Apple watchOS 5 release date, news and features


We’ve had over half a year to get to grips with watchOS 4 and now we’re hungry for more, so it’s great to hear officially from Apple that it’s set to launch watchOS 5 soon.

We liked the watchOS 4 software but there’s still plenty of room for improvement, so we’re excited to finally learn what the company has planned for its next big update.

Below we’ve put all of the details we know so far about the update, but it’s all currently being announced at WWDC 2018 so expect some of the details to change as it goes on.

So settle in and read on for everything we know so far about the Apple Watch’s next big software upgrade followed by what we want to see from watchOS 5.

Cut to the chase

  • What is it? The next version of Apple’s smartwatch operating system
  • When is it out? Just announced at WWDC on June 4, released September 2018
  • What will it cost? It will be a free update

Apple watchOS 5 release date

Apple just announced the next-gen software at WWDC 2018 and as expected it’s titled watchOS 5. 

We don’t expect to see the software launch on devices until September (around the same time rumors point to the Apple Watch 4 launching too) but hopefully we’ll have further details on the release date by the end of the keynote.

watchOS 5 compatibility

Own an original Apple Watch? You won’t be able to download watchOS 5 when it comes out later this year. 

This is the first time Apple hasn’t made its software upgrades available to all generations of devices and you’ll need an Apple Watch Series 1 (that’s the updated device released in 2016) to be able to download it.

You’ll also need to have an iPhone 5S or later with iOS 12 onboard to be able to download watchOS 5.

watchOS 5 fitness

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Find your workouts go better if you’re competing against someone? The new upgrade to the Activity app on Apple Watch is going to be right up your street. You can now start seven day activity competitions directly within the app with another Apple Watch wearer.

You’ll both be competing against each other to see who can earn the most points and close the most Rings in the Activity app over a week long period.

The app will send you coaching notifications for advice and reminders to get ahead of your competition during the week long period. Then whoever wins at the end of the seven day period will get given a special medal within the Activity app.

The Workouts app on Apple Watch is also getting a few big upgrades including automatic workout detection for what Apple calls the “most popular workouts on Apple Watch”.

It means you can start your workout and you’ll get a notification from your wrist asking if you want to start an activity within the Workouts app. It’ll retroactively remember what you’ve done before you pressed yes, and then start the workout for you.

At the end of the workout, you’ll be nudged by your wrist to end it too. It does this by monitoring your heart rate and realizing you’ve slowed down and have probably stopped.

What workouts are getting this feature is currently unclear, but we know it’s coming to Outdoor Running.

Both Yoga and Hiking are joining the 12 other activities within the Workouts app too. For both it’ll be tracking the amount of calories you’ve burned at the exercise minutes you’ve earned.

Finally, runners will be excited by some other new features coming in watchOS 5. Cadence is coming to the Apple Watch for both indoor and outdoor runs and walks.

For the uninitiated, Candence is the amount of steps you’ve taken per a minute. That’s a useful stat for high-performance runners and is something a lot of dedicated running watches specialize in.

There’s a new pace alarm for outdoor runs within the Workouts app that’ll nudge you if you’re ahead or behind of your pace, which again will be useful for a lot of running fans.

Rolling mile pace is a brand new metric for the Apple Watch too and it’ll be an option to show the pace for your previous mile as well as your average pace or current pace.

Fitness is the biggest area to be upgraded in watchOS 5, but there are lots of other features coming in the update too.

watchOS 5 Walkie-Talkie

There’s a new feature coming to watchOS 5 called Walkie-Talkie that’ll allow you to speak to a friend who also has an Apple Watch.

You’ll be able to set it up with anyone in your contacts who has an Apple Watch set up, and once you’ve connected they’ll be able to send you a message at anytime when your watch is on.

The Walkie-Talkie feature will send a vibration through to the other person’s wrist and then play your message, much like a normal walkie talkie would in real life. It’ll work on both Wi-Fi and mobile internet, so it’s not just limited to the Apple Watch 3 LTE.

This feature got a lot of cheering on stage at WWDC, but one interesting thing is that Apple originally announced this feature back in 2014. It just never released the feature on the original Apple Watch.

What has changed here to mean Apple wants to include it in watchOS 5 is unclear, but it’ll be a fun feature for people to play around with when the software lands later this year.

watchOS 5 watch faces

The Siri watch face upgrades on stage at WWDC

The Siri watch face upgrades on stage at WWDC

The Siri watch face is getting a few upgrades that are meant to show more useful shortcuts throughout the day at different times.

These vary from the time you should leave for your commute or your heart rate after a run, but the idea here is that Apple wants the Siri watch face to become an evolving hub for your wrist.

Third-party apps are also coming to the watch face too. We’ve seen apps like Citymapper, Nike+ Run Club and Lose It appear on stage, but there are going to be lots more coming soon. 

Apple didn’t announce the rumored third-party watch faces feature at WWDC 2018, so it seems those rumors were incorrect. It may be the company is focusing on this Siri watch face integration from third party apps, rather than allowing others to make watch faces. 

Either that, or it’s something the company is holding back for a future watchOS 5 update or perhaps even watchOS 6. 

The new Siri Shortcuts feature announced as part of iOS 12 will also be coming to the Siri watch face too. Plus on top of that, you’ll also now just be able to raise the watch and speak directly to Siri. That means you won’t need to say “Hey Siri” to activate it.

