WatchOS 5 release date and features: From a walkie-talkie app to exercise tweaks, here’s what’s new in Apple’s watchOS

WWDC’s annual smorgasbord of software updates brought a few interesting features to the Apple Watch, including automatic workout detection and a new ‘walkie-talkie’ app with the launch of watchOS 5.

WatchOS 5 release date and features: From a walkie-talkie app to exercise tweaks, here's what's new in Apple's watchOS

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While more substantial upgrades were announced for iOS 12 and MacOS Mojave, watchOS 5 represents a steady iteration to Apple’s wearable – building on the core of fitness tracking and quickfire comms. The former comes in the shape of new workouts for Yoga and Hiking, seven-day activity competitions between friends with Apple Watches, and automatic fitness detection. 

Read on to learn more about the watchOS 5 release date, features and new bands coming to the Apple Watch range. 

READ NEXT: iOS 12 release date

watchOS 5 release date

As with iOS 12, WatchKit fo watchOS 5 is available to Apple Developer Program members now and it is expected to roll out more widely in stages, over the summer. The full watchOS 5 release date is then expected to coincide with the launch of the iPhone 11 (or whatever it ends up being called) at Apple’s rumoured annual Autumn event. Using previous events as a guide, we’re expecting this event to take place on 11 September.  

watchOS 5 compatibility

Following the watchOS 5 release date, the software will be available as a free update for Apple Watch Series 1 and later. You’ll also need an iPhone 5s or later, running on iOS 12. watchOS 5 will not be available on the original Apple Watch. Apple also said some features won’t be available in all regions, but didn’t elaborate.  

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What’s new in watchOS 5: watchOS 5’s latest features

With watchOS 5, your Apple Watch will now be able to judge when it thinks you’re doing exercise and automatically send out an alert for you to start recording a workout session. According to Apple, this system will even retroactively give credit for when it thinks you started the exercise. In theory, it should make exercise tracking less fiddly, although it remains to be seen how precise it actually is. More useful, perhaps, is the ability for your Watch to tell when you’ve finished a workout. That could be a great update for people that tend to forget to stop measuring exercise at the end of a run. 


For runners, the Apple Watch update comes with tweaks to its measurements, from counting cadence of steps to a new pace alarm that lets you know when you’re behind or ahead of your target. WatchOS 5 also includes Apple Podcasts, meaning you can stream and sync podcasts directly to the Apple Watch for your next run.

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The ‘walkie-talkie’ app for watchOS 5 lets you send short voice clips back and forth between friends that also own an Apple wearable. As the name suggests, it works a little like a walkie-talkie with users pressing the side of the Watch to speak. At WWDC, it was shown off with a video of two children in two tents speaking to each other across a garden, leading to the question: What child owns a £329 Apple Watch?!

Walkie-talkie gives a sense of how Apple is framing communication on the Watch, with an emphasis on short bursts of speech over full-on calls. We tried it briefly, and it feels well-pitched around quick back-and-forth conversations. It can also be muted using the Watch’s Do Not Disturb settings, which should help to stop it feeling intrusive.     

Elsewhere, with the watchOS update, you’ll no longer need to say ‘Hey Siri’ to activate Apple’s digital assistant. Instead, you’ll only need to raise your wrist. The Siri watchface is getting an update with more predictive information, including heart rate after a workout and commute time with Maps, as well as the shortcuts features that were shown in iOS 12. WatchOS 5 also comes with ‘Enhanced Notifications’ for third-party apps, giving limited webpage access. Get a notification from the Yelp app, for example, and you’ll be able to tweak table reservations from your wrist. It remains to be seen what is made of this by apps, but it could add a useul layer of functionality to interactions on the Watch. 

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Other updates include scope for Student IDs to be added to your Apple wallet, although this will initially only be for a handful of US universities at first. A new Pride band will also be going on sale today, along with a fresh set of ‘summer’-coloured sports bands (Marine Green, Peach and Sky Blue), all of which cost £49 in the UK.

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