watchOS 9 — what it tells us about Apple Watch 8

Apple Watch app view
(Image credit: Future)

Thanks to a preview of watchOS 9 for Apple Watch, we’re starting to imagine what the latest software update will look like on Apple’s next smartwatch. We also believe watchOS 9 may reveal some clues about what the Apple Watch Series 8 could offer.

We’ve seen a few Apple Watch 8 rumors, but there’s been little indication of what will be different compared to the Apple Watch 7. It could have a new design, added health sensors and even debut alongside multiple models, but we won’t know for sure until its expected launch this fall.

Until then, watchOS 9 gives us an idea about Apple’s priorities for wearable computing, and how it plans to make the best smartwatch even better. So, looking at the biggest watchOS 9 features, and considering what we know about watchOS 9 supported devices, we made some educated guesses about what we'll get with the Apple Watch 8. 

1. New health and fitness-tracking sensors

A runner seen alongside an image of watchOS 9 showing they're below zone 4

(Image credit: Apple via YouTube)

Several watchOS 9 features look to improve the Apple Watch’s fitness and health tracking abilities. Though the Apple Watch was already one of the best running watches, it looks better positioned to rival Garmin fitness trackers that have new metrics for runners. There’s an added Multisport workout type for triathlon training, plus improved swimming data.

To build on these fitness-tracking efforts and encourage closing Apple Watch rings daily, the Apple Watch 8 could offer an updated heart rate sensor to leverage the addition of heart rate zones to workouts. Alternatively, a new Apple Watch 8 body temperature sensor could benefit general health-tracking. watchOS 9 also welcomes sleep stages, which could be informed by trends in overnight skin temperature readings.

2. More senior-friendly features and accessibility tools

The Medications view on watchOS 9 and iOS 16

(Image credit: Apple)

More and more it seems the Apple Watch is a useful medical device for seniors, people with chronic medical conditions and users with disabilities. There are even ways to get an Apple Watch for free through your health insurance. Whether it's for getting active, alerting emergency services in case of a fall, spotting trends in your movement or addressing accessibility needs, there’s plenty of positive uses for the Apple Watch.

The watchOS 9 (and iOS 16) Medications app now makes it possible to keep track of prescriptions and other medications. This information can also be monitored by a trusted family member or friend with Health Sharing. Not only that, watchOS 9 has new ways to control your Apple Watch with hand gestures and the option to navigate Apple Watch via the iPhone’s assistive features like Voice Control and Switch Control.

Recognizing age and accessibility inclusivity as a major Apple Watch asset, we wouldn’t be surprised if Apple Watch 8 offered more senior-friendly features and accessibility tools.

3. Multiple models — Apple Watch SE 2, Rugged Apple Watch

Many watches running watchOS 9

(Image credit: Apple via YouTube)

Specific characteristics of watchOS 9 lead us to believe the rumors about multiple Apple Watch models coming this year could prove true. In other words, the Apple Watch 8 might not be the only new Apple smartwatch arriving soon.

Advanced running and swimming metrics might be best suited for a rugged version of the Apple Watch 8 that caters to outdoor sport enthusiasts. Whether it would become one of the best sport watches depends heavily on battery life and GPS features. Rugged Apple Watch rumors started in spring 2021.

We could also see the Apple Watch SE 2, a follow-up to the Apple Watch SE, now that we know the list of watchOS 9 supported devices doesn't include the Apple Watch Series 3. A budget-friendly alternative to the Apple Watch 8 seems like a smart move for this year.

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Next: This is the new Apple watch feature I am most excited for in WatchOS 9.

Kate Kozuch is an editor at Tom’s Guide covering smartwatches, TVs and everything smart-home related. Kate also appears on Fox News to talk tech trends and runs the Tom's Guide TikTok account (opens in new tab), which you should be following. When she’s not filming tech videos, you can find her on an exercise bike, mastering the NYT Crossword or channeling her inner celebrity chef.