Rumours suggest that the Apple Watch will finally get a sizable overhaul this later this year with a larger, edge-to-edge display – but WWDC is all about software, and today Apple announced that watchOS 5 will bring big upgrades to nearly any Apple Watch.
We say "nearly" because the original 2015 Apple Watch has been lopped off of the upgrade list, but everything released later (including the lightly-enhanced Series 1 model) is still onboard. And those devices will gain some big fitness features, much enhanced notifications and Siri functionality, and even a Walkie Talkie app to use with trusted contacts.
Apple will release watchOS 5 later this year, likely in September around the same time as new iPhones and the also-just-announced iOS 12. Here are the biggest features it'll deliver.
1) Walkie Talkie
The Apple Watch already puts calls on your smartphone, if you don't mind talking towards your wrist – but with the new Walkie Talkie app, you'll also be able to send quick voice messages to trusted contacts in an instant.
Once both sides agree to be connected, you'll be able to tap a contact, hold the screen down in the Walkie Talkie app, and send out whatever spoken missive you choose. It'll rapidly send over Wi-Fi or cellular and arrive on the other Watch following a notification sound and a haptic vibration. Whether you'll actually want your mates constantly bothering you is another story altogether…
2) Improved fitness tracking
Fitness tracking is a big part of the Apple Watch's allure for many users, and watchOS 5 adds some features to improve that experience.
For example, automatic workout detection will kick in when it senses one of many kinds of exercises, plus it tracks whatever exercise you did before the Watch figured out that was happening. Handy! It'll also remind you when to end a workout once you're done.
The Workout app also adds Hiking as an exercise and will sense elevation to ensure that you're properly tracking calories for all of those steep inclines. Yoga will also see a boost with improved tracking.
Runners, meanwhile, will get rolling mile tracking so that you can see your splits while sprinting, as well as pace alerts and your steps-per-minute cadence to try and improve efficiency.
3) Activity competitions
Find yourself in need of extra motivation… or just want to show up a mate in a bit of friendly competition? Apple has just the fix with watchOS 5's Activity Competitions.
Not only can you share activity with friends, but you'll also be able to compete for points earned based on how well you fill your Activity rings. Meanwhile, personalised coaching during competitions will help you figure out what to do to catch up and squash your rival.
And, of course, there are shiny new digital medals to earn for vanquishing your pals in wrist-tracked weekly battles.
4) Siri gets smarter
Siri is an especially helpful ally on your wrist, where the smaller screen makes talking handier than tapping at times – and she'll be better-equipped to handle your requests with watchOS 5.
For example, you'll be able to simply lift your wrist to speak out commands rather than dropping a "Hey Siri" every time. One less step: we like that. And some of the Siri shortcuts announced for iOS 12 are also in the mix here, such as ordering your morning coffee via an app.
Siri is also invading your apps – in a good way. The Siri watch face will show prompts from apps like Citymapper with your daily commute home, or Nike Run Club with an invitation to get out and start a run. More automation should make the Apple Watch even handier.
5) Wrist-friendly notifications
WatchOS 5 will bring interactive notifications from apps, such as checking into a flight and adding a boarding pass to Wallet. You can also easily change the time and number of guests for a dinner reservation via Yelp, or add time to your parking meter via PayByPhone.
It'll also group together notifications from the same app (like Messages or Email) as seen in iOS 12, and if you get a web link, it'll show you a view that's resized to look reasonable on your tiny smartwatch screen. The iOS 12 Do Not Disturb features will also come into play on Apple Watch, letting you set a time-limited or location-based DND for your devices.
6) Podcasts on your wrist
Are you a big fan of listening to podcasts while you work out? Well, Apple's Podcasts app will be equipped for Watch usage in watchOS 5, as the app will automatically sync several episodes of your favourite shows to your Apple Watch. Pair in some AirPods and you're ready to get moving even without your phone.
You'll also be able to ask Siri for shows and stream episodes via cellular connection if your Watch has the feature, or presumably over Wi-Fi if your phone is in range.
7) Uni ID cards
Seems like Apple is also making a big play for the Apple Watch to become ubiquitous on university campuses, as watchOS 5 will roll out the ability to add student ID cards to your Wallet. That way, you can use your Watch to pay for food and laundry or check out books at participating campuses.
American schools like Duke, the University of Alabama, and the University of Oklahoma are already onboard, but we have to think that other tech-friendly universities will jump at the opportunity pretty quickly.