The Best New WatchOS 8 Features: The Apple Watch Tricks We Already Love in the Beta


Lexy Savvides / CNET

The Apple Watch gets a facelift with WatchOS 8. Expect additional workout modes, more flexible messaging tools, and a portrait watch face, among other new features. Apple has just released the public beta of WatchOS 8, which gives us a preview of the operating system that will be released in the fall. While there aren’t any big interface surprises in the new operating system, Apple has refined the Watch experience to bring many features in line with iOS on the iPhone.

Read more: Apple Watch SE vs. Series 6 vs. Series 3: How to choose?

WatchOS 8 will work on all Apple Watches starting with the Series 3 after that. We do not recommend installing beta software on your primary device, but if you want to preview the new features coming to iOS 15 and WatchOS 8, you can find out how to download them here.

Here are the best new Apple Watch features we’ve found so far.

WatchOS 8 puts portrait photos on your wrist

The new Portraits watch face can use any portrait photo taken on the iPhone. But rather than displaying a static image, the watch uses the photo’s segmentation data to separate the foreground from the background. This means that the time appears just behind your subject’s head and if you raise your wrist or like to manipulate the digital crown, the subject appears and comes out as well.


Lexy Savvides / CNET

I’ve found it works best with photos that have a lot of foreground to background distance, as well as a large headroom above your subject so you can really see the effect. Some complications are also supported, so you can also put things like battery level or heart rate on the watch face.

The Photos app itself has new tools like highlighting your memories and featured photos, so new content syncs with the watch daily. Additionally, you can now share photos directly from the watch via Messages or the Mail app.

AssistiveTouch is a stunning accessibility feature

Apple announced AssistiveTouch in May with a range of accessibility features for iPhone and iPad.

It allows people who only use one arm to control Apple Watch by detecting hand and wrist movements, such as pinching or squeezing actions. So you don’t need to be able to touch the screen to interact with the watch.


Lexy Savvides / CNET

It’s hard to describe how intuitive it feels until you use it. Pinch your thumb and forefinger and the watch will move the focus to navigate the menu options. A double pinch recedes, while a squeeze is a tapping action to select something on the screen. AssistiveTouch is also customizable, so you can set a double-tap action to answer a call or display the action menu.

Better messaging tools

When you go to send a message, you will now be able to use the freehand drawing tool, emoji picker, or dictation option from the same screen. Additionally, if you are going to dictate a message but find it made a mistake in the transcription, you will now be able to select the word and use the digital crown to make corrections. This is something I appreciate because my Australian accent often leads to some pretty funny dictation mistakes.

Just like on the iPhone, you can send a GIF by selecting the magnifying glass icon and choosing from the trending list or searching for the GIF you want.

New apps are coming to WatchOS

The People app is finally available on your wrist so you can edit, add, browse and share without taking out your phone. Apple has also split its Find My app into two new apps: Find Items and Find Devices. They do exactly what they say on the box, and you can ping things like AirTag or find devices signed in with your Apple ID from the watch.

WatchOS 8 also works in conjunction with Focus mode on the iPhone, so you can limit distractions or customize the modes so that only notifications from certain contacts and apps are shown. Once you apply the mode on the iPhone, it automatically sets it to the watch as well. He’s also supposed to be smart about Focus suggestions, like prompting you to activate mode when you start a workout. I’ll have to spend more time with the beta before it can recover my usage patterns.

Two new training options – and mindfulness

There are two new types of training you can do: Pilates and Tai Chi. They use custom heart rate and motion algorithms to better determine your effort than if you were tracking these workouts using the Other option in the training app. Apple Fitness Plus also benefits from a picture-in-picture mode, as well as additional workout filters.

Apple has also moved the Breathe app into a new Mindfulness app. In addition to animations to help guide your breathing, there is a Reflect app that gives prompts to help you focus your thoughts. I really like the new animations in the Mindfulness app and in the short time I’ve been using them they help me focus my attention. The time you spend thinking appears in the Health app on iPhone (along with your heart rate) after each workout.

Sleep tracking also adds respiratory rate to existing sleep metrics, such as heart rate and sleep time. You can also view trends over time in the Health app on iPhone.

More features to come in the Wallet app

Apple is hoping that you ditch your physical wallet entirely and have access to everything from your wrist. Later this year, iOS 15 and WatchOS 8 will be able to store a digital identity card like a driver’s license in the Wallet app. Access keys for hotels and offices can also be held digitally.


You can now scan and store your driver’s license in the Apple Wallet app.


Apple Watch Series 6 will support ultra wideband or UWB for car keys so you can unlock your vehicle or start it remotely, without needing to touch or press anything on the Apple Watch. It depends on the vehicle manufacturer and it will also be rolled out later in the year.

We’ll update this story as we learn about the best features in the WatchOS 8 Public Beta.

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