Apple Watch OS 8 doubles down on photos and fitness features

Updates include respiratory rate, Tai Chi and a new photo-based watch face in Watch OS 8

Apple Watch OS8
(Image credit: Apple)

While the start of the WWDC keynote was the iOS 15 for the iPhone, Watch OS benefits from many of the updates and adds a couple of neat features of its own, too. The theme of all the software updates this year seems to be the interactivity between the devices – functioning as one system rather than a series of individual devices.

For this reason, the list of new features for the iPad and Watch OS seemed small by comparison. However, there’s a lot that the Apple Watch will be able to do in the fall that it can’t do right now.

A new Home app lets you see all the connected devices in your home easily on your Apple Watch. It allows you to view the feeds from any attached cameras and even send intercom messages to the HomePod mini. The timer function finally gets the ability to operate more than one timer at once – and give them names, when setting using Siri.

Apple Watch OS8

(Image credit: Apple)

Face to face

The highlight though is a new watch face that incorporates your portrait phones. Apparently, photos are the most popular choice for Apple Watch faces – though I have to admit, I prefer a traditional face. The clever thing about this new photo face is that it makes use of the same segmentation data used to blur the background in your portrait photos to place the time behind the head of the subject.

The effect is like a fashion magazine cover and looks really nice on the Apple Watch screen. You can also adjust the scale of your person to fill more or less of the frame – allowing you to still read the time but still get the layering effect.

Apple Watch OS8

(Image credit: Apple)

Sleep and fitness

The sleep app now includes your heart rate and blood oxygen readings and adds your sleeping respiratory rate. This number of breaths per minute helps to give a better overall picture of your sleep health.

The Mindfulness app has been refreshed on the Apple Watch and in addition to Breathe there is now a reflect option. This provides guidance points and a calming colorful pattern display while you reflect in your own way – walking, sitting or just being still. All of this contributes to your mindful minutes in the health app.

For fitness, there are improved workout types for Pilates and Tai Chi. While both were already available in the additional workout menus, they now have a validated algorithm specific to the movements involved. Previously they simply provided a way of logging the time spent in the activity.

Apple Watch OS8

(Image credit: Apple)

Talk, scribble, emoji

Sending a message using your Apple Watch is also getting easier thanks to the ability to edit dictated messages using the scribble function – writing out the letters with your finger. Previously neither scribble or dictate were perfect but the combination of the two should allow a less frustrating experience. You can also add emojis and gifs to the message.

Featured photos and memories are to be synced to the Apple Watch for easy viewing and can be shared via messages or mail, straight from the watch. There’s also a new contacts app which lets you edit, share or browse your contacts.

Apple Watch OS 8

(Image credit: Apple)

Forget the keys

The new wallet features in iOS 15 provide new keycards for your home, work, hotel or car. It also adds the ability to store a digital ID that will be accepted by TSA for domestic travel in the US. All of this functionality will be available on the Apple Watch too. While you will need to set up many of these on the phone, they will work independently on the watch, allowing you to open your car or your front door, without needing your phone – or keys. 

Benefits of the new Maps in iOS 15 also rub off here. You can get traffic information live to your wrist. The Focus status, which provides guidance as to how you are notified can be set on the Apple Watch or inherited from the setting and time limit given on any of your other devices.

Mat Gallagher

As T3's Editor-in-Chief, Mat Gallagher has his finger on the pulse for the latest advances in technology. He has written about technology since 2003 and after stints in Beijing, Hong Kong and Chicago is now based in the UK. He’s a true lover of gadgets, but especially anything that involves cameras, Apple, electric cars, musical instruments or travel.