WWDC 2021 sessions are wrapping up, and we’re still getting into the nooks and crannies of what has been announced. We’ve already checked out what’s to come with iOS 15 and macOS Monterey, and now we’re looking at watchOS 8. This was one of the more subdued announcements of the day. It seems more so now that Apple has reached its “peak” with the current version of watchOS. Instead of forcing the issue and essentially re-creating the wearable OS, Apple introduced a few minor changes this year.
What models are compatible with watchOS 8?
The biggest question that folks have whenever a new version of the operating system is released is whether it will work with your device. This includes the Apple Watch, especially considering that the Series 3 is getting a bit long in the tooth. Nevertheless, Apple is including its smartwatch from 2017 along with every model since then. Apple does state that not all features will be available on all of these models. We’ll just have to wait and see what features are missing.
- Apple Watch Series 3
- Apple Watch Series 4
- Apple Watch Series 5
- Apple Watch SE
- Apple Watch Series 6
Another WWDC Keynote has come and gone, and we still don’t have custom third-party watch faces. Instead, Apple stated that the most popular watch face is the Photos watch face. This is where the company led off with the updates for watchOS 8.
Moving forward you will be able to continue using those Photos watch faces that you know and love, with a twist. Portrait Mode images have been added, along with a new dynamic multi-layered effect to put the clock behind the picture of your loved one. This adds a dynamic effect that looks really unique, having the image stand out even more than it did.
Apple is also bringing an almost fully fledge Photos app to your Watch. You’ll be able to view highlights via Memories, the same way that you can on an iPhone or iPad. But when you dive into those Memories, there’s a new grid that offers a mosaic layout with certain images taking the forefront.
Finally, Apple is making it easier than ever to actually share images from the Photos app on your Watch. Previously, this wasn’t really intuitive or possible, but that’s changing in watchOS 8. Now, you can tap and share photos to either Messages or the Apple Mail app from your wrist. Hopefully, we’ll see third-party app integration this Fall, but we’ll have to wait and see.
Although there was speculation that we could be seeing a new “regular” HomePod at WWDC, that did not come to fruition. Instead, Apple focused more on improving different aspects of the Home and how you interact with it. This includes the Home app on the Apple Watch.
The biggest change is the redesigned Home app for Apple Watch, making it more intuitive to do things like turn on a scene or a specific set of lights. Your watch learns how you use the lights in your home and puts them on your wrist intuitively based on the time of the day.
It seems that Apple is trying to put important controls on your wrist, without you needing to dive into any of the apps. This includes the fact that if someone rings your connected doorbell, you will see options for the lock to either unlock the door or turn on the lights in the entryway. watchOS 8 even adds the ability to view, control, and talk with video cameras that support these features.
Creating and Editing Messages on the fly
Outside of using your voice, responding to messages on the go from your Apple Watch has always been a pain point. With watchOS 8, Apple is attempting to rectify those problems with some pretty key changes. Now, you can use the Digital Crown to scroll to the specific letter or word that needs to be edited if you have typos.
Apple is also bringing the ability to use a combination of dictation, scribble, and even emojis while sending messages. Previously, you were limited to either dictation or scribble, and you couldn’t use both at once.
Speaking of sending messages, there is now built-in support for #images in Messages. This allows you to reply to messages with GIFs if you want, without being forced to switch to your iPhone just to do it.
Focus on what you need to
Focus mode is a pretty major feature coming to the iPhone, iPad, and Mac. But this feature also extends to the Watch. Not only will your Apple Watch follow the rules that have been set for Focus mode on your iPhone, but you can also select these modes from your wrist.
Improve your mindfulness
If it wasn’t obvious from the new Focus mode, Apple is taking peace of mind seriously this year. That brings us to the all-new Mindfulness app, which is essentially a redesigned version of the Breathe app that has been available for years. With Mindfulness, you’ll get the same great features from the Breathe app, but there’s a new Reflect feature that takes you into a meditation practice. As you use Reflect, an animation appears on your Watch allowing you to sit back and actually relax for one minute.
The Breathe feature is still available here, but it’s also been updated with new visualizations. Apple really wants you to make use of these in an effort to focus and center while you’re breathing. Finally, you’ll be able to view your Breathe and Reflect sessions throughout the day. This Summary includes your average heart rate and how many “Mindful Minutes” were counted in a day.
Even more sleep tracking metrics
The Apple Sleep app was already pretty robust, but there were a few key metrics that were missing. With watchOS 8, your Watch can now keep track of your sleeping respiratory rate. It will calculate how many breaths per minute you have, providing an even deeper insight to how you’re sleeping. Then, you can go into the Health app on your iPhone and view your new sleep trends based on the metrics.
Creating multiple alarms
This is one of those features that you might be surprised to learn wasn’t available on your Watch already. But with watchOS 8, you can finally set multiple timers at the same time with the help of Siri. In fact, this is a feature that isn’t even available when using Siri on your iPhone or iPad. Instead, you would have to go into the Clock app to manually set multiple timers.
Better support for the Always-On Display
The Always-on Display is a fickle beast with the Apple Watch in its current iteration. There are some Apple apps that work seamlessly with AOD, but others don’t. In addition to a new AOD API for developers to tie into, Apple’s own apps can be displayed when your Watch switches to the Always-On Display.
Adding some more workouts
It took Apple a little bit of time to get there, but the biggest reason of having the Watch (other than notifications) is for workouts. There are two new workouts coming to watchOS 8, with Pilates and Tai Chi. The former helps you to stretch out your body, and increase flexibility and balance, while the latter helps you to clear your mind and reduce stress.
Apple also added a new guest trainer in Jeanette Jenkins for strength and HIIT workouts. This brings just another great series to follow if you were looking for a new option. Artist Spotlight is another addition, bringing special workout playlists with music from a single artist. Here are those options:
- Cycling with Tyrell – Music by Lady Gaga
- Strength with Kyle – Music by Keith Urban
- HIIT with Jamie-Ray – Music by Jennifer Lopez
- Yoga with Jonelle – Music by Alicia Keys
There were a lot of minor additions announced for watchOS 8 at WWDC. But it’s clear that there isn’t anything earth-shattering here. Perhaps the biggest update is the ability to use your Digital Crown to help edit messages. But our favorite is the redesigned Home app for the Apple Watch. Let us know what you think about watchOS 8 and what your favorite features are.
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.