WatchOS 8 is here: the best new features on the Apple Watch

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Lexy Savvides / CNET
This story is part of Apple event, our full coverage of the latest Apple news.

Your Apple Watch is getting a big new update with WatchOS 8 that adds new workout options, messaging tools, and some hints of what you’re going to do before the Apple Watch Series 7. The free download is available to all Apple Watch owners using Series 3 or later, and came with you iOS 15 and iPad 15.

To download the update, first make sure that your iPhone runs on iOS 15. As long as your watch’s battery is at least 50% go to settings and choose Software update. If less, leave the Apple Watch on the charger and wait for the update to download. Once you have the update, here are some of the best features to explore.

WatchOS 8 brings portrait photos to your wrist

The new Portraits watch face can use any portrait photo taken on the iPhone. First, open the Watch app on the iPhone, then navigate to the Face Gallery. Find the Portraits watch face and tap Add to find portrait photos that you want to display on the watch.

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Instead of displaying a static image, the watch uses segmentation data from the photo to separate the foreground from the background. This means that the time is shown right behind your subject’s head and if you raise your wrist or fidget with the Digital Crown, the subject will fade in and out as well.

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Lexy Savvides / CNET

I’ve found it works best with photos that have a lot of space between the foreground and background, plus plenty of headroom over your subject so you can really see the effect. Some complications are also supported, so you can also view items like battery level or heart rate on the watch face.

Also new to the Watch Faces tab is a world time option. You can see the world time in all 24 time zones right from your wrist.

AssistiveTouch is an overwhelming accessibility feature

Apple announced AssistiveTouch in May along with a Set of accessibility features for iPhone and iPad.

This allows people who only use one arm to control the Apple Watch by moving their hand and wrist, such as pinching or squeezing. The watch recognizes these movements so you don’t have to touch the screen to interact with the watch.

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Lexy Savvides / CNET

It’s hard to describe how intuitive this feels until you start using it. Squeeze your thumb and forefinger together and the watch will shift focus to navigate through the menu options. A double pinch moves back, while a squeeze is a tap action to select something on the screen. AssistiveTouch is also customizable, so you can set a double-clench action to answer a call or bring up the action menu. AssistiveTouch works with Series 6 and Apple Watch SE.

Better messaging tools

Now when you want to send a message, you can use the Scribble Tool, Emoji Picker, or Dictation option on the same screen. If you want to dictate a message but the transcription is incorrect, you can now select the word and use the Digital Crown to make corrections. I appreciate that as my Australian accent often leads to rather amusing dictation errors.

Just like on the iPhone, you can send a GIF by selecting the magnifying glass icon and either selecting from the trending list or searching for the GIF you want.

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Apple Watch 7 will have a full keyboard.

Apple / Screenshot by Erin Carson / CNET

Contacts, Find My Apps come to WatchOS

The Contacts app is finally available on your wrist so you can edit, add, search, and share without pulling out your phone. Apple has also split its Find My app into two new apps: Find Items and Find Devices. They do exactly what they say on the can, and you can ping items like an AirTag or find devices signed in with your Apple ID from the watch.

WatchOS 8 also works in conjunction with Focus Mode on the iPhone, so you can limit distractions or adjust modes so that only notifications from specific contacts and apps get through. Once you apply the mode on the iPhone, it will automatically be set on the watch as well. It should also be intelligent with Focus suggestions, such as B. a prompt to activate the mode when you start a workout. I need to spend more time with the beta before it can pick up my usage patterns.

Two new training options – and mindfulness

There are two new types of workouts you can follow: Pilates and Tai Chi. They use custom heart rate and movement algorithms to better track your exertion than if you followed those workouts with the Others option in the Workouts app. Apple’s Fitness Plus also has a picture-in-picture mode and additional training filters.

Apple has also moved the Breathe app to a new mindfulness app. In addition to animations to help you breathe, there is a Reflect app that prompts you to focus your thoughts. I really like the new animations in the Mindfulness app and in the short time I’ve been using them I’ve found that they help me focus my attention. The time you spend reflecting is shown in the Health app on the iPhone (along with your heart rate) after each session.

Sleep tracking also adds breathing rate to existing sleep metrics such as heart rate and sleep time. You can also view trends over time in the Health app on iPhone.

Apple announcements September 14, 2021: iPhone 13, new iPads, Apple Watch Series 7, and more

Apple

More flexibility for Apple Watch cyclists

Cyclists get some bonuses in WatchOS 8, such as automatic training detection for bike tours and an option to stop and resume automatically so that you don’t eat up your training time when you are not driving. In addition, the fall detection now also works for bike tours. So if the Apple Watch detects that you have taken a fall, it can call 911 and notify emergency contacts. Apple said fall detection for workouts will appear in an update to WatchOS 8 for Series 4 and later later this year.

Other new training functions include acoustic feedback notices. You can set training milestones – e.g. E.g. when you close your activity rings – hear the announcement through the loudspeaker of the Apple Watch or in your ear if you have connected Bluetooth headphones.

Apple Watch Series 7

The Apple Watch Series 7.

Apple

Further functions in the wallet app

Apple hopes you will give up your physical wallet altogether and access everything from your wrist. Later in the year iOS 15 and WatchOS 8 can be saved a digital identity card like a driver’s license in the wallet app. Access keys for hotels and offices can also be stored digitally.

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You can now digitize and save your driver’s license in the Apple Wallet app.

Apple

The Apple Watch Series 6 supports Ultra broadband or UWB, for car keys, so you can unlock your vehicle or start it remotely without touching or tapping anything on your Apple Watch. It depends on the vehicle manufacturer and will also be introduced later in the year.


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First look at the WatchOS 8 public beta

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More WatchOS 8 extras

  • Multiple timers, with the option to label timers with Siri.
  • Other apps support the always-on display, including maps, timers, and phone.
  • The Photos app can reveal your memories and featured photos. Also, you can now share photos directly from the watch through Messages or the Mail app.
  • The Home app allows you to control accessories by room and send broadcast intercom messages from your wrist.

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