Apple announced some great new features for the Apple Watch with WatchOS 5: a Walkie Talkie app, Siri shortcuts and Podcast support. But as someone who uses her Watch mostly for its fitness features, those are the improvements I’m most looking forward to with the new update.
Here are the key fitness upgrades coming with WatchOS 5.
If you have an Apple watch, you probably are quite familiar with the Activity app—that’s actually the most-loved app across the board. And it’s no surprise since it’s a great way to keeps tabs on how much you exercise, how many calories you burn, plus how much you move the rest of the day thanks to the “stand” alerts and accelerometer that knows how many steps you take.
Automatic workout tracking
Don’t bother messing around with the watchface when you’re prepping for a sweat session; with WatchOS 5 the Apple Watch will be able to figure it out for you.
If you forgot to start a workout, you’ll get an alert and vibration prompting you to begin tracking. But if you’re laser focused on your workout and you take forever to respond, you’ll still get retroactive credit for the activity you just did. Not only will it know when you’re working out, it will know what activity you’re doing. Within three minutes of you starting, the Watch will be able to figure out which of these activities you were doing: running, walking (indoor or outdoor), swimming (open or pool), elliptical and rowing machine.
The automatic tracking also works at the end of a workout as the Watch will use your heart rate to figure out when you’re winding down and remind you to end the workout so you’re not getting extra credits.
Yoga and hiking improvements
Apple has added two Bay Area staples to its list of activities within the workout app. Yogis and hikers have always been able to track their sessions as other and label accordingly, but may not have been getting the most accurate credits for either.
Each activity now has its own individual algorithm that looks into a series of biometric data during each session to better calculate calories burned and the impact the activity will have on the rest of your day. Yogis therefore may see a higher or lower calorie count depending on the intensity of the practice.
For hiking, the Watch will now take into account elevation, heart rate, GPS and distance giving you due credit when you’re going up a hill at full steam even though your pace may have decreased. Which means I will finally be able to log my San Francisco commute up California Street as exactly what it is: a hike!
Apple Watch Series 3 will use the built-in altimeters to calculate elevation, while the Series 2 and below will rely on the altimeter on the phone.
Pro options for runners
If you’re a runner like me, you’re also getting a new set of tools to help you reach your personal record. In addition to pace, WatchOS 5 will give you the option to add cadence (steps per minute) and rolling mile pace (how fast you ran the previous mile) to the list of metrics you can see while you’re out pounding the pavement, or on the treadmill.
The update also adds custom pace alerts for runs with haptic feedback so that you can keep your eyes on the finish line instead of your wrist. Set up your target pace before your run and then you’ll feel a vibration when you’re going off track. You’ll get a different type of vibration depending on whether you’re going too fast or too slow.
Time to get competitive
WatchOS 5 makes the competition factor of activity sharing official. Challenge your friend to close your activity rings for seven days straight and win a prize at the end. You get one point for every percent of the ring you complete. The winner gets an award that’s unique to your competition and can continue requesting a rematch until you’re both ridiculously fit or burnt out.
Music is a pretty big motivator for most of us during a workout, and WatchOS 5 will give you more options to choose from. Streaming will still be exclusive to Apple Music, but you’ll be able to sync playlists for playback offline from third-party apps like Pandora and potentially Spotify if they take advantage of this feature. It also includes meditation apps, audiobooks and podcasts with Apple’s podcast app coming to the Apple Watch with WatchOS 5.
But if you’re still holding on the the original Apple Watch you’re out of luck, because WatchOS 5 will only be available for the Series 1 and later. Either way you’ll have to wait until the fall when Apple rolls out the official update to see these features in action. In the meantime I’ll be testing out the beta versions, so check back in for more Watch news in the coming months.