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watchOS 8: Access, mindfulness, and connectivity

watchOS 8

While most of the focus during today’s WWDC21 Keynote was on iOS and iPadOS, watchOS wasn’t left out of the picture. watchOS 8 is available in developer beta today, public beta next month, and ships to everyone in the fall of 2021. More than anything, Apple focused on three key features of watchOS 8 — access, mindfulness, and connectivity.

The big announcements?

  • Ability to have a driver’s license or state ID in Wallet, and to use that at TSA checkpoints
  • A redesigned Home app
  • A Mindfulness app incorporating Breathe and the new Reflect capability
  • Sleeping respiratory rate
  • Portraits Watch face
  • Always-On app support

Here’s Apple’s press release on today’s watchOS 8 announcements

CUPERTINO, CALIFORNIA Apple today previewed watchOS 8, with impactful new features that make the world’s most advanced wearable operating system even more essential for users to stay healthy, active, and connected. Updates to the Wallet and Home apps extend Apple Watch as an increasingly useful tool for convenient access across the car and places users live, work, and visit. A reimagined Breathe app and new Tai Chi and Pilates workout types help users lead a fit and healthy life and support mental well-being, while a new Portraits watch face and enhancements to Messages and the Photos app make staying connected to loved ones even easier

.“Apple Watch is the most loved watch in the world, keeping users healthy, active, and connected,” said Kevin Lynch, Apple’s vice president of Technology. “With watchOS 8, we’re bringing more convenient access to places users live, work, and visit with significant updates to Home and Wallet, expanding support for both physical and mental well-being, and enabling richer personal connections with the new Portraits face and updates to Messages.”

More Access with Wallet

With Apple Watch, it is incredibly convenient to use Apple Pay and Wallet to make secure, contactless payments in stores or ride transit. With watchOS 8, Wallet brings even more powerful contact-free ways for users to access the places and things they care about seamlessly, safely, and securely.

First announced at WWDC in 2020, Ultra Wideband support now arrives for digital car keys on Apple Watch Series 6. Apple Watch wearers can securely unlock their car from a distance and start it from the driver’s seat. This fall, users can also add keys for their home, office, and hotel to Wallet, and tap their Apple Watch to unlock. Later this year, beginning with participating states in the US, users will be able to add their driver’s license or state ID to Wallet. Select TSA checkpoints will be the first place users can begin using their digital ID.

Digital IDs come to iOS and watchOS this fall. Image via Apple

Redesigned Home App

The redesigned Home app in watchOS 8 offers more convenient access to accessories and scenes needed in a particular moment, and the ability to control accessories by room. Users with a HomeKit-enabled camera can view who is at the door directly on their wrist. Apple Watch users can also tap Intercom to quickly broadcast a message throughout the home or to individual rooms via HomePod, HomePod mini, or other personal devices.

New Workout Types

watchOS 8 introduces two new popular workout types that are beneficial for both physical fitness and mindful movement: Tai Chi and Pilates. These new workout types are supported by powerful, validated custom-built heart rate and motion algorithms to provide users with accurate metrics.

A New Approach to Mindfulness

Now more than ever, people are recognizing the importance of finding small moments in their day to be more mindful. In watchOS 8, the Breathe app becomes the Mindfulness app, featuring an enhanced Breathe experience, plus a new session type, Reflect. Reflect offers a mindful intention to focus on for as little as one minute that can be done anywhere and at any time. Each Reflect session welcomes the user with a unique, thoughtful notion to consider that invites a positive frame of mind. For example, the user may see something like “Recall a time recently when you felt a sense of calm. Bring that feeling into this moment,” or “Reflect on one thing you’re grateful for and think about why you appreciate it so much.” Both the Breathe and Reflect experiences also offer tips to help users get more from each session and feature beautiful new animations.

Sleeping Respiratory Rate

Today, Apple Watch helps users meet their sleep goals by establishing a pre-bedtime routine, and tracks metrics like time asleep, heart rate, and blood oxygen. watchOS 8 gives users even more insight into their overall wellness by tracking sleeping respiratory rate, which is the number of breaths per minute. To do this, Apple Watch uses the built-in accelerometer to measure respiratory rate while sleeping, and this information can be viewed, along with trends over time, in the Health app on iPhone. This metric is also available for developers to use with permission through HealthKit.

