It’s been a few weeks now since the latest round of software updates from Apple hit our devices. Since we’ve had our hands on these updates, we’ve had plenty of time to explore all of the new features. Today, I’m excited to bring to you a list of all of the new features you’ll find after getting started with watchOS 8.
The updates to watchOS 8 are unique from the iOS 15 and iPadOS 15 updates in that they’re much more subdued. You’re far less likely to notice many of these updates unless you go looking for them.
In this article, I’m going to tell you exactly where to look. We’ll kick things off with a general overview of watchOS 8 for those that just want the hits, then we’ll explore each new feature individually for those who want the deep cuts.
Without further ado, let’s get started!
Getting started with watchOS 8: The basics
As mentioned, watchOS 8 is a pretty subdued update. You’re not going to feel like you have a brand new Apple Watch or anything like that. On top of this, a lot of the UI changes in this update are exclusive to the new Apple Watch Series 7 since that device has a larger screen.
Still, there’s plenty of new stuff for every user. Here are the key points:
- There’s a new Portrait watch face that intelligently layers the time with a portrait photo.
- You can now use multiple timers on Apple Watch (but only on Apple Watch).
- There are new workouts and guided meditations in the Workout and Fitness (iOS/tvOS/iPadOS) apps.
- Series 7 users can now swipe to type.
- Sleep tracking on Apple Watch will now include respiratory tracking (not exclusive to any model).
- Users who are limb different can now use Apple Watch with just one arm using AssistiveTouch.
And that’s it! Those are the general features you’ll want to explore after getting started with watchOS 8. There aren’t any overarching features that will wow every user. However, there is a little something for everyone, so hopefully, you find at least one of these features exciting!
Getting started with watchOS 8: Everything new feature Apple added
With the basics out of the way, it’s time to go even further. Below is a list of every major feature that’s been added in watchOS 8, along with how to use them and some thoughts on how well they’ve been executed.
A new Portrait watch face
Honestly, the most exciting feature you’ll run into after getting started with watchOS 8 is the new Portrait watch face. That should give you an idea of how understated this update is.
Still, the Portrait watch face is pretty cool, especially if you like seeing photos of loved ones (or yourself – no judgment!). It uses the Portrait photos feature on iPhone to isolate a person’s face from the background of a photo.
Then, on your Apple Watch, it places the time in between the subject’s head and the background. This makes it look like a Photoshop job. When creating a Portrait watch face in the Watch app on iPhone, you can move the subject around, zooming in or out to decide exactly how their face and the time are layered over one another.
It’s pretty interesting! I’ve found while testing this feature that you can even overlap your arms and hands in the Portrait watch face. So you can take a Portrait photo with your hand in the frame making a peace sign, then have that peace sign overlay the current time.
On the other hand, I have not been able to get this feature to work with pets or objects. You can take Portrait photos of pets and objects on iPhone 11 and later, but for whatever reason, it doesn’t look like Apple has enabled this on this face yet.
You can set up to 24 different Portrait watch faces at a time. Each time you raise your wrist, you’ll see a different one of your portrait photos. Overall, it’s a clever and interactive watch face – I hope to see more like it in the future!
The UI has been touched up all over
The next thing you’ll notice after getting started with watchOS 8 is all of the new UI touch-ups. These are scattered throughout the Apple Watch, so there’s no way to touch on all of them.
Some of the most prominent changes, though, are:
- The Timer buttons have been changed
- An improved Maps interface
- Dictation, Scribble, and emojis are accessible all at once in Messages
There are a few other areas throughout the OS where minor improvements have been made, so keep an eye out!
Sharing and viewing photos is now a lot better on Apple Watch
The Photos app on Apple Watch got a pretty significant update, though it’s still not as robust as you might hope for.
You can now view a new Memory in the Photos app on Apple Watch each day. It’s not as many photos as you’ll find in Memories on iPhone, which is due to the Apple Watch’s limited hardware. Still, these Memories are pretty neat and displayed in a new-to-Apple-Watch mosaic view.
