Here's everything you need to know about watchOS 5, which you can install on your Apple Watch tonight. We cover its new features, compatible devices and more
watchOS is the operating system installed on all Apple Watches. It manages the apps on the device and has plenty of built-in features of its own, so we're keenly looking forward to 2018's watchOS update. What new features will watchOS 5 bring to our Apple Watches, and when will it be released?
Apple revealed the new features coming in watchOS 5 at WWDC 2018. Developers are able to get their hands on the beta version of the software now, but everyone else will have to wait until 17 Sept to install the final version on their watch – there is no Public Beta for the Apple Watch software.
In this article we round up all the new features of the new watchOS 5, and everything you need to know about when you'll be able to get the update on your Apple Watch. (If you'd like to know if updating is a good idea, read Should I update my Apple Watch to watchOS 5?)
When is the watchOS 5 release date?
watchOS 5 was announced and demonstrated at WWDC 2018 on 4 June, and rolls out as a free update to compatible watches tonight (17 Sept 2018). We expect it to appear at around 6pm UK time.
Here's how to update an Apple Watch with watchOS 5.
It was possible for developers to try a beta version ahead of release (here's some advice about how to remove the watchOS beta if you're not impressed). Unlike macOS, iOS and tvOS, Apple has never run a public beta for watchOS.
What new features are available in watchOS 5?
Apple describes watchOS 5 as an "even stronger companion for fitness, communication and quick access to information."
That's thanks to a set of new features including Activity Sharing competitions, auto-workout detection, advanced running features, Walkie-Talkie, Apple Podcasts and third-party apps on the Siri watchface. Find out more about each of the new features below.
watchOS 5 Activity Competitions
One of our favourite new watchOS 5 features is Competitions. It is a new way to compete with your friends based on points achieved by closing rings, building on the Activity Sharing features already available.
Users can invite another Apple Watch wearer to compete in a seven-day Activity Competition. You'll get coaching notifications to help you beat your opponents, and can send smack talk to them to get them riled up.
watchOS 5 Auto-Workout Detection
Automatic workout detection is also new to the Apple Watch with watchOS 5, even though it's commonplace on many rival activity trackers already.
It works for the most popular workouts on Apple Watch, providing an alert to start the correct workout. If you've already begun the workout before you click start, it'll give retroactive credit to make sure you don't miss out.
You'll also be given a reminder to end your workout sessions after a period of inactivity.
watchOS 5 new workouts
There are already 12 dedicated workouts on watchOS, but version 5 adds Yoga and Hiking, to track active calories burned and exercise minutes earned.
watchOS 5 new running features
Runners will get new features with watchOS 5, including the ability to track cadence (steps per minute), as well as a pace alarm for outdoor runs to help users keep up with their target pace.
Rolling mile pace helps runners see their pace for the immediately preceding mile, in addition to their average pace or current pace.
watchOS 5 Walkie-Talkie
A new Walkie-Talkie feature lets Apple Watch users talk with each other more simply. It's push to talk, so you'll just need to grant access to your friends and you'll be able to instantly connect and chat via WiFi or cellular.
Here's how to use Walkie-Talkie on Apple Watch.
watchOS 5 Podcasts
A big cheer came with the announcement that Podcasts are coming to the Apple Watch. You'll be able to listen to your favourites on the go, thanks to automatically synced eposodes that will refresh with the latest episode.
Other new features in watchOS 5
You're now going to be able to get third-party content on the Siri watch face, too, providing shortcuts to functions like directions from Citymapper. the Siri watch face is more predictive and proactive too, showing these directions at the appropriate times of the day.
Notifications are improved, with interactive controls available from within them for third-party apps. A Yelp reservation notification will have the ability to motify the time or change the number of guests from within the notification, for example.
Student ID cards will be available on the Apple Watch, and there's a new Pride band available, too.
Features that didn't get announced for watchOS 5
There are several features we had hoped to see in watchOS 5 that Apple didn't show off at WWDC. It is possible that some of these will come with the next Apple Watch, though. You can read all of the latest Apple Watch rumours here.
The way Apple rumours work, a lot of the time, is that a feature appears on one of the company's products and then everyone predicts that the same feature will then appear on all of the others – hence the rumours of iPhones getting Digital Crown dials and Apple Pencil compatibility, and now everything else getting Face ID.