Portraits Watch Face and Photos

The Photos face is the most popular Apple Watch face, and watchOS 8 introduces new ways to view and engage with users’ favorite photos right from their wrist. The new Portraits watch face brings to life stunning portrait photos shot on iPhone with an immersive, multilayered effect, intelligently recognizing faces in photos and cropping in to highlight the subject. The Photos app is also redesigned, offering new ways to view and navigate collections, Memories and Featured Photos now sync to Apple Watch, and photos can be shared through Messages and Mail with the new Share Sheet.

New ways to create Messages with Apple Watch. Image via Apple

Messages and Contacts

Communicating on Apple Watch is even easier with new tools in Messages. Users can combine the use of Scribble, dictation, and emoji all within the same message, and for dictated messages, they have the option to edit the presented text. To easily add even more expression to a message, users can simply enter a word or phrase and select from hundreds of trending GIFs.watchOS 8 also brings the Contacts app to Apple Watch, providing a simple way for users to browse, add, and edit contacts, and share contacts directly from the app.

Focus

watchOS 8 supports Focus, a powerful set of tools available in iOS 15 to help users reduce distraction and be in the moment. Apple Watch will automatically align with any Focus set on iOS, so that notifications from people and apps are filtered based on what a user is currently doing. Focus uses on-device intelligence to make suggestions based on usage patterns — for example, when starting a workout on Apple Watch, the Focus for fitness is suggested.

Additional watchOS 8 Updates

  • Multiple timers come to Apple Watch and can be given a specific label using Siri (such as “Laundry Timer” or “Cooking Timer”).
  • In watchOS 8, more Apple Watch apps support the Always-On display, including Maps, Mindfulness, Now Playing, Phone, Podcasts, Stopwatch, Timers, Voice Memos, and others. watchOS 8 is also making it easier for developers to keep their apps timely and relevant with a new Always-On APIfor third-party apps.
  • To support Apple Watch users with upper-body limb differences, AssistiveTouch enables one-arm usage of Apple Watch by sensing simple hand gestures to interact without touching the display. Using the built-in motion sensors, users can answer incoming calls, control an onscreen motion pointer, and surface an action menu that can access Notification Center, Control Center, and more.
  • A new Find Items app on Apple Watch helps users locate tagged items using the Find My network, and a new Find Devices app helps users locate lost Apple devices that are signed in with the same Apple ID.
  • The redesigned Music app enables users to share songs, albums, and playlists through Messages and Mail, and enjoy music and radio all in one place.
  • The Weather app now supports Severe Weather notifications, displaying government alerts about certain severe weather events. The app also delivers Next Hour precipitation alerts and offers updated complications.
  • Family Setup introduces the ability to add transit cards from Hong Kong, Japan, and select China mainland and US cities, and Calendar and Mail now include the option to add a Google account.
  • Apple Fitness+, the first fitness service created entirely around Apple Watch, expands its offering in watchOS 8 with Picture in Picture support and new filtering options, and users can stop and resume an in-progress workout on any device. Later this month, Fitness+ introduces a new series of workouts featuring Jeanette Jenkins, one of the most sought-after fitness experts, and a new Artist Spotlight Series with workouts featuring entire playlists from Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban, and Alicia Keys.

Privacy

Apple believes privacy is a fundamental human right. Since privacy is particularly important for Health and identification, Health data is encrypted on device or in iCloud with iCloud sync. For identification, Identity Cards in Wallet are encrypted and securely stored in the Secure Element, the same hardware technology used to keep Apple Pay private and secure. Apple cannot see when or where digital IDs are presented when using a driver’s license or state ID.

the authorSteve Sande
Steve is the founder and former publisher of Apple World Today and has authored a number of books about Apple products. He's an avid photographer, an FAA-licensed drone pilot, and a really bad guitarist. Steve and his wife Barb love to travel everywhere!

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