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watchOS 8 release date, compatibility, beta and top new features for Apple Watch

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(Image credit: Apple | YouTube)

Apple just revealed watchOS 8, the Apple Watch's next big software overhaul. The annual refresh includes a slew of new features, upgrading the experience of owning one of the best smartwatches around with a Mindfulness app and more workout types. And watchOS 8 finally lets you set multiple timers from your wrist.

Even though a final watchOS 8 release won't arrive until later this year, Apple showed off its latest watchOS update at its Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC). It was revealed alongside iOS 15 and iPadOS 15. Several of the upgrades integrate with Apple's other softwares, plus programs like Apple Fitness Plus.

Of course, watchOS 8 will be compatible with the Apple Watch 6, Apple Watch SE and select previous-generation models —even the older Apple Watch 3. But presuming the software is shipping on the upcoming Apple Watch 7, the watchOS 8 unveil is a major teaser for what the next year of wearable computing will look like.

Here's everything we know about watchOS 8, including the release date, compatibility and the top new features coming to your Apple Watch.

watchOS 8: Top new features for Apple Watch

  • Mindfulness app: The new Mindfulness app not only redesigns the existing Breathe feature, but it adds a tool called Reflect. Reflect prompts you to focus on certain moments and think about things that might bring you a sense of calmness.
  • Respiratory rate: Now, when you enable sleep tracking on your Apple Watch, it will track your respiratory rate overnight. Since this metric is consistent, change may indicate shift in your overall wellness. 
  • More workout types: This year, Apple is adding workout tracking for Tai Chi and new kind of pilates.
  • Portrait watch face: There's only one new watch face this year. It's called Portrait and uses portrait photos to create depth, overlaying photo subjects over your time and date information.
  • New Photos app: Apple is giving the Photos app a major facelift. Now, you can see collages and moments like you can on your phone. You can easily share photos from your Apple Watch with contacts via Messages and Mail, too.
  • Editable Messages: In watchOS 8, you can correct errors in dictation using the Digital Crown to scroll precisely to the spot in a message you want to fix. You can also use multiple composition types (ie. Scribble, emojis) in the same message.
  • HomeKit upgrades: watchOS 8 will make your Apple Watch a better tool for navigating your smart home devices with HomeKit. You can access your security cameras, see the status of all your connected gadgets and more.
  • Multiple timers: You can set multiple timers at once from your Apple Watch. It's about dang time. 

You'll find more in-depth summaries of all the top watchOS 8 features below.

watchOS 8: Release date and compatibility

The official watchOS 8 release date — that is, when the software will be available for download — isn't specified, but Apple said it's coming in the fall. In the past, Apple announced the exact availability of its new smartwatch software at the same time it announced its new smartwatch.

As for watchOS 8 compatibility, Apple will extend support for the Apple Watch 3 and later. That means if you have the Apple Watch 4, Apple Watch 5 or one of the two new Apple Watch models released in 2020, you'll be able to download watchOS 8 for free.

watchOS 8: beta availability

Before the final version of watchOS 8 rolls out, beta versions will be available for both developers and public testers. The first developer beta version is available as of June 7, while the first public beta version will launch sometime in July.

It's not recommended for non-developers to download the developer beta version of watchOS software. watchOS 8 won't be a final product until later this year, so users could experience performance issues if they opt to install beta software.

watchOS 8: Reflect with the new Mindfulness app 

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(Image credit: Apple | YouTube)

The Apple Watch is getting an all-new app this year. It's called Mindfulness, taking cues from recent efforts that companies like Fitbit have made toward improving mental wellness — not just physical.

The existing Breathe app will be folded into Mindfulness while receiving a much-needed refresh. Though Apple says Breathe is being used now more than ever, the program hasn't been updated in several years. In watchOS 8, it'll feature fresh animations.

In addition to Breathe, Mindfulness will offer a new tool called Reflect. Reflect encourages you to set aside time to be more mindful with prompts that make you think. These mindful moments are a form of meditation you launch from your wrist, wherever you might be.

So you won't get Breathe notifications like you have in the past, but you will receive Mindfulness notifications in the morning and at night encouraging both Breathe and Reflect sessions.

watchOS 8: New workout types

Not a year goes by without watchOS introducing new workout types. Building on the Mindfulness app and other mental wellness initiatives, watchOS 8 will bring Tai Chi and activity tracking for a new Pilates type to the Workout app. 