Could Face ID work on the Apple Watch? Conceivably it could, but like on the iPhone X it would require specially update hardware. The Apple Watch doesn't have a camera at present; but if (as is consistently rumoured) the company add a FaceTime camera to the Apple Watch Series 4 this could be combined with the necessary array of sensors that Face ID requires.
But the other problem is that the Apple Watch has far less need of a biometric unlocking tech than the iPhone. Apple Watches don't have Touch ID; you just unlock them with a code when you put them on in the morning (or even bypass this by putting on the watch and then unlocking the paired iPhone, if you've got that feature activated). Face ID would be used for unlocking purposes once a day, and that hardly justifies the inclusion of a lot of expensive high-end tech.
There's always Animoji, of course, but it seems like a long shot.
Customisable Control Centre
These days you can customise the settings and toggles that appear in the iOS Control Centre, and change the order they appear in. watchOS's Control Centre is far simpler, but it would still be handy to have some scope for change.
Many people don't use the torch feature, for instance, while others can't see the point of Cinema Mode – yet both have a place in the top six 'above the fold', ie they are immediately visible when you swipe up. It would be useful to have the option of swapping one of these with Do Not Disturb, which is below the fold, or removing them entirely. And wouldn't it be nice to get a brightness control here, instead of having to control from the iPhone?
Randomised watch faces
We love the Toy Story animated watch faces in watchOS 4 (which are far more interesting than the near-static Mickey and Minnie faces), but what we particularly love is the Toy Box option. Instead of picking which character you want, this makes the watch display a randomly chosen character (and animated scene) each time you raise your wrist. It's also possible to have a different image appear each time if you go for the Photos face.
We'd like to see this concept extended into other areas. The time-lapse photos of city skylines are good faces too, but we get bored of always seeng the same one, so a randomised selection would be an improvement. Same for the kaleidoscope faces.
New watch faces
Speaking of faces, there are also calls for more choice beyond what Apple itself offers. There are faces from Hermes and Nike, but people would like to see more.
How about a watch face store for the Apple Watch?
To see what you can do at the moment, read How to change Apple Watch faces.
Many fitness trackers and smartwatches feature sleep tracking functions that'll monitor your movement while asleep and offer you some kind of stat reflecting your sleep when you wake up – a feature that up until now has been missing from the Apple Watch (other than in the form of third-party apps).
Not for much longer, though, if a report is to be believed. Bloomberg claims that Apple is working on a new app that tracks a user's sleep. Apparently this feature will be supported across all existing models of Apple Watch.
The problem here has always been that sleep tracking required the watch to have enough charge to be used overnight. The Series 2 has two-day battery life, but other models offer less, and most watch users plug in their watch overnight, every night.
One saving grace is that it doesn't take long for the Apple Watch to charge, so owners keen to track their sleep could charge the watch during the evening before bed, for example.
In the meantime, get a good night's sleep with our guide to the best iPhone sleep apps.
This is one of the most requested features of the Apple Watch. It seems preposterous that a watch wouldn't be able to show the time all the time.
Apple's decision not to have a watch face always on is seemingly to preserve battery life, but there are plenty of smartwatches on the market that do permanently tell the time so Apple looks remiss by not offering it.
You can now automatically unlock your Mac with your Apple Watch, how about your iPhone and iPad?
It would also be useful if you could sync your Apple Watch with more than one device – your iPhone and your iPad, for example.
New Apple Watch apps
We'd like to see the Notes app arrive on the Apple Watch. While it's unlikely you'll be writing (or even dictating) long notes on the Apple Watch, it would be useful to be able to access your existing Notes on that device.
If you're like us, Notes tends to be a go-to for any piece of information you want to have at your fingertips, so having access to this on your watch could be useful.
Another app people want to see make its way to the Apple Watch is Podcasts, while being able to listen to audiobooks in iBooks would also be welcome. Finally, how about the calculator app on the watch?
Read about the Best Apple Watch games and Best Apple Watch apps for more information about what's currently available.
Which Apple Watches will be able to run watchOS 5?
The first-gen Apple Watch is going to miss out on watchOS 5, but it will be available as a free update for all other Apple Watch models.
Walkie-Talkie won't be available in China, UAE or Pakistan.