Apple used a portion of its WWDC 2021 keynote to reveal updates and new features coming in watchOS 8. Pre-event rumors didn't tell us much about what Apple might unveil aside from general software improvements, including those that focus on health tracking and making the Apple Watch a bit less iPhone-dependent. For now, the Apple Watch is still tethered to iPhones as most of what Apple announced falls into the first category: watchOS 8 will bring a number of new mindfulness features, including enhanced guided mediation, plus new data captured during sleep and additional workout modes.
WatchOS 8 enhances the existing features in the Breathe app with a new Mindfulness app that adds new animations and ways to reflect. The latter appears to be a new spin on guided meditation, asking you to do things like think about something you like to do that brings you joy. Accompanied by unique animations, these reflection moments are designed to help you pause and re-center yourself during busy times.
Last year, the company introduced sleep tracking to the Apple Watch and watchOS 8 expands on the initially limited offerings. Now, if you wear your Watch to bed, it'll track metrics like time to sleep, heart rate, blood oxygen levels and respiratory rate. This makes native sleep tracking much more useful than it was before, because it previously only tracked the amount of time you spent asleep each night. All of this new data lives in the Health app, so you can check it at any time.
The Workout app isn't getting a huge overhaul in watchOS 8, but Apple is adding new exercise types and more routines in Apple Fitness+ subscription service. All Apple Watch users will see new Tai Chi and Pilates workout types in the app this fall, and Fitness+ will gain a new workout series led by fitness instructor Jeanette Jenkins. Fitness+ subscribers will also have access to new "artist spotlight" workouts that follow playlists dedicated to Lady Gaga and other music icons.
Apple did announce a few updates in watchOs 8 that are not related to health and fitness. Key among them is the new Portraits watch face, which puts Portrait-mode photos front-and-center on your Watch and layers data like the data and time over them. You'll be able to customize these to a certain extent, choosing photos and the type of data you want displayed. The Photos app in watchOs 8 will also receive a redesign with a new layout that should be easier to navigate on the Watch's small screen, and the ability to share photos through the Messages and Mail apps.
Another useful update coming in watchOS 8 will be in the Messages app on Watch. You're already able to respond to messages in a few different ways, but Apple's making Scribble mode a bit more flexible. You'll be able to use the Digital Crown to move the cursor more easily in your response, which will make editing much easier. Also, the new App Shelf will let you do things like add a gif into your message, something not previously possible when responding directly from your Watch.
Also coming in watchOS 8 are updated Find My features, Ultra Wideband compatibility for digital car keys, support for multiple timers, AssistiveTouch for one-arm use of the Watch, redesigned Music and Weather apps and more. WatchOS 8's developer beta is available today, while the public beta will be available in July. The final software update comes out this fall and will be available on Apple Watch Series 3 or later devices.