The 5 best features of watchOS 8 so far

watchOS 8 new features
watchOS 8 new features (Image credit: Apple)

New software always gets me excited — maybe even more so that new product. Right after watchOS 8 was announced at WWDC 2021, I wrote about the features I was most excited to see in the new software. That was coming off the heels of the keynote presentation when I was full of hype and anticipation. Now that I have spent weeks with watchOS 8 installed on my Apple Watch SE, I have had the opportunity to get up close and personal with a lot of the new features — my list of the best features varies slightly from the list of features I was originally excited about.

Remember, this is all based on my experience with the developer beta. Many features can change, be added, or possibly even taken away before the official release of watchOS 8 in the fall. With that in mind, here are the best five features of watchOS 8 so far!

Apple occasionally offers updates to iOS, iPadOS, watchOS, tvOS, and macOS as closed developer previews or public betas. While the betas contain new features, they also contain pre-release bugs that can prevent the normal use of your iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Apple TV, or Mac, and are not intended for everyday use on a primary device. That's why we strongly recommend staying away from developer previews unless you need them for software development, and using the public betas with caution. If you depend on your devices, wait for the final release.

A quick note before I get started

To be completely transparent, there have been some features I haven't been able to use, meaning they won't make my list simply because I haven't tried them.

My best Apple Watch is my Apple Watch SE, and while I love it dearly, it appears that the new AssistiveTouch features don't work on it. I was really excited to try it out and see how it all works — I love new accessibility features — but alas, that was impossible.

I also haven't been able to try all the improvements to the Home app in watchOS 8 because I don't have any HomeKit devices in my place. Apartment living on a budget doesn't require a lot of cameras, doorbells, smart lights, or other smart devices.

Take time to focus

An Apple Watch affixed to a wrist shows Control Center open and Do Not Disturb enabled. (Image credit: iMore)

Focus on watchOS 8 is a little weird, but it certainly is useful. Since Focus is more of an iOS feature that extends across all platforms, the options to fool around with it on your Apple Watch are pretty limited. Mostly, your Apple Watch will follow whatever your iPhone is doing.

That being said, I enjoy that it's much easier to schedule a time to be free of distractions. I know I have a meeting every Wednesday at noon that usually lasts about an hour. Having that scheduled with Focus means I no longer have to worry about ensuring all my devices are silent and not distracting me. It gives me peace of mind I didn't know I was missing, so it's been a pleasant surprise.

Strive for mindfulness

Apple Watch Breathe app (Image credit: iMore)

I have talked extensively in the past about how I deal with depression and anxiety, and my Apple Watch has been an important tool for my mental health. So, it's probably no surprise that I enjoy the new Mindfulness app.

The app houses two features: Breathe and Reflect. Breathe works the same as before, so nothing of note to mention there, but Reflect is ever so slightly different.

Reflect offers up a question for you to think about for a minute to help you practice mindfulness. The questions are typically interesting (at least in my experience), but I don't even use them all the time. Sometimes I open up Mindfulness and tap Reflect, and I focus on whatever I feel like focusing on for that minute. It's a simple yet effective feature that does what it sets out to do. I use it every day at least twice, and it's been beneficial for me so far.

Put on a portrait face

iPhone XS Portrait mode (Image credit: iMore)

New watch faces are always a fun part of any watchOS release, and watchOS 8 brings us Portraits, which allows you to use Portrait Mode photos as a watch face. It's a nice boon seeing how pretty much every iPhone can take Portrait Mode photos these days.

While photo watch faces aren't my favorite, I have a couple of Portrait faces I keep coming back to. It's so pleasant to be able to scroll through them. They look beautiful, and I didn't think I would like them at all when they were first announced.

Breathe when you sleep

Apple Watch using Sleep app (Image credit: Luke Filipowicz / iMore)

You've likely started to notice a theme running through watchOS 8 by now, which is a theme of small new features. That's not to say that the new software is bad in any way — it just seems Apple simply tweaked a lot of existing features in watchOS 8. Sleep is no different.

It works the same as before. Set your Sleep schedule, and the watch will let you know how you did when you check the Sleep app, but now you can track your Sleep Respiratory Rate. The number of breaths you take during an hour of rest can really help highlight sleep disorders like sleep apnea. Of course, as with all Apple Watch health features, please don't take it as a diagnosis, but it can certainly help you get some insight into your overall health.

It's the final countdowns — an ode to multiple timers

There was an Apple Watch SEWhich couldn't set timers — threeThe new software shinedNow multiple things are timedAnd that has filled me with glee

That fun little limerick really says it all. I love being able to set and label multiple timers, and I'm just so happy it's finally here.

What are your favorite features in watchOS 8?

Have you been trying out the watchOS 8 developer beta? Let me know what you love about watchOS 8 in the comment section down below.

Luke Filipowicz
Staff Writer

Luke Filipowicz has been a writer at iMore, covering Apple for nearly a decade now. He writes a lot about Apple Watch and iPad but covers the iPhone and Mac as well. He often describes himself as an "Apple user on a budget" and firmly believes that great technology can be affordable if you know where to look. Luke also heads up the iMore Show — a weekly podcast focusing on Apple news, rumors, and products but likes to have some fun along the way. 

Luke knows he spends more time on Twitter than he probably should, so feel free to follow him or give him a shout on social media @LukeFilipowicz.