Once a year Apple releases a major new version of watchOS, the operating system software that runs on all Apple Watch models; there are also smaller point upgrades from time to time in between. These updates are free, and can add new features to your watch, improve its speed and fix bugs and glitches.

The latest version is watchOS 8, which will be available to download from 20 September 2021 and includes a new dynamic Portrait mode for watch faces, the Mindfulness app, an update to the Sleep app, and new workout modes.

If you'd like to install the latest version of watchOS on your Apple Watch, you've come to the right place. In this article we show how to update an Apple Watch so it's running watchOS 8.

Want to get a version of watchOS that hasn't yet become available to the general public so you can try out upcoming watch updates ahead of everyone else? Find out more in our article demonstrating how to install a watchOS beta.

Which Apple Watches can run watchOS 8?

As was the case with watchOS 7, the Apple Watch Series 3 and later can install watchOS 8; the original, Series 1 and Series 2 all miss out. You'll also need an iPhone running iOS 15.

When it launches the Apple Watch Series 7 will come with watchOS 8 preinstalled, but you will want to follow the procedure below to get later updates such as watchOS 8.1.

Some Watch 3 owners encountered problems updating their Apple Watch to watchOS 7 in 2020, we address this below on the assumption that similar problems may be encountered with watchOS 8.

How to update your Apple Watch

Before the launch of watchOS 6, Apple Watch updates had to happen on the watch's associated iPhone rather than on the watch itself, that has now changed, but it is still possible to update your Watch this way, and we still think this is the easiest method.

Grab your iPhone and open the Apple Watch app. Make sure you're in the My Watch tab along the bottom menu and then tap General.

How to update watchOS on Apple Watch: Watch app

There may well be a little orange '1' next to the Software Update option, indicating that an update is ready (there'll be a red '1' next to the My Watch tab too); however, you may have to get the app to check for updates before you see this. Either way, tap Software Update and the app will run a check, then show you the details of the new version of watchOS that's available to install.

Tap install and accept the terms & conditions.

In order to install this new version your iPhone and Apple Watch will need to be in Bluetooth range, the watch must be connected to its charger and on at least 50% power and, as with all OS updates, you need to be on Wi-Fi.

The update can take a while but do not be tempted to take the watch off its charger before it's finished. We have done this in the past and it has disrupted the update process so badly that we have had to throw ourselves on Apple's mercy and get the watch replaced.

Update on the Apple Watch itself

If you've got watchOS 6 or later, you can install further updates without requiring an iPhone. The update can now happen entirely on the Apple Watch itself.

Open the Settings app on your watch and tap General > Software Update. watchOS will check for available updates.

How to update watchOS on the Apple Watch itself

If an update is available, tap Install and follow further instructions. As with the iPhone update, the Watch will need to sit on its charger for the installation stage and be connected to Wi-Fi. It should also have more than 50% battery power.

Troubleshooting Watch update problems

If you are facing difficulties updating your Apple Watch we offer the best solutions below.

Can't update Apple Watch Series 3

Many Apple Watch Series 3 users had difficulty installing updates to the watchOS 7 operating system and it's quite possible that the same issues may happen with watchOS 8.

The problem in 2020 seemed to be the small amount of storage space for the Apple Watch Series 3 (the GPS version of the Apple Watch Series 3 only has 8GB storage). This means that there is not enough space for the temporary installation files.

Apple suggested that users temporarily delete apps and music before updating, if this doesn't work, Apple recommends that users should restore the system completely before updating.