Apple Watch communication feature animation


The Apple Watch will soon get automatic activity tracking

Apple Watch updates were highlighted at WWDC Monday.


Christina Bonnington


Posted on Jun 4, 2018   Updated on May 21, 2021, 2:20 pm CDT

The Apple Watch will be getting a handful of new, useful features when watchOS 5 lands this fall. Apple offered a preview of what to expect at the keynote of the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in San Jose, California, on Monday. Among the updates are automatic activity tracking and a new walkie-talkie mode.

That’s not all that Apple Watch wearers can look forward to. Apple made five main updates to the Apple Watch with watchOS 5. Here are the details.

Automatic activity tracking

Previously, you needed to remember to start a workout on your watch before going for a run or heading to the gym, but watchOS 5 will introduce auto-workout detection. With this feature, the watch will give you an alert when it’s detected you’ve started a popular kind of workout. Then, it will retroactively start a record of the activity for you, so you don’t lose “credit” for any of your hard work. Conversely, if you stopped exercising but never tapped to end your workout, it will give you a reminder to stop the activity.

Expanded workout features

Apple is also introducing a few other workout-related updates with watchOS 5.

Now, you’ll be able to take part in seven-day workout competitions with another Apple Watch wearer. This is an extension of the smartwatch’s previous Activity Sharing capabilities.

Runners also gain some new features, such as a cadence counter for both indoor and outdoor runs and walks. You can also set a target pace for a workout, and a pace alarm will alert you if you’re stepping too quickly or too slowly for your target. Rolling mile pace is another tool runners can use to measure their progress: It shows your current pace compared to the pace of the preceding mile you ran last, so you can tell whether you’re holding steady to a particular pace, or if you’ve slowed.

Lastly, Apple also added 14 new workouts to the mix, including popular activities such as yoga and hiking. With these options, you can more accurately track your caloric expenditures each day, which can be useful for losing or maintaining your weight.

Walkie-Talkie mode

The Apple Watch will also soon offer a new way to communicate with friends or loved ones: Walkie-Talkie. The feature works between Apple Watch wearers over a WiFi or cellular connection. Activated with a quick tap, it can be a good way to check in with someone when, say, your six-mile run is taking a bit longer than expected, or to relay a quick message to your partner while they’re running errands (“Don’t forget the hummus!”).

Other watchOS Updates

Apple showed off a few other Apple Watch features at its WWDC keynote.

Podcast lovers will be glad to know that you will finally be able to stream podcasts on the watch using Apple Podcasts and Siri. The watch will sync your progress with other iOS devices, picking up right at the episode where you left off. Your Apple Watch will be able to sync with audio-related apps such as Pandora, Audible, and other music, podcast, or meditation apps. You’ll be able to sync these apps for offline playback.

Siri on the Apple Watch will become more proactive with useful information. Based on your daily routine, locations you visit, and other information such as your heart rate, Siri will use machine learning to predict information, tools, and shortcuts that may be useful to you. This could include an updated ETA on your daily commute if traffic is looking bad, a prompt to start a workout, or the option to set an Apple HomeKit scene.

College students at a handful of campuses including the University of Alabama, University of Oklahoma, and Duke will be able to use their Apple Watch in lieu of a student ID card. Their watches will grant them access to buildings like a dorm or library, and let them pay for food or laundry.

App notifications are also getting a facelift. Now, notifications can be actionable, allowing you to interact without hopping directly into the app itself. One example could be a Yelp notification for an upcoming dinner reservation: The notification will include the option to change the time of the reservation or modify the number of people it’s for.

New watch bands

Of course, we couldn’t have Apple Watch updates without some new Apple Watch bands, too. A rainbow-striped Pride band with a matching watch face is available today, along with three new shades of Sport bands (sky blue, peach, and marine green). The Pride Edition band is made of woven nylon, and each purchase includes a donation to LGTBQ advocacy organizations.

Even with the rundown of new Apple Watch features at WWDC, we should expect a couple more updates to come in the fall.

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*First Published: Jun 4, 2018, 8:45 pm CDT