This year at WWDC 2018, Apple unveiled its latest smartwatch operating system. Dubbed as the watchOS 5, the new operating system brings a number of improvements and new features. The major enhancements coming with watchOS 5 include improvements to Apple Watch fitness features, new activity challenge mode, Siri enhancements, Notification enhancements, and more. While our final assessment on this new update has to wait till the final stable version is released to the public this fall, in this article, we are going to take a close look at watchOS 5 beta and give you a complete overview of everything that is coming with the new watchOS 5:
watchOS 5 Features List
1. Activity Competitions
Apple Watch is one of the best selling fitness accessories of all time. It’s not just because of the tech it packs which can monitor and log each and every activity and body stats, but also because it gamifies the whole fitness experience and makes it more rewarding. I mean how many times we have walked an extra mile just to close that activity ring. With watchOS 5, Apple is doubling down on this aspect of Apple Watch and now also allowing you to challenge your friends and family.
The new Activity Competition mode allows users to invite their friends and family to a week-long challenge in which both users earn point depending on the percentage of the Activity rings that they close. Through the whole week, a new “personalized coaching” feature will send you your own and your opponent's stats, so you know exactly where you stand. After the seven-day challenge ends, the user with most points wins. Apple has even released an Award which is a special Activity Badge you can only unlock by winning a challenge. This is a very healthy way to compete with your friends while becoming healthier yourself in the process.
2. Workout Improvements
As it is customary with every new watchOS release, the watchOS 5 is enhancing the Apple Watch’s capabilities to monitor workouts. With watchOS 5, your Apple Watch will be able to monitor Yoga and Hiking which was not possible before. Once this update hits your Apple Watch, it will be able to give you accurate metrics like calories burnt during Yoga sessions and track elevation in real time while Hiking. In Hiking mode, you will be able to see calories burnt during the hike along with the data on how high you have climbed.
watchOS 5 is also enhancing its running workout monitoring. Now, users will be able to set “Pace alerts” and their Apple Watch will tap on their wrist whenever they lag behind or pass their set speed.
There’s also a new “Rolling Miles” feature which will allow runners to see how much time they took running the last mile. Lastly, watchOS 5 now supports “Cadence” tracking which means it will show you how many steps you run per minute.
Apart from bringing workout monitoring enhancements, watchOS 5 will make it is easier for users to start and stop recording the exercise. There is a new workout detection mode which will automatically detect if you have started a workout and tell you to start the session if you have forgotten to do so. It will do the same when a workout session ends. This is one of the handiest feature coming with watchOS 5. With automatic workout detection in place, no user will miss out on their workout credits if they forgot to start their workout session on their Apple Watch.
3. Siri Improvements
Last year at WWDC 2017, Apple introduced a new Siri watch face which became the default watch face on my Apple Watch since the day I upgraded to watchOS 4. I really love the way how Siri watch face can proactively provide me with contextual information. That said, the Siri watch face was far from perfect as it’s suggestions were not on point all the time and also there was no third-party app integration which was a bummer.
Well, with watchOS 5, Apple is trying to solve all these problems and making the Siri watch face more powerful and useful. Firstly, the Siri watch face is becoming even smarter as it uses machine learning to know you, and hence, theoretically it will get better and better at proactively suggesting relevant content and shortcuts at the right time and place throughout the day. But whether this feature works as advertised or not can only be tested with the passage of time. What will definitely change is the fact that you will be able to see relevant information from your favorite apps on the Siri watch face, as with watchOS 5, Siri will start supporting third-party apps.
You will also be able to execute Siri Shortcuts on your Apple Watch with watchOS 5. If you don’t know what shortcuts are, they are basically customizable actions which can contain a command or a chain of commands and can be executed with a custom phrase. Lastly, talking to Siri is a lot more easier now as you won’t have to say, “Hey Siri” every time you want to talk to your voice assistant. Now, you can just raise your hand directly speak to Siri. That said, I am a little on the fence for this new feature as it will result in many unwanted Siri activations. I guess we will just have to wait and see how it turns out.
