Despite being one of the first truly successful smartwatches, support for the Apple Watch, at least from third-party developers, has been dwindling. But with watchOS 5.0, previewed today at Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference, the company is hoping to breath new life into the platform, while shifting the focus of its feature set back to its core functionality.
Unlike the original iPhone, the first Apple Watch came with third-party apps from the start. But the wearable’s app saga hasn’t been quite the same success story as the iPhone’s was. In recent months, many noteworthy developers have pulled their Apple Watch apps from its store. Possibly as a result, watchOS 5.0 will expand the wearable’s base features, including new health and fitness tracking capabilities.
In addition to new fitness tracking modes for activities such as yoga, outdoor walks and hiking (including cadence data for how many steps you’re taking every minute), watchOS 5.0 will let Apple Watch users compete against the friends they share workout data with through week-long challenges. Everyone in the challenge will be able to see their ranking as the week progresses, and trophies will be awarded when the challenge is complete.
With watchOS 5.0, the Apple Watch will also be able to more intelligently detect the beginning and end of workout sessions, automatically logging data if you’ve hurried out the door and forgot to hit start, while automatically turning off the tracking when it detects that motion has reduced.
The fourth generation (Series 3) of the Apple Watch was the first to get built-in mobile connectivity, letting you leave your iPhone at home. To make it easier to reach out to other Apple Watch users, a new Walkie Talkie app is being introduced with watchOS 5.0 that lets users send quick voice memos back and forth. It looks as though it’s easier to use than placing a call, and may be considerably lighter on data.
Apple also revealed new features coming to Siri in the forthcoming iOS 12, including customisable shortcuts that can be triggered to complete a series of actions with a single voice command. Those Siri Shortcuts will also be available in watchOS 5.0, and to make Siri on the Apple Watch easier to use, the wearable will no longer require you to shout “Hey Siri!” at your wrists. Simply raising the wrist and talking will soon let the watch know you want it to listen to your commands.
In addition to streaming Apple Music directly to your watch and into your Bluetooth headphones, watchOS 5.0 will also finally let you listen to and stay on top of your ever-growing list of podcasts.
There’s no new hardware expected from today’s WWDC keynote address, but Apple did round out its watch announcements by revealing a new rainbow strap available for the Apple Watch, as well as a new matching watch face that can now be downloaded through the watchOS App Store.