Available as a free upgrade for the Apple Watch Series 1, Series 2, and Series 3, and shipping with the new Apple Watch Series 4, watchOS 5 brings a nice collection of new features to your wrist without making big changes to the overall interface. (Unfortunately, watchOS 5 can’t be installed on an “original” first-generation Apple Watch.)
Some new features, like fall detection and electrocardiograms, are available only with new hardware in the Apple Watch Series 4. Cool as those are, we’ll focus on watchOS 5 features that work on all supported models, with one minor exception.
A Smarter Watch
The Siri watch face has new smarts. It provides cards based on your habits, and cards can display data from third-party apps, not just Apple apps. You can also add heart-rate measurements to a complication, and cards can show updates for favorite sports teams in Apple’s TV app.
If you’re accustomed to using Siri on your Apple Watch by raising your wrist and saying “Hey Siri,” you can now unlearn the “Hey Siri” part. Simply raise your wrist and speak into the watch. (This works only on the Series 3 and newer.)
watchOS 5 includes several new notification features cribbed from iOS 12:
- The Notification screen groups notifications by app, so you can work through built-up notifications more efficiently.
- Swipe left on a notification and tap the ••• button to “tune” it. You can tell your watch to deliver such notifications quietly in the future or to stop delivering them altogether.
- Tapping the Do No Disturb moon button in Control Center now brings up a screen where you specify when Do Not Disturb should turn off: after 1 hour, once it’s evening or morning, when you leave the current location, or (if you’re at an event that’s on your calendar) when the event ends.
Previously, the Heart Rate app on the Apple Watch could notify you if your inactive heart rate rose above a certain level, and watchOS 5 can now alert you if your heart rate falls below a certain threshold for 10 minutes.
More Fitness Features
Apple continues to expand the Apple Watch’s fitness-related capabilities.
A popular new feature, automatic workout detection, notices when you’ve begun walking or running and alerts you, asking if you’d like to start a workout. If you tap the button to start recording, your workout will include the distance you’ve already covered. A similar feature reminds you to end your workout shortly after you’ve stopped.
Workouts for yoga and hiking are now available and include a calorie counter, and the hiking workout tracks elevation. You can also now invite a friend to a 7-day competition over who can close the most Activity rings.
Runners will enjoy three new features in watchOS 5. With pace alerts, you can set a target pace and the Apple Watch will alert you if you’re running too fast or too slow, and rolling miles displays a dynamic readout of your previous mile pace as you run. And, a new cadence readout shows your steps per minute (SPM).
Several new features enhance communications on the Apple Watch. The brand-new Walkie-Talkie app gives you an instant audio connection to another Apple Watch user, allowing you to talk by pressing the big yellow button. It’s fun, but useful mostly with close friends or family members.
Viewing Web pages is easier: Apple still doesn’t provide a full Web browser, but if you tap a Web link in Messages or try to view HTML-formatted email in Mail, the watch shows a Web view that’s optimized for the tiny screen. And—finally—the Podcasts app is available on the Apple Watch.
This is the first watchOS release where Apple hasn’t made a major interface change, likely because the company feels it has finished refining the interface. That’s good news for long-time Apple Watch owners, because using watchOS 5 doesn’t require any habit changes. And because watchOS 5 includes a diverse set of new options, it’s likely that a few of them will enhance your watch experience.