watchOS 5 debuts with health and fitness tweaks

Apple is announcing watchOS 5, a major update to its smartwatch platform.

There’s a big focus on new fitness and health features. You can now challenge any of your friends to an exercise competition, which will compare your tracking stats to your friends’. The winner will get an award to add to their collection, kind of like real life achievement system.

There are also new workout types like yoga and hiking. Outdoor running can now track your rolling mile pace, and will alert you if you’re falling behind your desired pace.  If you forget to start workout detection at the beginning of your workout, watchOS’ new automatic workout detection can retroactively credit you with workout time. It can also give you a heads up if you forget to stop the activity tracking.

For communication, there’s a new “Walkie Talkie” mode, which basically like the old-school push-to-talk functionality from old cell phones, but on a watch. Pick which friend you want to talk to, and if they approve the one-time Walkie Talkie permission, you’ll be able to do instant voice communication.

The Siri watch face introduced last year is gaining live sports scores, commute time, and heart rate tracking. It’s getting access to the Siri Shortcuts feature announced for iOS 12, and for the first time ever, you can use third-party apps in the Siri Watch face, allowing you to see content and shortcuts from your favorite apps. Voice detection for Siri will now kick in as soon as you lift your wrist, with no need to say the “Hey Siri” hotword.

Notifications on the Apple Watch are getting more actionable, allowing you to do things like pay for a rideshare and rate the driver, directly from the notification. Webkit content can be displayed in notifications now, and just like on iOS 12, notifications are grouped by app.

watchOS 5 is also getting a Podcasts app. New episodes of your subscribed podcasts will be automatically synced, and you can also ask Siri for a specific podcast. For Pride Month, Apple is launching a rainbow colored watch face and watch band.

There’s a ton of other features, too. Third-party apps will be able to play background audio, you’ll be able to customize the control center, you can add an air quality rating to your watch face, or add your student ID card to the watch.

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