Every summer Apple unveils its next major update to the watchOS software for Apple Watch, and every autumn that update is released to the general public. At the opening keynote of WWDC we heard for the first time confirmed details about watchOS 8 - and with the developer beta available from 7 June, we can get our first look too.
In this article we look ahead to watchOS 8 and explain what you can expect from the update. We reveal when it's likely to be released to the public; we also outline the new features to hit the Apple Watch this year.
For an outline of the new features added last year, read our guide to watchOS 7.
Release date: When will watchOS 8 come out?
watchOS 8 was unveiled at WWDC on 7 June 2021. The developer beta will be available the same day, with a public beta coming in July. A general release can be expected in the fall - probably in September.
Apple's hero OS updates (with the possible exception of macOS, which sometimes experiences delays) are as regular as clockwork.
Here's the schedule to expect:
- 7 June 2021: watchOS 8 officially announced and demonstrated at WWDC.
- 7 June 2021: First developer beta of watchOS 8 released.
- July 2021: First public beta of watchOS 8 released.
- September 2021: Final version of watchOS 8 released to the public. Further point updates will follow over the coming year.
Which Apple Watch models will get watchOS 8?
watchOS 8 will require an iPhone 6s or later running iOS 14 or later. Here are the Apple Watch models that will be able to install watchOS 8:
- Apple Watch Series 3
- Apple Watch Series 4
- Apple Watch Series 5
- Apple Watch SE
- Apple Watch Series 6
- Apple Watch Series 7 (TBC)
Apple took a drastic leap forward last year, cutting two models from the list of supported Apple Watches in a single update: whereas the Series 1 and later were allowed to install watchOS 6, you required a Series 3 or later to get watchOS 7.
After such a ruthless move Apple is being more gentle in 2021. The Series 3 will survive for at least one more year of watchOS support; after all, Apple still sells that model from its store.
What's new in watchOS 8?
The latest software update for Apple Watch will bring new features to help you stay healthy, active and connected.
Photos and messaging
The Photos app is used for one of the most popular watch faces, so a big update here will for many people change the overall look and feel of the device: yep, the Apple Watch is getting the iPhone's Portrait mode.
These dynamic, multilayered photos breathe new life into portrait shots of your friends and family, and in watchOS 8 you'll also be able to play around with the positioning of the time and other information on the display to better fit the picture.
Also new in the Photos app are daily memories and featured photos, plus a grid view of your photo library, and you'll be able to share photos via Messages and Mail, right on the Watch itself.
When you're sending messages in WatchOS 8 there is greater control and ease of use when editing. You can easily add multiple emoji and GIFs, enter notes using dictation or scribble and, using the Digital Crown, you can also more easily target typos. You can share music via Messages and Mail, too.
Apple places a real focus on the importance of mindfulness in Apple Watch, so it's no surprise to find the new Focus features coming to iOS 15 also sync to Apple Watch. Rather than letting it decide for you which notifications should take priority, you choose based on what you're doing at the time - whether you're working, socialising or sleeping.
watchOS 8 rebrands the Breathe app as 'Mindfulness', bringing enhanced features and a new Pause to Reflect mode. Both Breathe and Reflect modes feature new animations to help calm you, and now end with a summary of how many 'Mindful Minutes' you've achieved, along with your heart rate.
There's an update to the Sleep app, too, which now takes into account your respiratory rate (this should stay relatively constant). You'll get a notification if there are any significant changes, which could signify a change in your overall health. Sleep metrics can be tracked in the Health app over time.
For keeping fit there are a couple of new workout modes - Pilates and Tai Chi - plus guest trainers and Artist Spotlight. Strength and HIIT workouts from Jeanette Jenkins will feature, and you'll also be able to enjoy workout playlists from the likes of Lady Gaga, Keith Urban, Alicia Keys and Jennifer Lopez.
An interesting rumour ahead of the watchOS 8 announcement was that Siri would get a new offline mode, which might appease those concerned with privacy issues related to where voice recordings are stored. This is sort of the case, as Apple moves toward on-device voice recognition for some tasks, such as setting timers and opening apps.
With greater support for smart devices, Apple Watches running watchOS 8 will be able to communicate with smart home devices much, er, smarter.
When you're in close range of a smart device, you might see related options pop up onscreen, such as to answer the door or turn on the lights. If you're using security cameras you'll be able to access them all in the new Camera Room app, which supports two-way audio and a variety of aspect ratios. You'll even be able to see the status of all your smart devices from the Home screen, and access Scenes more easily.
During WWDC Apple announced various enhancements coming to Apple Wallet, and of course many of these are also supported on Apple Watch through watchOS 8. You'll be able to store a digital key for your home right on your wrist through Home Key, a car key with, er, Car Key, and you can even share these with family members through, you guessed it, Family Sharing. In some US states, Wallet is also going to be able to store ID cards.
Various smaller updates will also feature in watchOS 8, from greater app support for the always-on display to the addition of headphone audio levels in Control Center. You'll get severe weather warnings in the Weather app, an updated Contacts app, and the ability to set multiple timers.
Assistive Touch for Apple Watch means you can operate an Apple Watch with hand gestures - clench your hand to answer a call or move your wrist to scroll.
That's all for now, but remember to check back regularly; as we approach the release of watchOS 8 you can expect lots more info to be shared about the design and new features of the updated software.
And fans of Apple's wearables would be well advised to check our roundup of the best Apple Watch deals to avoid missing the latest bargains.