You can also share photos from the Apple Watch Photos app, something you could only do on iPhone before. I didn’t notice that this feature was even missing before Apple pointed it out, and honestly, I haven’t used it once since it’s been added. Does anyone text people from their Apple Watch?
The downside is that the amount of photos you’ll find in the Apple Watch version of the Photos app is extremely limited. It’s just Memories, Favorites, and Featured photos. And of your Favorites photos, you’ll only find 100 available.
Again, this is no doubt due to the limitations of Apple Watch’s hardware. As chips, batteries, and storage become smaller and smaller, I imagine you’ll be able to browse as many photos as you like from your iCloud library. For now, though, things are still pretty spare – even if they’re technically getting a bump.
You can FINALLY add multiple timers
Alright, this is a big one! You can now finally add multiple timers in the Timer app on Apple Watch. If that doesn’t get you pumped for getting started with watchOS 8, I don’t what will.
Kidding aside, this is one of the most requested features for all of Apple’s products of all time. It’s up there with a built-in Calculator app for the iPad.
You can add multiple timers in the Timer app by just starting multiple timers at once. They’ll all run concurrently, and you can view them all at once. If you want to label them, just ask Siri to run them! For instance, say “Hey Siri, start a timer for coffee” and “…start a timer for rice”, and you’ll see two timers labeled accordingly.
Of course, Apple couldn’t resist giving users the finger at the same time that it gives them a boon. In this case, the insult paired with the reward is the fact that this feature is exclusive to the Apple Watch. It isn’t available on iPhone or iPad.
Your guess is as good as mine.
AssistiveTouch allows one-arm usage after getting started with watchOS 8
Another exciting feature you’ll find after getting started with watchOS 8 is AssistiveTouch. This feature allows limb different individuals to use Apple Watch with one hand. If that sounds like impossible magic, wait until you see how it works.
AssistiveTouch allows you to control your Apple Watch by pinching your index finger to your thumb and clenching your hand into a fist. You can map these gestures to various controls, buttons, and features, effectively giving you total control over your Apple Watch.
In testing, this is pretty accurate! When you enable this feature, it’s going to go through a “Hey Siri” style of identifying each of these motions. Using the accelerometer, it’ll learn what it feels like when you perform a single pinch, double pinch, single clench, and double clench.
From there, it’s just a matter of learning how to use the interface in this way! Even limb normal individuals can use this as a way to activate Siri, Apple Pay, and other features using just one hand.
Of course, it’s not perfect. You will need to set this up on your iPhone, and allowing Apple Pay requires you to double-click the side button on your Watch, which seems like backward logic to me. Also, unsurprisingly, Apple Watch does get a little confused at times with these gestures. But overall, I’ve found it to be pretty accurate in my limited testing.
As mobile devices continue to stagnate, companies like Apple must prioritize accessibility. This is a huge step for limb different individuals, and I hope it opens the door for an entirely new base of users!
Users can now use Find My on Apple Watch
Another long-desired feature that you’ll find after getting started with watchOS 8 is Find My. Find My is Apple’s built-in feature for finding your Apple devices and Find My items (like AirTags) using your other Apple devices.
Even though Find My has been available on nearly every other Apple device with a screen since its inception, it’s never been available on Apple Watch. Until now!
Now, users will be able to find all of their Apple devices and Find My items right from your Apple Watch. You can access this feature through the new Find Items and Find Devices apps on Apple Watch. Or, you can have Siri ping your devices for you, playing a sound so you can quickly find them.
While I’m glad this feature has been added, I do have a few issues with it.
First, why are there two separate apps? I genuinely can’t understand why this is the case. It feels as if it’s destined to confuse users that don’t realize Apple has split their Find My items up in this way.
