Each summer Apple unveils its next major update to the watchOS software for Apple Watch, and each autumn that update is released to the general public. In the summer of 2021 we will hear for the first time about watchOS 8.

In this article we look ahead to watchOS 8 and explain what you can expect from the update. We explain when it will be announced and demonstrated, when it will become available for beta testing and when it will be released to the public; we also outline some of the interface changes and new features that are likely 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?

Apple's hero OS updates - with the possible exception of macOS, which sometimes drags its feet - are as regular as clockwork.

They are announced at WWDC, which is held in June, and released to developer betas almost immediately. A succession of steadily evolving beta versions will then roll out over the next few months, initially to developers only and later to members of the public beta programme, before the final version rolls out to the general public in the autumn.

Here's the schedule to expect:

  • June 2021: watchOS 8 officially announced and demonstrated at WWDC
  • June 2021: First developer beta of watchOS 8 released
  • July 2021: First public beta of watchOS 8 released
  • September 2021: Final version of watchOS 8.0 released to the public. Further point updates will follow over the coming year

Which Apple Watch models will get watchOS 8?

Here are the Apple Watch models we expect to 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 we expect Apple to be more gentle in 2021. The Series 3 should survive for at least one more year of watchOS support; after all, Apple still sells that model from its store.

Design: How will the Apple Watch interface change?

Apple's culture of secrecy has weakened over the past few years, a process begun by a leaky supply chain in Asia and accelerated by the necessity to send engineers home with prototypes during the pandemic. But this mainly applies to hardware, and software remains cloaked in mystery; this far ahead of launch it's difficult to accurate predict what watchOS 8 will look like.

We're currently in the realm of speculative fiction or, as we call it in the tech press, 'concept illustrations'. That means a designer and a pundit have put their heads together and come up with what they think the software might look like - or what they are hoping for.

An illuminating example of this comes from 9to5Mac, which has posted a raft of illustrations to match its predictions for the next update of watchOS. The site envisions the addition of widgets to the Apple Watch screen, and a range of new watch faces.

watchOS 8 release date & new features: 9to5Mac concept illustration

Widgets is a particularly intriguing idea. Full home-screen widgets (as opposed to the widgets that have lived in the Today View for several years) were finally added to the iPhone in iOS 14 after endless demand, and allowed greater interface customisation than ever before. We love the idea of being able to add mini widgets to the Apple Watch's Control Centre, which 9to5Mac suggests could become horizontally scrollable.

9to5Mac also feels that the current range of Disney/Pixar faces is too limited (you can currently choose from Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, and the cast of Toy Story), and proposes to add characters from various TV+ series to the roster: Emily Dickinson, Snoopy, Ted Lasso and Bitsy Brandenham from Central Park.

watchOS 8 release date & new features: Watch faces by 9to5Mac

New features

As we discuss in Apple Watch trends in 2021, watchOS 8 is likely to expand on the fitness routines. Apple will almost certainly add new sports to the list of training types, and other existing training sessions will get their own algorithms rather than being treated for reporting purposes as 'Other'.

Based on patent activity, we think Apple is looking at making Siri work offline. This would be a huge improvement, given how frustrating it is to have simple commands thwarted by a weak connection.

We also tend to expect at least one new pre-installed app in a watchOS update; and aside from the interface changes, 9to5Mac envisions the release of several as part of watchOS 8.

The most obvious inclusion is Health, something that already exists in iOS (although not iPadOS) and would make a lot of sense on the heavily health- and fitness-focused watch. This would draw in health data from various apps and allow you to monitor overall health in a single app.

Solar and Astronomy would be two separate apps that replicate and expand on the features of the popular and attractive Solar Graph and Astronomy watch faces, which depict the positions of the sun and the planets in our solar system.

9to5Mac also proposes a Batteries app - much like the excellent Batteries widget for iPhone - and a dedicated Hiking app for outdoorsy users.

Apple is also said to be planning to add blood sugar monitoring to the Apple Watch 7.

Further reading

That's all for now, but remember to check back regularly; as we approach the launch of watchOS 8 you can expect lots more info to leak about the design and new features of the updated software.

For more clues about what you can expect from Apple's announcements at WWDC in the summer, take a look at our iOS 15 and macOS 12 news hubs.

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.