. Wayne

    I’ve always kept my old Apple Watch & when the new one comes out & used it for sleep tracking which allows me to have access to an continuous battery supply with continuation of data. My two biggest gripes with the Apple Watch are the Health app is terrible & needs an update & the watch can barely make it through a 4.5 hour round of golf, despite not using GPS

  10. Ron Parnell

    Hope that they make the watch phone connect to hearing aids like it does with the Iphone.

  11. Michael S

    My series 5 has been updated to WatchOS 8 and I believe there is a notable difference in the GPS tracking for my runs. I haven’t relied on the Apple Watch for my run metrics, I wear a Garmin Forerunner for that, and have worn both over the past few years while running, partly because of the dcrainmaker review pointing out the differences in GPS measurement. If they have closed the gap on more reliable metrics in comparison to Garmin with this latest update, I think it makes the Apple Watch much more of a contender for someone who wants to have a fitness watch in the Apple ecosystem.

    • SCDC

      My runs with my AW5 and 6’s have been very reliable. Especially distance and WHR. I mean, pretty much spot on. I also use Runscribe and Stryde, so I have some things to compare against.

      I’ve also taken the time to manually measure the routes I run using a mapping tool in my ipad, and once again, pretty much spot on. Since I run on average 7.5k to 10k 5 times a week, I would have quite a bit of variance if it wasn’t accurate.

      I only run and swim, on average 2.5 hours of active activities a day, so an AW with LTE has been awesome.

  12. raffi

    I remember that the apple watch only showed pace for the last mile run. Has it been updated to show current pace? It always seemed like a major limitation for it to be a “running” watch.