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watchOS 8 release date, features and Apple Watch compatibility

Apple Watch 6 review
The Apple Watch 6 running watchOS 7 (Image credit: TechRadar)

With watchOS 7 landing in September 2020, watchOS 8 is likely a long way off yet, and we still have a lot to learn about what the update will bring. But over the coming weeks and months we’d expect that to change, as leaks, rumors and eventually betas will start rolling in, with the first official news likely to come at WWDC 2021 on June 7.

We’ll update this article with full details of all those things as and when they happen, but for now, you’ll find information on the likely release date and compatibility of watchOS 8 below, along with what few things we have heard.

Then, further down, we’ve included a list of the changes, updates, improvements, and new features that we most want from Apple’s next major Apple Watch software update, so give them a read and see if you agree.

Latest news

Apple is likely to reveal watchOS 8 at WWDC 2021, which we now know will run from June 7 to June 11.

Cut to the chase

  • What is it? The next major Apple Watch software update
  • When is it out? Probably September, following a June 7 unveiling
  • How much will it cost? It will be free

watchOS 8 release date

watchOS 8 will probably land in September, as that’s when new versions tend to land, typically alongside new hardware, with the Apple Watch 7 and the iPhone 13 expected this year.

However, although it probably won’t be finished and released until then, watchOS 8 will likely be announced a lot earlier. Apple often unveils new watchOS software during its annual WWDC event, which this year is being held between June 7 and June 11.

So we’ll probably see watchOS 8 at WWDC 2021, with a developer beta launching around the same time, and public betas following. Of course, some features might not be revealed until a lot closer to the launch of the finished software.

watchOS 8 compatibility

We don’t have any official details on watchOS 8 compatibility yet, but watchOS 7 is available for all models from the Apple Watch 3 onwards. So if any models are dropped for the new software it would likely be the Apple Watch 3.

That said, Apple still sells the Apple Watch 3, and dropping support for a product that’s still on sale in the same year probably wouldn’t be popular, so we'll likely see watchOS 8 available for all the same Apple Watch models as watchOS 7.

watchOS 8 news and leaks

So far we don’t know much of anything about watchOS 8, but as we learn things we’ll add them here.

What we want to see

While we wait for rumors to roll in, here’s what we want from watchOS 8.

1. Better sleep tracking

Apple Watch 6 review

Sleep tracking needs major improvements (Image credit: TechRadar)

People had been calling out for a native sleep tracking feature in watchOS for ages and with watchOS 7 it finally arrived, but it’s limited to say the least.

It doesn’t include information on the time spent in each sleep stage (deep, light, and REM), or correlate your sleep with your bedtimes or stress levels – so the data is both basic and lacking in insights. We want to see this significantly overhauled and improved with watchOS 8.

2. Improvements to hand-washing monitoring

Hand-washing monitoring is a useful feature in pandemic times, and to some extent could be handy even once life returns to normal, but it definitely has room for improvement.

In our Apple Watch 6 review we found that the feature could be erratic in terms of activating, and once it does start tracking it would sometimes pause the timer, even while you’re actually washing your hands – meaning you’d have to wash them for even longer than the feature suggests in order to please it.

Some of this will likely be a hardware issue, with the Apple Watch sensors not being accurate enough, but we’re hopeful that it can be improved on the software side too with watchOS 8.

3. A better on-watch App Store

Apple Watch 6 review

The watchOS App Store could use work (Image credit: TechRadar)

The Apple Watch has its own App Store these days, but it pales in comparison to the iOS App Store. In our Apple Watch 6 review we noted that the opening screen has no categories to explore, and no tailored recommendations, instead offering just a seemingly random selection of apps.

With watchOS 8 we want to see the App Store - and particularly its home page - become a more welcoming, personalized place. Ideally, one that surfaces apps you’ll actually be interested in.

4. More workouts and sports

With watchOS 7 you can already track all sorts of sports and other workouts, from running to swimming to dancing and beyond, but there are always more activities, and we want even more of them to be trackable with watchOS 8.

Perhaps skiing or climbing for instance. With watchOS 7 you can do some very basic tracking of these things, and third-party apps give you more options, but we want proper workout modes for more activities out of the box.

5. Control Center widgets

Apple Watch 6 review

Control Center could easily house widgets (Image credit: TechRadar)

Apple has now brought widgets to the iPhone, and we’d like to see similar on the Apple Watch. Sure, there’s already complications, and there’s less space on the screen for widgets than there is on a phone, but some could easily be added to the Control Center.

These could both be bigger than complications, and give you access to more widgets at any one time – simply let users scroll or swipe through Control Center pages, and there’s no limit to the shortcuts and information that could be displayed.