While we continue awaiting the arrival of the Apple Watch Series 7, current Watch owners can start getting excited. At WWDC 2021, Apple introduced watchOS 8, the company’s latest wearable operating system. While there aren’t as many features coming compared to the Mac, iPhone, or iPad, there are still plenty of new things on the roadmap.
What’s new in watchOS 8
At first glance, it seemed that the Apple Watch was getting the least amount of features with watchOS 8. While that’s partially true, there’s a bigger reason for that as Apple has a comfortable lead in the smartwatch market. With watchOS 8, Apple is taking a more conservative approach and improving those “quality of life” features.
- Photos – Unfortunately, we still don’t have third-party watch faces with watchOS 8. However, Apple stated that the Photos Watch Face is easily the most popular of the current options. There’s a new Portrait Mode available, allowing you to add a dynamic multi-layered effect.
- Better Smart Home controls – The Home app was updated with compatibility for select smart home locks. We also have improvements to make it easier to turn on specific smart lights or set specific Scenes in the Home app. You can also now control and view supported smart video cameras.
- Send messages from your wrist – Editing messages from the Apple Watch has always been a pain. With watchOS 8, you can now use the Digital Crown to scroll back to a typo, and make the edits. You can also now send messages with a combination of dictation, emoji, and Scribble. Plus, watchOS 8 makes it possible to search for, and send, GIFs from your wrist.
- Mindfulness and health – The Apple Watch is a fantastic fitness tracking device, in addition to providing your notifications. The Breathe app has been renamed to Mindfulness, adding a new Reflect feature for relaxation. Apple is also bringing more sleep tracking metrics including your sleeping respiratory rate. We also are getting some new workout modes and new guided workouts.
- Always-On Display – This is a new feature for developers, as a new AOD API has been introduced. When implemented, your favorite apps will actually be able to take advantage of the Always-On Display.
- Multiple Timers – For one reason or another, Siri was limited to only being able to create one alarm at a time. With watchOS 8, that’s changing, as your Apple Watch can now be used to set multiple alarms, which is something that your iPhone can’t even do.
What Apple Watch models are compatible with watchOS 8?
Usually, whenever a new version of an Apple operating system is released, that means it’s the end of the line for older products. However, just like iOS 15 with the iPhone 6s, Apple is bringing watchOS 8 to the oldest Watch in the lineup.
That means that your Apple Watch Series 3 from 2017 will get the latest version. The only catch here is that Apple has already confirmed that not all of the new features will be coming to older Watch models.
- Apple Watch Series 3
- Series 4
- Series 5
- Watch SE
- Watch Series 6
When is watchOS 8 coming?
We’re getting into the watchOS 8 Developer Preview cycle, just like with the other Apple software versions. We’re expecting to see the first watchOS 8 Public Beta made available sometime in July.
Even if you can install the watchOS 8 Dev Preview, we don’t recommend doing so. If something goes awry and your Apple Watch stops working, you’ll need to take it to the Apple Store to get the software downgraded.
The final version of watchOS 8 is currently expected to arrive in September. It’s likely that’s when we’ll be seeing the next Apple Watch model unveiled, as Apple likes to release new software versions with new hardware.
Andrew is a freelance writer based on the East Coast of the US.
He has written for a variety of sites over the years, including iMore, Android Central, Phandroid, and a few others. Now, he spends his days working for an HVAC company, while moonlighting as a freelance writer at night.