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watchOS 8: The 5 underrated features coming to your Apple Watch

watchOS 8 features
(Image credit: Apple)

When it goes live later this year, watchOS 8 will grace your Apple Watch with major health and communication upgrades. You might've heard about the new Mindfulness app, redesigned Photos experience or editable dictation for Messages, but there are a number of forthcoming features that didn't see the WWDC 2021 stage.

In fact, it could be the minor watchOS 8 improvements that help the Apple Watch maintain its reputation as the best smartwatch overall. While the Apple Watch 7 should introduce select hardware upgrades, sophisticated software is what gives this smartwatch its edge every year.

Several watchOS 8 features also coincide with iOS 15 features, like a digital ID for the Wallet app and new HomeKit controls. You can expect to see even more tools on Apple Watch borrowed from the iPhone, too, like a Tips app and the ability to send GIFS with #images in the Messages app.

MORE: How to download the watchOS 8 public beta

And that's still not all. There are several underrated watchOS 8 upgrades we believe are just as promising for the Apple Watch user experience. Here are the top 5 watchOS 8 features coming later this year you might not already know about. 

1. Multiple timers

While setting a timer on your Apple Watch is convenient — especially if you have the Timer app complication on your watch face or ask Siri set it for you — you can only have one timer running at once. If you want to start a new timer, you have to stop the one currently counting down.

Whether they're for doing laundry, cooking dinner or keeping my productivity on track, I need multiple timers often enough to rely on Alexa instead of the Apple Watch for setting them at home. But that could change with watchOS 8, which will bring multiple timers to my (and your) wrist.

2. Always‑On display for more apps

After multiple timers, the watchOS 8 feature that should greatly improve programs you use every day is expanded Always-On display support. Since the Apple Watch 5 introduced the Always-On display and the Apple Watch 6 made it brighter, it's a tool that upgraded the Apple Watch experience. 

But the Always-On effect only works for your home watch face. If you have another app open long enough to trigger Always-On, your display defaults to showing you the time. In watchOS 8, this won't happen anymore, depending on the app. Alarms, Maps, Stopwatch, Timers and more will stay open. The new Always-On API allows developers to create Always-On experiences for third-party apps, too.

3. Precipitation alerts

Don't get caught in the rain without an umbrella again. With new severe weather notifications for Apple's native Weather app, your Apple Watch will be able to tell you if rain is on the way in watchOS 8. Your Apple Watch will alert you to next-hour precipitation, including rain intensity if applicable. 

Previously, if you wanted alerts for impending rain, you needed a third-party app like Dark Sky to push notifications to your wrist. I still might use Dark Sky since its to-the-minute weather updates are usually accurate, but I'm looking forward to seeing how predictive the Apple Watch's built-in Weather app is when watchOS 8 goes live.

4. Lost and found

While there's a Find My app currently available for Apple Watch that lets you see the location of people, you can't use it to see the location of the Apple devices actively tied to your iCloud account. That's changing in watchOS 8 with two new apps.

First, the Find Items app can help you locate anything you've outfitted with an Apple AirTag through the Find My network. Second, the Find Devices app will track down your lost MacBook, iPad or other Apple device, as long as that device is signed in with the same Apple ID.

5. Headphone audio level controls

The Apple Watch can already tell you whether the sound levels of your environment can affect your hearing. But it can't translate the audio levels of your headphones to a real-time analysis of how the sound is impacting your ears.

In watchOS 8, the Apple Watch's control center will be able to show you your headphone levels like the iPhone and iPad can. On the same interface, you can change your headphone volume, which I imagine will come in handy if the levels read as too loud for safe listening.

Will all these underrated watchOS 8 features meet expectations? Stay tuned for hands-on coverage of the new software ahead of its full release with Apple Watch 7 this fall.

Kate Kozuch

Kate Kozuch is a senior writer at Tom’s Guide covering wearables, TVs and everything smart-home related. When she’s not in cyborg mode, you can find her on an exercise bike or channeling her inner celebrity chef. She and her robot army will rule the world one day, but until then, reach her at kate.kozuch@futurenet.com.