While last year's watchOS 7 wanted you get moving and grooving with Dance tracking, watchOS 8 leans more toward slower, flowing exercise. Tai Chi is a form of Chinese martial art that is referred to as “meditation in motion," promoting a more peaceful state of mind.

watchOS 8: Sleep App gets respiratory rate readings

In watchOS 7, Apple introduced sleep tracking, letting users see how much time they spend in bed and how much time they spend asleep. But that was it — users couldn't see advanced information about their overnight disturbances or sleep stages.

In watchOS 8, Apple is looking to develop the sleep app with metrics that inform your qualify of sleep. Your Apple Watch will track your respiratory rate while sleeping now, and since your sleeping respiratory rate should be consistent, change may indicate shift in overall wellness.

Over time, your respiratory rate will be identified with a trend you can learn more about in the Health app on your iPhone. Still no Health app for your Apple Watch, unfortunately.

watchOS 8: Portrait photos watch face

According to Apple, the custom Photo watch face is the most popular among Apple Watch users. Now, your Apple Watch display will adapt to portrait-style photos, creating depth using the existing time and date elements of the photo watch face.

Based on the demonstration, the photo subject will be layered on top of your time and date, with the blurred background remaining behind your watch's information. As long as you choose the right photo taken in portrait mode, it shouldn't obstruct the important things you'd want to see at a glance.

Better yet, you can change the font and colors of the time and date to complement your multilayer watch face. 

watchOS 8: Redesigned Photos app

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(Image credit: Apple | YouTube)

The current Photos app for Apple Watch its pretty unremarkable. It lets you swipe through your camera roll, but that's about it. In watchOS 8, the Photos app gets some of the features you'll find on the Photos app for iPhone.

When the new software launches, you'll be able to see highlights from your Memories and Featured Photos on your watch, providing personalized galleries and collages each day. 

With a few taps, you'll also have the option to share photos via Messages and Mail directly from your wrist. You couldn't send photos from Apple Watch before — you could only view them. 

watchOS 8: New tools for Messages 

While Apple didn't give us a keyboard like we'd hoped, watchOS 8 is bringing new tools to Messaging that should make communicating from your wrist less of a hassle.

You'll be able to combine multiple composition types in watchOS 8, meaning you can use Scribble, emojis and dictation to form the same message. Currently, you can only use one method per message. The new software will also let you send GIFs easily, as well as use the Digital Crown to scroll through a message when you need to fix a typo. 

watchOS 8: Huge HomeKit upgrades 

HomeKit users will be happy to learn watchOS 8 has upgrades for navigating your smart home from your wrist. watchOS 8 can automatically suggest actions for your nearby devices based on what you're currently controlling. For instance, if you check your connected doorbell's video feed, you might see the option to unlock your front door's smart lock or turn on your smart lights. Similarly, watchOS 8 can guess what scenes you want to use based on the time of day. 

At any time you can view your camera feeds, and see the status of any of your other smart home devices. You can even see if these devices need new batteries, or if their software needs updating.

watchOS 8: Set multiple timers 

Let's say a collective "thank you" to Apple for allowing multiple timers on Apple Watch. If there's one feature we can't wait for in watchOS 8, it's probably this.

watchOS 8: Other features 

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(Image credit: Apple)

There's more to watchOS 8 than all the features mentioned above. Here's everything else new you can expect to see your Apple Watch when watchOS 8 becomes available in the fall.

  • Lost and found: You can use your Apple Watch to find missing Apple devices in the Find My app.
  • AssistiveTouch: For those who need different controls for using Apple Watch, new AssistiveTouch features leverage the watch's built‑in motion sensors help answer calls and more through hand gestures.
  • Always‑On display: The Apple Watch's always-on display won't return to your home watch face by default anymore, depending on the app. Alarms, Maps, Stopwatch, and even your favorite third‑party apps will stay open.
  • Precipitation notifications: Don't get caught in the rain again. With severe weather notifications, your Apple Watch can alert you to next-hour precipitation, including rain intensity if applicable.
  • New Contacts app: watchOS 8 makes it easier to browse, add, or edit contacts right on your Apple Watch.
  • Audio controls: You can now see real‑time headphone audio levels in your Apple Watch's Control Center when you’re listening to media.