Second, it’s not very good. Unlike your iPhone, which will give you a big screen to look at and short-range directions when you’re near your items, Apple Watch will just open the Maps app whenever you want to find a lost item. That’s helpful for when you leave your wallet at the park, but not so helpful when it’s downstairs.
So far, I’ve only found this feature to be useful for pinging my devices around the house. Can’t find my iPad? Just tell Siri on my wrist to make it play a sound. I am glad that this feature has been added, but I think it needs a little more tweaking before it’s as useful as it is on other Apple devices.
Also, if possible, an ultra-wideband would be great – that way, we can have the same short-range directions on our wrist as we get on iPhone.
Sharing music with your friends is easier
A minor (but welcome) feature that’s been added to Apple Watch is the ability to share Apple Music songs, playlists, and albums with others. If you’re like me, you probably didn’t even realize you couldn’t do this. But, oddly enough, this feature has been excluded from Apple Watch before now.
Sharing a song isn’t exactly easy, though. You have to click through the tiny menu on a song to even find the option, and once you do, it takes a few seconds for the Share screen to populate.
Once again, Siri comes to the rescue here. It’s super easy to ask Siri to send a song or album for you – so just do that!
The Breathe app is now the “Mindfulness” app
If you’re someone who uses the Breathe app regularly, then you’re going to notice a sizable overhaul to this app after getting started with watchOS 8.
For those that don’t know, the Breathe app is (or rather, was) an Apple Watch app that allowed you to sit still and breathe for a few minutes. You could set how many breaths you wanted to do and for how long. The app would play an animation and give haptic feedback to help you guide your breathing. I found this to be particularly helpful for quick meditation sessions – you can read about that here.
To be clear – all of this is still possible! Apple didn’t gut the app so much as it expanded it. It’s now called the “Mindfulness” app and it has a few new features.
The biggest new feature is Reflect. You can choose this (or Breathe) in the app. When you choose Reflect, you’ll be given a prompt and a soothing animation. The prompt is meant to have you reflect on something positive for a minute or so, which is a great tool for stress, anxiety, or simply having a better outlook.
The Breathe feature is still here, of course, and it now has brand new animations. The app icon is a bit different, too.
Overall, I think this is a neat change! I don’t find the reflections to be all that potent, especially not when compared to traditional meditation. But I can see it bringing a lot more users to the app. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Apple expand the Mindfulness features in the future, adding tools to help people lower their heart rate, recover during a panic attack, pray, and so on.
Typing is a little better in watchOS 8, but swipe typing is exclusive to the Series 7
As mentioned earlier in this article, the Apple Watch keyboard in the Messages app now allows you to Scribble (write with your finger), dictate (speech-to-text), and type emojis all from the same screen. None of these features are new, but in previous versions of watchOS, you had to choose between them. Now, they can all easily be typed at once.
Well, there’s another keyboard improvement that some of you will encounter after getting started with watchOS 8. That feature is swipe typing, something that’s been available on iOS for a while now.
Swipe typing allows you to slide your finger across a QWERTY keyboard to type words rather than tapping each letter. I have always preferred swipe typing on small screens, so this is great to see!
Like every new watchOS 8 feature, though, Apple has found a way to undercut it. In this case, swipe typing is undercut by the fact that only Apple Watch Series 7 users can use it. The justification for this is that the Series 7 has the largest Apple Watch display yet. So a full QWERTY keyboard doesn’t make sense on the smaller devices.
This justification kind of adds up. However, I shared an Apple Watch app called FlickType in the December 2020 edition of my Best Apps series. This app gives you a full QWERTY keyboard for Apple Watch (only in the Messages app), and it includes swipe typing. And it works great.
I don’t mind when features are reserved for newer devices when it’s clear that only the newer device has the hardware to support that feature. In some cases, though, it’s clear that Apple is just pestering users to get a new device, and this is one of those times.
Ah well – I guess it’s a good excuse to support the developers at FlickType (and to start reading my monthly Best Apps series!).
