watchOS 8: new features galore, but Portrait watch face will catch your eye most

Nothing mind-blowing, but incremental improvements in accessibility, connectivity and health features are most welcome.

by Justin Choo

The new watchOS brings yet more features to Apple Watch, with more capabilities for Wallet and Home apps. Breathe gets a revamp, while two more workout types have been added.


Ultra Wide Band support for digital car keys and later this year, Apple Watch users with cars (that support the feature) can now securely unlock their car from a distance and start it from the driver’s seat. Also coming later this year: users can also add keys for their home, office, and even hotel (participating ones, of course) to Wallet, and tap their Apple Watch to unlock.


Home app has been redesigned for more convenient access to accessories and scenes, coupled with the means to control accessories sorted by room. If you have a HomeKit-compatible camera at the door, you can use it to see your visitors via Apple Watch. You can also tap Intercom on your watch to broadcast messages throughout the home or to individual rooms via HomePod, HomePod mini, or other personal devices.

Breathe is now Mindfulness

An enhanced Breathe experience with new animations, Mindfulness includes a new session type called Reflect. It gives you thoughtful notions to focus on (like something you are grateful for) for a minimum of one minute, which supposedly helps to create a positive frame of mind.


Tai Chi and Pilates are now available as workout types, which means that the algorithms for heart rate and motion have now been optimised to give you meaningful metrics.


Apple Watch is now equipped to offer a pre-bedtime routine and tracks metrics like time asleep, heart rate, blood oxygen and sleeping respiratory rate. The latter is a new feature is available for developers to use with permission through HealthKit.

Portraits watch face

This new watch face feature recognises faces in photos, crops to highlight the subject and adds an immersive, multilayered effect.


The redesigned app offers new ways to view and navigate collections. Memories and Featured Photos now sync to your watch and you can share photos through Messages and Mail with the new Share Sheet.


You can now combine the use of Scribble, dictation, and emoji all within the same message. You can also edit the text transcribed by dictated messages.


The Contacts app is now on Apple Watch, making it easier to browse, add, and edit contacts, and share contacts directly from the app.


Apple Watch will automatically align with any Focus set on iOS, so you will only receive notifications that are relevant to what you are doing. It does this through on-device intelligence based on usage patterns — for example, when starting a workout on Apple Watch, the Focus for fitness is suggested.

Other Updates

  • Multiple timers and can be labelled using Siri
  • More native apps support Always-On display, including Maps, Mindfulness, Now Playing, Phone, Podcasts, Stopwatch, Timers, Voice Memos, and others.
  • AssistiveTouch uses built-in motion sensors to sense simple hand gestures, which lets you interact with your watch without touching the display. You can answer incoming calls, control an onscreen motion pointer, and surface an action menu that can access Notification Center, Control Center, and more.
  • Find items through Find Items. Use a new Find Devices app to locate lost Apple devices signed in with the same Apple ID.
  • Music app lets you share songs, albums, and playlists through Messages and Mail.
  • Weather app displays Severe Weather notifications, including government alerts about severe weather events, Next Hour precipitation alerts, and offers updated complications.
  • Family Setup lets you add transit cards from Hong Kong, Japan, and select China mainland and US cities, and Calendar and Mail now include the option to add a Google account.

Available as developer beta now at . Public beta will be available next month at . watchOS 8 is due in the second half the year for free to Apple Watch Series 3 users and up.