WatchOS 8 Developer Beta 1 Hands-on: Better Health Tracking, New Watch Faces, Improved Accessibility, and more!
Apple, in its annual WWDC keynote, announced updates to all of its software platforms including iOS 15, iPad OS 15, macOS Monterey, and of course, watchOS 8. Just as with every major update that Apple announces, there are some notable changes and new features that have been added along with some minor improvements to some existing features. We installed iOS 15 Developer Beta 1 on the iPhone and iPadOS 15 Developer Beta 1 on the iPad to give you first impressions of Apple’s new smartphone OS. So it only makes sense to install the developer beta for watchOS 8 on our Apple Watch to see what’s changed and what’s new. Note that this is a developer beta so we wouldn’t recommend installing this on your device as you may have to deal with bugs and glitches.
Visual Changes on watchOS 8
Just like with iOS 15, nothing much has changed on watchOS 8 with respect to the way it looks. This isn’t very surprising since it has largely remained the same for the past few years and we’re yet to see an aesthetic overhaul for watchOS. The only difference we could notice was that the icons in the quick toggles area that denote the connection status of the Apple Watch with your phone and if your location was recently accessed have moved to the center of the screen as opposed to being on the corner in the previous update. Just helps a little with visibility.
Fitness and Health Features
The Apple Watch, more than anything else, is a fitness tracker at its core and is a great tool to help you track your fitness and workouts. While there were already several workout modes supported by the Apple Watch, WatchOS 8 has added support for two new workout modes – Tai Chi, and Pilates. Apple claims that they have used customized algorithms to track these activities to provide users with accurate fitness data.
Apart from this, there are notable improvements made to the Breathe app on watchOS 8. The Breathe app reminds you at specific intervals of time to take short breaks and breathe for a calming experience. On watchOS 8, Apple has renamed Breathe to Mindfulness and it now includes a new session type called Reflect. Reflect will help users take a break as short as a minute to go back in memory think of positive moments that will help them stay calm and feel positive.
WatchOS 8 will also help you walk better by detecting your walking patterns and tell you if your pace is ideal or notify you of instances when you go off balance. Even sleep tracking has improved with watchOS 8 and now has a new function – Sleeping Respiratory Rate. This essentially estimates the number of breaths taken per minute while you are asleep to assist with determining the quality of your sleep.
Wallet and Watch Face Improvements
Just like iOS 15, the Apple Wallet on watchOS 8 has also received a ton of improvements like the ability to unlock cars and your house doors with just your Apple Watch. You can also add access cards to your office and even hotel rooms to completely eliminate the need for physical wallets and keys. Apple is even working with the TSA to enable digital IDs at select airports which will make things a lot more convenient as you would then be able to just scan your Apple Watch for identification.
In terms of watch faces, Apple has introduced the ability to add portrait mode photos as watch faces with watchOS 8. You will now be able to use your favorite pictures as your watch face and you can even choose an album to cycle through every time you lift your wrist to view the Apple Watch.
New Home App and Focus Modes on watchOS 8
The Home app has been completely redesigned on the Apple Watch and now gives you easier and more convenient options right on the home screen. You can change your device settings and control all your accessories in a more user-friendly manner. If you have a camera that works with Apple HomeKit, you will be able to view the camera feed directly on your Apple Watch. You can even use the intercom to broadcast a message to other HomePod and HomePod mini devices in your house.
Focus is a new option introduced in iOS 15 that allows users to set focus modes based on what they’re doing or where they’re at. You can set focus modes for your private life, while you’re at work, when your exercising, or enable DND when you’re sleeping. Focus can even suggest modes based on your activity and location. The main aim of Focus is to keep you from getting distracted and let you focus on the work that you’re currently doing. Focus also works on the Apple Watch with watchOS 8 so all the notification settings for a particular focus mode will be replicated on your Apple Watch too.
Viewing and Sharing Photos and Messages is now easier on watchOS 8
The Photos app on the Apple Watch has also received some welcome changes. You get to view all the favorite images from your iPhone on your Apple Watch but that’s not really new. What’s new is the ability to easily share those photos right from your Apple Watch to your contacts either via iMessage or via email. There’s also support for Memories and Featured Photos now. Speaking of contacts, there’s now an option to add or remove and even share contacts directly from the Apple Watch.
Apart from the ability to send photos as messages, the way to reply to messages from the Apple Watch has also been updated and this is one of our favorite new features. If you use your Apple Watch a lot to reply to notifications, you would be aware that up until now, you could either use dictation or handwriting or emojis to reply to a message. Now, you can use all three input methods at the same time and combine all of them to reply to a notification which is awesome.
Accessibility Features and Other Changes
Accessibility is a big deal for Apple and they have made it clear with AssistiveTouch for the Apple Watch on watchOS 8. Using this, people with upper-body limb differences will be able to operate the Apple Watch using gestures with just a single hand and one doesn’t have to interact with the display on the watch. The motion sensors on the Apple Watch will be used for functions like accepting incoming calls, access notifications, etc.
watchOS 8 also brings support for always-on display on a lot more apps including Maps, Mindfulness, Now Playing, Phone, Podcasts, Stopwatch, Voice Memos, etc. Even third-party apps can now take advantage of an always-on API. Multiple timers can now be set on the Apple Watch via Siri which can be helpful if you’re multitasking. There are two new apps – Find Items, and Find Devices that help locate lost devices. While the Find Items app tracks lost items that have an AirTag, the Find Devices app tracks other Apple Devices like your iPhone and Mac.
While watchOS 8 is not a major update in terms of features or changes by any means, it does bring some notable changes and improves the overall usability of the Apple Watch by introducing small, but useful features. Since this is just the initial build, a lot of features may not be present yet or Apple may add more features in the future before the final release of watchOS 8. As of now, it is an iterative update which isn’t necessarily a bad thing since the Apple Watch is quite a polished product, and Apple wants to keep making it more useful instead of being just another fitness tracker.