There’s also a new Pride watch face to match the Pride watch band from Apple, which you can download from today onto your Apple Watch.

Apple didn’t announce the rumored third-party watch faces feature at WWDC 2018, so it seems those rumors were incorrect. Either that, or it’s something the company is holding back for a future watchOS 5 update or perhaps even watchOS 6.

watchOS 5 other features

The Podcasts app is finally coming to the Apple Watch. You can stream Podcasts directly to your wrist by speaking to Siri and if you want to have them downloaded you can set it up so the latest episode of your favorite show will sync up on your Apple Watch.

That’s a big deal if you’re planning to ditch your iPhone and just listen to audio from your wrist.

Developers are also getting a new feature that allows music, audiobooks and meditation sessions to be synced to the Apple Watch for offline playback. Perhaps that means we’ll see more third-party apps allowing you to listen to audio without a connection in the future.

Apple is also allowing third-party music and podcast apps to play audio in the background while you use another app on your wrist. It means you can keep listening to a podcast with that new Podcasts app while messing around in Apple Pay or reading some messages on your wrist.

It’s also worth noting the rumor of Spotify coming to the Apple Watch didn’t come to fruition at WWDC 2018. Whether that was all a big misunderstanding or something went wrong so the company didn’t announce it, we probably won’t ever know.

Back to messaging apps, and web content is now available in your messages on your wrist. That means if someone sends you a link in an iMessage you’ll be able to see a small preview of how it appears online.

It won’t be lots of information, but it’ll give you an idea of whether you need to open it up on your phone. 

Everything below this point is from our original Apple watchOS 5 what we want to see article, and we’ve left it here so you can see what we originally wanted. We’re in the process of updating it, so you’ll start to see the rumors disappear and the new features be included very soon.

What we want to see

We might not know much about watchOS 5 yet, but we know what we want from it. The following things top our list:

1. Third-party watch faces

Apple watchOS 4 has some good watch faces, but it needs far more.

Apple watchOS 4 has some good watch faces, but it needs far more.

There are plenty of different ways to customize the hardware of an Apple Watch, but the software is – unsurprisingly coming from Apple – very locked down.

That extends to the watch faces, which are limited to a handful of official ones. Sure, there’s no end of complications you can add to them, but we’d love to see Apple open its watches up to third-party faces with watchOS 5, so that users will quickly have hundreds or thousands to choose from.

2. Improved on-watch settings

The Apple Watch 3 LTE should be a truly phone-free smartwatch, but even that model requires you to head to the Apple Watch app on your iPhone to change many of the settings.

It’s clunky, so we’d like to see everything become controllable and customizable directly from the Apple Watch itself as part of the next major software update.

3. Always-on face

The least we expect from a watch is to always be able to see the time.

The least we expect from a watch is to always be able to see the time.

An always-on watch face is sure to drain the battery more quickly than one that requires a gesture or a press to wake up, but we’d still like it as an option in watchOS 5.

It doesn’t have to be fully lit up either – Apple could always take inspiration from Android Wear or always-on phone screens and have a partially lit, static always-on display that simply shows the time.

Done that way the hit on the battery might not be too extreme, and the Apple Watch 3 with its fairly lengthy life could probably survive a day of display.

4. Software optimizations

Apps will often open slowly on the Apple Watch, treating you to a spinning icon before they load. This is true even on the Apple Watch 3 and is something we want to see an end of.

Much of the issue will probably be hardware related, but further software optimizations as part of watchOS 5 could make a difference too.

5. Slicker Siri

Siri is in some ways more useful on the Apple Watch than the iPhone, given that other interactions are more limited, but there’s also a lot of room for improvement.

For one thing, apps don’t always launch when asked to and Siri doesn’t always accurately hear what we’re saying. Both of these things really need to be worked on for watchOS 5 so that Siri becomes a reliable way of interacting with your watch.

6. Customizable Control Center

Control Center on the Apple Watch could learn from its iOS counterpart.

Control Center on the Apple Watch could learn from its iOS counterpart.

iOS now gives you some amount of say in what appears in Control Center, but watchOS still doesn’t. For watchOS 5 we’d like the ability to add and remove shortcuts and toggles, as well as being able to re-order them, so there’s never more swiping and tapping than absolutely necessary.

7. More and better apps

Apple watchOS has a fair few apps at this point, but it still lags way behind iOS, and many of the apps are very limited or just a bit gimmicky.

There are certainly some very useful ones, but if you’re anything like us you’re probably only regularly using a handful.

Of course, making truly good apps for a screen this size is sure to be a challenge, but if the Apple Watch ever hopes to become more than just a luxury then good apps is one of the main things it needs.

This isn’t something that specifically requires watchOS 5, but if Apple can work with key developers to have new and improved apps ready for the next big software update then that could give it something to shout about.

8. Android support

This is at once the least likely of our wishes and the one we want most. Making watchOS play nice with Android phones would make the Apple Watch a viable choice for millions more people.

Not only that, it would give existing owners and anyone considering a purchase the peace of mind that their expensive watch will be usable no matter what phone they end up with in the future.

This probably won’t happen, but you never know. Apple understandably will be wanting to keep people within iOS, but if it wants to increase its already sizeable share of the smartwatch market then Android compatibility could be a risk that’s worth taking.


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