Apple's recently updated Watch operating system – watchOS 5 – delivers a whole host of features that aim to get you more active and connected. Here's everything you need to know...

Each new iteration of Apple Watch (like the new Apple Watch Series 4 – available from Vodafone UK) brings with it new features and tech that not only help you better understand your body, but can also make some of life’s more mundane tasks a whole lot simpler.

Apple’s latest update to the Watch OS (watchOS 5*) adds some competitive fun with your friends, a smarter Siri with third-party app support, additional workouts, and more. Let’s dig in…

Activity Competitions

There’s plenty of research out there to show that having an exercise buddy is a sure fire way to increase the amount of exercise you’re likely to do. So why not put that theory into practice with the virtual gym on your wrist?

The addition of Activity Competitions in watchOS 5 means you can compare your friends’ activities and challenge them to a seven-day competition to earn points towards a (digital) trophy. Or, if that’s not enough, there’s always the bragging rights. After all, who doesn’t love a friendly challenge?

Workout Updates

To help you slide into your workouts as easily and as quickly as possible, this new update also includes automatic workout detection. That means when you start your run, swim, row, or any other of the built-in workouts, your Apple Watch will figure out what you’re up to and alert you to activate its exercise tracking features.

But don’t worry if you’re too ‘in the zone’ to do it right away, the reminder will be there when you finish and all the workout’s credits (calories burned, times, etc.) will be added to your analytics. And there’s especially good news for hikers and yoga fans: WatchOS 5 now includes specific workouts for these two activities.

Advanced Running Features

Keen runner? You’ll no-doubt be thrilled to discover there’s a new set of professional running tools within watchOS 5 to help you smash your PBs.

You can now choose a target pace and set a vibrating alert that’ll let you know when you’re behind or ahead of it. Meanwhile, cadence (steps per minute) and rolling mile pace (how fast you ran your last mile) are a couple of useful additions that’ll better help you understand your running performance in real time.

But, while watchOS 5 certainly adds some valuable activity tracking knowhow, it’s not all about getting fit and sweaty; there’s also a bunch of lifestyle improvements too.

Apple Podcasts

Whether you’re listening to podcasts for workout motivation or simply tuning in to the latest episode of your favourite story during your commute, Apple Podcasts on watchOS 5 can be automatically synced so they’re ready to listen to – and pick up to where you left off – when you need them. You’ll just need some Bluetooth headphones.

Walkie-Talkie

Remember old school walkie-talkies? They’re making a comeback with watchOS 5, only these are way cooler  and a lot more portable.

Within the new walkie-talkie app, select a friend you want to chat with and they’ll be sent a request. Once accepted – if they’ve also got an Apple Watch with watchOS 5 – you’re ready to talk. Tap and hold the on-screen ‘talk’ button to say your message, and release to send. Roger, Roger.

Improved Notifications

The improved notifications in watchOS 5 still lets you know what’s coming up or what’s been received at a glance, but they now also offer interactive controls for third party apps, to save you from having to load up each one. These let you reply to message  or accept invites in a snap.

Also, as with iOS 12, notifications from the same app are now grouped together, rather than in a long stream of individual apps, making for a much cleaner look.

Smarter Siri

In watchOS 5, Siri is much more proactive and predictive. Apple’s digital assistant now uses machine learning to get to know you better, so that relevant content and shortcuts can be suggested on your Apple Watch at the right time of day.

About to leave for work in the morning? Siri can have your ‘morning commute’ playlist ready to go. You can also forget the prefacing pleasantry of ‘Hey Siri’ the next time you want to ask a question; just raise your wrist and talk straight into your Watch.

2018’s best Apple Watch apps

There are a huge number of apps on the App Store that take advantage of watchOS 5’s smarter Siri and improved notifications features, but we’ve plucked out a handful of 2018’s essentials:

Streaks, £4.99

Breaking bad habits and forming long-lasting good ones can be a real challenge. Luckily, Streaks thinks it can help. With it, you can track up to 12 tasks each day and get reminded to complete each of them as the day progresses. The best bit, though, is that integration with Apple’s Health app means some of those tasks can be ticked off automatically.

Streak’s recent update includes Siri shortcuts too, so you can record custom phrases that tell the app you’ve completed tasks. You can  also keep track of your progression on the Siri watch face.

Yelp, FREE

Yelp is already a go-to tool for many when it comes to gathering recommendations – for everything from handymen to restaurants – but its newly updated Apple Watch app makes it an even more indispensable tool.

If a local restaurant has signed up for Yelp Reservations, you can go ahead and book a table right from your wrist. If you then need to change the time or number of guests when the notification comes in to remind you of your meal, you can now do that directly from within the notification.

WaterMinder, £4.99 + IAP

It’s important to stay hydrated, we all know that, but it’s never easy keeping track of precisely how much water we consume throughout the day. WaterMinder’s your friend, here, as it makes it really easy to track your water levels and achieve your daily target.

At its simplest, the app will periodically remind you to drink water but then prompts you to log the amount with single tap on your Apple Watch. Cup size suggestions are presented on the Siri watch face, but you can also select a custom one – perfect for those who drink out of the same thing every day.

ETA, £2.99 + IAP

Knowing the route to your destination is one part of the journey planning puzzle but knowing exactly when to leave is where the skill comes in. That’s where the watch-friendly ETA app can help, as it’ll keep you updated with to-the-minute travel times.

With it, your estimated time of arrival (ETA) to your favourite places is easily accessible on the Siri watch face, whether you’re going by car, public transport, or walking.

If your Apple Watch hasn’t yet updated to watchOS 5, head to Settings on the iPhone that’s associated with your watch, then General, then Software Update. Your Apple Watch and iPhone will need to be close to each other, and your Watch needs to be on charge before the update can take place.

Find out more about the Apple Watch Series 4… Here’s everything you need to know.

*WatchOS 5 requires iPhone 5s or later with iOS 12 or later, and one of the following Apple Watch models: Apple Watch Series 1, Apple Watch Series 2, Apple Watch Series 3, Apple Watch Series 4. WatchOS 5 is not compatible with the first-generation Apple Watch.