watchOS 8 did not get as much focus under Apple’s WWDC main tone as other platforms, but there are still remarkable new features coming to Apple Watch users this year. Perhaps most especially for some users, watchOS 8 includes new built-in applications that take advantage of the always-on screen used on the Apple Watch Series 5 and later. It’s also a new way for developers to take advantage of always on screen.
With Apple Watch always on display, a handful of built-in watchOS applications were updated to take advantage of the new technology. For example, the training application shows a toned down overview of your progress when your wrist is down. However, other applications get a blurry interface that only displays a digital clock.
With watchOS 8 coming this fall, three new Apple applications will now benefit from Apple Watch̵
In the Maps application, the dimmed on-screen display shows details of your next navigation direction. In the Calculator application, the dimmed on-screen display shows the entire calculator interface. This can be useful if you are making a calculation and then need to see the result quickly.
For third-party apps
Perhaps even more remarkable than the new Apple apps that use it always on screen, Apple also makes a new API available to developers. As described in a session on what’s new in watchOS 8, apps built with the watchOS 8 SDK will now display the app’s user interface in a dimmed state instead of the previously used blur and digital clock.
Developers can specify which parts of their app require frequent updates relative to which remain static. There are also ways for developers to give a more prominent position to certain display elements.
Always-On Display is supported on Apple Watch Series 5 and 6. In watchOS 7, the always-on mode showed the app’s user interface blurred with time overlaid. When you rebuild your app with the watchOS 8 SDK, the app’s user interface now appears in a dimmed state instead and is immediately interactive if someone presses the user interface.
If you have secondary text, images or fills, you can further mute them yourself to give more prominence to the information you want to be highlighted and visible.
If your user interface has large elements that are filled with colors or images, you may want to reduce the elements to be represented by a line or dimmed color, and again keep the user interface grounded, but leave the highlighted information visible.
Apple applications can also adopt this new design, such as the Workouts app shown here:
In practice, these changes make the always-on screen on the Apple Watch incredibly useful. I’ve only been using watchOS 8 for 24 hours, but I’ve already fallen in love with the new, ongoing support for Apple Music and the Apple Maps application. The blurred background + digital clock interface always felt like a big limitation, and I’m glad to see that there’s something Apple is conquering with watchOS 8 this year.
But there’s more to this change: Once the interface is dimmed, you can now tap the screen and the touch response is instantaneous. For example, if Apple Music is always dimmed, you can press the play button and the answer is immediate. In previous versions of watchOS, you have to press once to wake up the screen, and again to actually interact.
When watchOS 8 is released this fall and third-party applications implement this feature, it will always be dramatically more powerful on the screen of the Apple Watch Series 5 and later. What are you looking forward to trying? Let us know in the comments below!
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