Apple Watch 6, new Sports & Fitness Features Available NOW with watchOS 8
As of now, you can update your existing Apple Watch to watchOS 8. Yep, that’s right, any Apple Watch from Series 3 to Apple Watch Series 6 can take the update, although older watches will have some features restricted and you will also need to update your iPhone to iOS 15.
Must Read: Apple Watch Series 6 Detailed Review
There are a fair amount of new features so I will focus here on those that have direct sporty implications and then mention others that impact your sports & fitness endeavours in some peripheral ways.
The news simply is that your Apple Watch will auto-detect cycling.
Historically, I find Apple’s autodetection of walks and runs a little bit hit-and-miss. It does always identify them but sometimes takes many minutes before prompting you to start recording. Your workout credit is always earned regardless of when you press ‘go’ but you might miss recording the start of your workout for your log in Fitness. That hit-and-miss performance carries over to the new auto-detection of cycling activities.
New Workout Types
Apple adds new workout types (sports profiles) covering Pilates and Tai Chi. For the former, the company claims that a “custom algorithm tracks your metrics as you develop greater core strength, posture, balance and flexibility“. However, I just can’t see any new stats that are either shown on the watch or recorded in Fitness on my iPhone.
As of today, these workout types seem little more than a more accurate label or tag for your workout, maybe the calorie calculation is more accurate?
The best and more interesting use of the Pilates workout type will be later in the year when Apple’s Fitness+ subscription service increases the number of exercise types it provides video coaching for.
Group Fitness+ Workouts
Your Pilates workouts are expected to tie in with the new GROUP workouts for Fitness+ where you can workout with up to 32 of your friends all of whom, of course, must have a Fitness+ subscription.
Here you can see a new picture in picture mode to see other members of your group.
Fitness+ also sees the addition of new workouts, new instructors and new music.
As a regular cyclist, I like to avoid getting wet if at all possible so the new precipitation alert is very welcomed. It would be even cooler if I could customise the alert to show temperature and wind strength/direction in the same alert…but that’s not going to happen any time soon.
This feature is available in limited countries and has been on the iPhone for about a year. Alerts are new to the Watch.
Breathe & Mindfulness
The Breathe animation is now significantly prettier.
The Breathe feature is also merged into a new Mindfulness app where you can also take time to Reflect on something. Anything.
HRV devotees will be disappointed that Apple has not increased the frequency of nightly automated Breathe recordings.
Find My Bike
Your AirTag location cannot be shared with anyone else, nor can it be used to get sufficiently frequent updates to track someone else whilst they cycle. It really is only truly useful for FINDING a lost bike. To complicate matters further, if your friendly neighbourhood bike thief has an iPhone s/he will be notified that an AirTag is with them, thus prompting them to find it and discard the AirTag in a bin. You might find the AirTag but you probably won’t find the bike that it’s attached to without the willing co-operation of the person who is with your bike.
It’s not all doom-and-gloom with the new Find My features. You can now use Find My to find your AirPods before you go out for a run.
Respiratory Rate Tracking & Sleep Analytics
Apple Watch now tracks your respiratory rate whilst sleeping but not whilst working out.
Must Read: More details on respiratory rate tracking
This is not a sports feature as such but will be useful to aid tracking of sleep effectiveness and hence readiness-to-train. Indeed Apple now adds more info to your wider sleep analytics including time to sleep, average heart rate and blood oxygen levels.
Always On Display
My partner has my Watch 6 and I have relegated myself to my Watch SE. The most annoying difference I find between the two is the lack of Always On Display on the Watch SE. It’s amazing how a delay of about 0.1 seconds can irk after several months.
Yet the Watch 6 doesn’t really have an always-on display even though it claims to. OK, something on its screen IS always on but much of the screen is blurred or disabled in order to minimise the battery loss.
The new change to the Always-On feature is even more nuanced. WatchOS app developers can now control how their app deals with the Always On display. I’m assuming that apps running on Watch 6 will be able to keep the full screen always fully on.
Sport/Fitness Focus Mode
The new Focus modes are multiple, customisable do-not-disturb modes. You can grant important apps and/or individuals the ability to interrupt your sport. You can even notify people that you are working out as a reason why you can’t answer their attempts to contact you.
I like this feature and find it useful.
Read More: Focus Modes on watchOS 8 in more detail
This is intended as an accessibility feature but does offer some new possibilities to control your watch during sport with hand gestures.
There are quite a few tweaks and featurettes added all-around in iOS 15 and watchOS8 and it is quite a nice update that will further improve the usability of the Watch. However, materially new sports capabilities are largely absent other than those in the Fitness+ subscriptions service.
You’ll be excited or non-plussed depending on your love of your Apple Watch. This update plus the new, larger Watch 7 will definitely keep my excitement going for another month or so but only because I love my tech more than its true level of usefulness.