4. Improved Notifications
If I had one major gripe with my Apple Watch, it was the way it handled notifications. But that might no longer be a gripe of mine as Apple has introduced a new and improved notification management system with the watchOS 5. Just like on iOS 12, the notifications on watchOS 5 will now be grouped by apps. This will certainly make it easier to interact with them as you can easily swipe away a bunch of them just by swiping a group. You can also silence notifications or have them deliver quietly right from the notification panel.
Notifications are now more interactive thane ever before. As per demos shown on the stage, now you can do things like check in for your flight and add your boarding pass to Wallet with Qantas, manage your Yelp reservations, extend your parking meter time with PayByPhone, and more, directly from the app notifications themselves. If implemented properly, I think that the interactive notifications will be a game changer for Apple Watch.
Another new feature coming with the watchOS 5 is a new communication method which is exclusive to Apple Watch. The app is called Walkie-Talkie and as its name suggests it allows users to talk to each other in a traditional walkie-talkie mode. When you open the app you will see a list of your most frequent contacts. Here, you can tap on a contact and invite them to join you. Of course, for this to work, your contact should also have an Apple Watch.
Once your invite is accepted or you accept someone else’s invite, you both can talk to each other. Just press and hold on the big yellow button and speak what you want to say. The person on the other side will be able to hear your voice live as long as you are pressing the button. Once you are done then release the button and the other person can speak and you can listen.
To avoid unannounced audio mishaps, both users have to have their walkie-talkie interface open for the audio to go through. I can’t see myself using this feature much, however, it will be fun to play with for a few days.
6. Podcast App Coming to watchOS 5
WWDC 2018 has made many apps available across platforms. For example, Voice Memo, News, Home, and Stocks app which were previously exclusive to iOS are now also present on macOS. Similarly, an iOS exclusive app is making an appearance to Apple Watch with watchOS 5 and that app is Podcast. The Podcast app will support both streaming and downloading of podcast episodes so that you can listen to them even without a cellular connection.
You will be able to search for podcasts and use play and pause functions using Siri which will make it easier to find and listen to podcasts. The best part is that your podcast progress will be synced across devices. For people who listen to podcasts using Apple Podcast app, this is a very handy feature.
7. Web Content
watchOS 5 is also bringing support for WebKit which means that your Apple Watch will now be able to display web pages. Apple has said that it will format the web content for the smaller screen and Apple Watch will also automatically use the Reader mode for supported websites. That said, I am still not sure how useful this feature can be considering the size of the Apple Watch screen.
8. Student ID Cards
This feature is specifically targeted at students as Apple has partnered with a bunch of universities in the United States to allow students to keep their ID card stored in their Apple Watch. With this feature, students will be able to just raise their hand and wave it at a reader to gain access to places like dorm, gym, library, campus events and more. Currently, the supported universities include Duke, the University of Alabama, John Hopkins University, the University of Oklahoma, Santa Clara University, and Temple University. Apple has said that it will expand to include more universities in the future.
watchOS 5: Other Tidbits
- Enhanced Do Not Disturb controls.
- Greyscale color for Siri watch face.
- Volume control support for third-party apps using Digital Crown.
- New complications for various watch faces.
- Photos watch face now supports Memories.
- New Podcast complication.
- You can now tap on weather to alternate between different metrics that you are looking at.
- Now you can add and delete cities in places like weather and world clock using force touch.
- Delete and add new stocks directly from Apple Watch.
- Control Center is customizable and now allows rearranging of toggles.
- You can access Control Center and Notification Center from anywhere and not just from the lock screen.
- Connect to available WiFi networks right from your Apple watch.
- Several new watch face colors.
watchOS 5 Features: Final Thoughts
Although there are things that I wish Apple released for watchOS which they didn’t, overall I am happy with the update. The activity challenge and improvements in monitoring exercises are good features. I am most excited for the automatic exercise monitoring and I am sure that this will be the feature which will make users fall in love with their Apple Watch all over again. That said, watchOS 5 is still in beta and things might change before the final release. Do let us know how you feel about the watchOS 5 update. The comment section is all yours.