The Apple Watch is getting its annual facelift with WatchOS 8. Expect additional training modes, more flexible messaging tools, and a portrait watch face, among other new features. Apple just released the public beta of WatchOS 8, which gives us a sneak peek of the operating system due out in the fall. While there are no major interface surprises in the new operating system, Apple has refined the watch experience to bring many features in line with iOS on the iPhone.
WatchOS 8 will run on all Apple Watches starting with theand then. We do not recommend installing any beta software on your main device, but if you want to preview the and WatchOS 8, you can .
These are the best new Apple Watch features we’ve found so far.
WatchOS 8 puts portrait photos on your wrist
The new Portraits watch face can use any portrait mode photo taken with the iPhone. But instead of displaying a still image, the watch uses segmentation data from the photo to separate the foreground from the background. This means that the time appears just behind the subject’s head, and if he raises his wrist or likes to play with the Digital Crown, the subject also moves in and out.
I found that it works best with photos that have a lot of distance between the foreground and the background, plus a wide margin on the subject so that you can really see the effect. Some complications are also supported, so you can also place items like battery level or heart rate on the watch face.
The Photos app itself gets some new tools, like displaying your memories and featured photos, so new content syncs to your watch every day. Also, you can now share photos directly from the watch via Messages or the Mail app.
AssistiveTouch is a mind-blowing accessibility feature
Apple announced AssistiveTouch in May along with afor iPhone and iPad.
Allows single-armed individuals to control Apple Watch by detecting hand and wrist movements, such as pinching or squeezing. Therefore, you do not need to be able to touch the screen to interact with the watch.
It’s hard to describe how intuitive it feels until you use it. Squeeze your thumb and index finger and the watch will move the 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 configure a double-press action to answer a call or open the action menu.
Best messaging tools
When you go to send a message, you can now use the scribble tool, emoji picker, or dictation option, all from the same screen. Also, if you are dictating a message but discover that there is an error in the transcription, you can now select the word and use the Digital Crown to make corrections. It’s something I appreciate as my Australian accent often results in some pretty funny dictation mistakes.
Just like on the iPhone, you can send a GIF by selecting the magnifying glass icon and choosing from the trending list or searching for the GIF you want.
New apps coming to WatchOS
The Contacts app is finally available on your wrist so you can edit, add, browse, and share without having to take out your phone. Apple has also divided its Find My app into two new apps: Find Items and Find Devices. They do exactly what they say on the tin and you can ping items like AirTag or find devices that have 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 customize the modes so that only notifications from certain contacts and apps appear. Once you apply the mode on the iPhone, it automatically sets it on the watch as well. You’re also supposed to be smart with focus suggestions, like asking you to turn on mode when you start a workout. I will have to spend more time on the beta before I can get back to my usage patterns.
Two New Mindfulness and Training Options
There are two new types of exercises you can keep track of: Pilates and tai chi. They use custom heart rate and movement algorithms to better determine your effort than if you tracked these workouts using the Other option in the workouts app. Apple’s Fitness Plus also has a picture-in-picture mode, plus additional workout filters.
Apple has also moved the Breathe app to a new Mindfulness app. In addition to animations to guide your breathing, there is a Reflect app that gives prompts to help you focus your thoughts. I really like the new animations in the Mindfulness app, and in the short time I’ve used them, they help focus my attention. The time you spend reflecting appears in the iPhone Health app (along with your heart rate) after each session.
Sleep tracking also adds respiratory rate to existing sleep metrics such as heart rate and sleep time. You can also see trends over time in the Health app on the iPhone.
More features in the Wallet app
Apple expects you to ditch your physical wallet entirely and access everything from your wrist. Later in the year, iOS 15 and WatchOS 8 will be able to storelike a driver’s license in the Wallet app. Access codes for hotels and offices can also be stored digitally.
The Apple Watch Series 6 wants supportfor car keys so you can unlock your vehicle or turn it on remotely, without the need to touch or touch anything on the Apple Watch. It depends on the vehicle manufacturer and will also be implemented later in the year.
We’ll update this story as we discover more of the best features in the WatchOS 8 Public Beta.