You can use more Home features after getting started with watchOS 8
Another handy feature that’s been expanded in watchOS 8 is Home. Home features allow you to control HomeKit devices from your Apple devices. You can now do a lot more Home things on your Apple Watch, making you less tied to your iPhone.
For instance, one of the new features for watchOS 8 is viewing a smart doorbell cam from your wrist. You can see and interact with the people on the other side of the door. This feature is available for all HomeKit security cameras in and around your home.
The My Home app on Apple Watch is now smarter, too. It’ll make suggestions based on your typical routine and activity going on in your home. For instance, if someone rings your smart doorbell, your Apple Watch will ask you if you want to unlock the door. If you change your Home scenes at predictable times, then Apple Watch will start initiating those changes for you.
Apple Watch will now track your respiratory rate while you sleep
Sleep tracking is, surprisingly, a relatively new feature on Apple Watch. There have been third-party apps offering sleep tracking for years, but it wasn’t until watchOS 7, released in 2020, that Apple added a built-in sleep tracking feature.
After getting started with watchOS 8, you’ll find that this feature has gotten even smarter. It can now track your respiratory rate while you sleep, and you don’t have to do anything to make it work.
I’m honestly not exactly sure how this feature works. The only information I’ve been able to find is that it uses the Apple Watch’s accelerometer, but that doesn’t make sense to me, either. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of info on the accuracy of this feature, so that’s important to note, too.
Regardless, it’s a neat update! The goal is for this feature to make sure you’re reaching a normal respiratory rate each night. This can help you detect issues like sleep apnea, which can be difficult to diagnose. After all, you’re asleep, so how do you know what your breathing is like?
Pilates, Tai Chi, and Meditation are now available in the Workout app
The Workout app has gotten a significant update as well. You’ll now find pilates and Tai Chi workouts available alongside the other workouts. This allows you to track these exercises with greater accuracy.
Additionally, you’ll find guided workouts for pilates and Tai Chi in Fitness+. You can follow these Fitness+ workouts in the Fitness app on Apple TV, iPad, or iPhone (see here).
Apple has added meditations to the Fitness+ service as well. You won’t find these in the Workout app, but you can follow along with these meditations before or after you exercise. It’s a great way to center yourself and carry the high from working out with you all day!
The Contacts app has been added to Apple Watch
If you explore your Apple Watch after getting started with watchOS 8, you might notice a familiar face: The Contacts app! Again, I had never even noticed that this app was missing from the Apple Watch. I’m glad to see it’s been added, though.
There’s not much you can do with this version of the Contacts app aside from calling your contacts. You can add contacts to the Contacts app on Apple Watch by scrolling to the top of your list of contacts, which is pretty cool! I expected Apple to leave this feature out. You can also delete, edit, and share your contacts by tapping on a contact and scrolling down.
Hopefully, this is a sign that the Apple Watch is getting closer to being independent of the iPhone!
Getting started with watchOS 8: iOS and iPadOS still steal the show
And that’s it! Those are all of the features you’ll want to check out after getting started with watchOS 8.
While some of these features are pretty significant (like Tai Chi and pilates being added to Workout, respiratory tracking, and multiple timers) most are pretty “meh” in my mind.
iOS and iPadOS steal the show this year! Hopefully, the Apple Watch will have its “iPad” moment, where Apple takes the time to make it more independent and powerful. For now, it’s still being treated as an iPhone accessory, which I think is greatly hampering its potential.
Time will tell!
What are your thoughts after getting started with watchOS 8?
I’d love to hear what you think about this update getting started with watchOS 8 in the comments below! Maybe these updates are more substantial than I’m giving them credit for, or maybe it just depends on how you like to use your Apple Watch. Either way, I hope you’re enjoying this update!
For more insights, news, and guides on all things Apple, check out the rest of the AppleToolBox blog.
See you next time!
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