16 of the Best New Features in watchOS 8

16 of the Best New Features in watchOS 8

Apple’s watchOS 8 doesn’t revolutionise the general Apple Watch experience, exactly (nor does the Series 7, for that matter). Instead, the update adds a number of fun, useful, and otherwise welcome improvements and features to the tiny Apple devices we’ve come to know and love. We’ve rounded up 16 of our favourites that we think you need to know about, too.

Reminder: not all watchOS 8 features are available on all Apple Watch models that support the update. Apple is, after all, supporting watches going all the way back to the Series 3. It’s great to see the company offering updates to a smartwatch from 2017, so cutting some corners might just be an agreeable compromise.

Revamped messaging

The first time you message someone on watchOS 8, you’ll notice things look a little different. When you tap on the text box, you’ll see emojis and dictation options appear alongside the scribble text box, allowing you to mix different messaging options as you wish. (I’m just thrilled selecting an emoji no longer causes it to send immediately.)

You’ll also find an App Drawer icon next to the text box. If you tap it, you’ll see Memoji, GIF search, Digital Touch, and even audio messages. Previously, audio messages were a bit of a hidden feature, so it’s nice to see Apple put them right up front in watchOS 8.

Scroll text with the Digital Crown

You’ll also find a new way to move through your text; just turn the Digital Crown and your cursor will jump from character to character. Like long-pressing the spacebar in iOS, it’s a great way to make fine adjustments to a message without needing to deal with tapping on the screen in just the right place.

Set multiple timers

Can I just say something? Finally! WatchOS 8 finally gives us the ability to set multiple timers on our Apple Watch. I use my Apple Watch timer when cooking all the time, but, previously, I could only use it for one part of the meal; I’d have to rely on the microwave and/or oven timers as well if I had multiple dishes going at once.

Now when you set a timer with watchOS 8, you can simply head back to the main Timer page and set another one. You’ll see all active timers on this page as well, so you can easily keep track and manage all the countdowns on your Apple Watch.

Portrait mode watch face

Portrait mode has found its way to the Apple Watch in the form of a new watch face. With a compatible Apple Watch, you can view your favourite bokeh photos from your iPhone every time you lift your wrist. The watch face has a cool effect to it as well: The subject will “pop-out” over the date and time.

Sharing is much easier

With watchOS 8, sharing something like a photo or a song is much easier than before. Now, you’ll see message suggestions based on your messaging history, as well as options to send the item via Messages or Mail. It’s an improved experience that makes sharing items from your Watch all the simpler.

Apple revamps the Home app

Apple Watch with watchOS 8 is a Home app powerhouse. You can now see automated suggestions when one of your smart devices is active; view security camera feeds directly on the watch; see the status of any and all of your connected smart devices; and view all of your Home app scenes for easy access.

Keep your keys together

WatchOS 8 — like iOS 15 — allows you to keep many different types of digital keys in your Wallet app. You can store hotel keys, digital lock keys, and even car keys — although you’ll need a Series 7 for that last one. If you thought it was cool paying for groceries with your Apple Watch, just wait until you unlock your car with it.

Keep your ID in your watch

You’ll soon be able to keep your ID on your Apple Watch as well. This feature mirrors the one on iOS 15, which allows you to set up a driver’s licence or ID on your device for use at supported airports. Check out our full guide here to learn more about the new feature.

Focus mode helps you, well, focus

Another iOS 15 feature making its way over to watchOS 8, Focus allows you to set up different Do Not Disturb profiles that you can cater to your day. For example, you can set up a “Work” Focus that only allows notifications from work apps and contacts, then switch over to a “Personal” Focus that blocks those work notifications in favour of friends, games, whatever you want to see in your free time. We have a full explainer on setting up Focus modes if you’d like to learn more.

Breathe no more

The Breathe app is famous for sending you notifications at inopportune moments (no, I don’t feel like breathing right now, Apple Watch). Apple decided to change things up this year, rebranding the Breathe app as Mindfulness. You’ll still find the Breathe tool inside this new Mindfulness app — but you’ll also get a “Reflect” tool, which offers short bursts of meditations with a zen background.

Monitor respiratory rates as your sleep

Photo: Samio20, ShutterstockPhoto: Samio20, Shutterstock

Sleep tracking is just one of many excellent reasons to wear your Apple Watch to bed (the silent alarms take the cake for me). Now, sleep tracking is enhanced, as your Apple Watch will track your breathing throughout the night, too. You can take a look at your breaths per minute when you wake up, and compare them to your overall sleep trends.

Ebikes are finally welcome

Photo: moreimages, ShutterstockPhoto: moreimages, Shutterstock

This one’s another “finally” from me; your Apple Watch is now capable of accurately tracking ebike rides. The watch previously couldn’t tell the difference between an ebike and a regular bike, which made for some hilariously inaccurate kilojoule stats after an ebike ride. Plus, your Watch can recognise when you’re biking, and will suggest you start an outdoor cycling workout if you haven’t already.

Two new workouts to track

WatchOS 8 adds two new workouts to the mix: Tai Chi and Pilates. If you enjoy either of these two types of workouts, you no longer need to hope that an “Open” workout will track your fitness levels accurately enough.

Find My comes to the watch

Apple isn’t making you pick up your iPhone or another connected device to locate a missing item anymore: You now have three dedicated Find My apps directly on the watch; Find Devices, Find Items, and Find People. (These are basically the same three tabs on the main Find My app on iOS, but broken into more manageable apps for the Apple Watch.)

Apple Watch now has a Contacts app

Here’s another reason not to pick up your iPhone: Apple Watch now has its very own Contacts app. The app, of course, features all of your connected contacts, and lets you easily jump into any supported form of communication from there. You can edit, share contacts, delete entries, and add brand new ones. It’s a great addition for anyone who needs quick yet complete access to their digital Rolodex.

The calm notification before the storm

One final iOS 15 feature rolling its way onto watchOS 8 is the ability to set up alerts warning you of incoming severe weather. If the skies look a little cloudy, you won’t want to ignore those taps from your watch; it might just be notifying you about a coming torrential downpour. Just know that this feature requires Weather to have access to your location at all times.

Do you have a favourite new watchOS 8 feature that we didn’t highlight? Let us know about it in the comments below.


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