Apple Releases watchOS 5; Bringing Better Fitness Tracking, a New Podcast App and Walkie Talkie Functionality to the Apple Watch

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

Apple has today released watchOS 5, [saying that it will enable you to do “even more with your Apple Watch”:

Activity competitions with your friends. Brand-new workouts. Innovations to help you take your running further. And more intelligent, fun ways to keep you connected to the people and information you care about. With watchOS 5, you can do even more with your Apple Watch from your morning workout to lights out.

Below are some of the highlights of what watchOS 5 will bring to your wrist. We will cover the features generally here, linking to tutorials that offer deep dives where available.

Walkie Talkie

Apple Watch is now a walkie talkie. When someone talks to you using this new option, you'll feel a tap on your wrist and hear an audio cue. If you raise your wrist, the message will play. You can choose to respond, recording your own message which the other person will hear just as you heard theirs. This is meant to be used between two people, offering no group chat options. It is also meant to be similar to a real walkie talkie in that you can't save messages, or re-play them once they've played through. For quick chats where you don't want to deal with dictation problems, it's a great option.


You can finally access podcasts on your wrist with the new Podcasts app for watchOS 5. As with most Watch apps, the companion app on your iPhone does the bulk of the work. You choose your podcast subscriptions, manage playlists, and so on using your phone. Anytime a subscribed podcast has a new episode available, though, you can listen to it with Apple Watch, no iPhone required. Episodes will either sync from iPhone or, if that's not an option, will stream directly. So long as your Watch has an internet connection, either wifi or cellular, you're ready to go. As with any audio on Apple Watch, you'll need to connect to a bluetooth speaker or headset in order to enjoy your podcasts.

Fitness Updates

A large focus of watchOS 5 is its ability to help you get and stay fit. To that end, Apple has introduced the following features:

  • You can invite someone to participate in a seven-day fitness challenge. Whoever does the most physical activity during the competition time will win. You've been able to share activity data with contacts before, but never truly compete like this.
  • Apple Watch can now prompt you to start a workout if it detects activity. It doesn't support every workout type, but it can do the common ones, like a walk or bike trip. If you do forget to start the workout and choose to do so from this notification, you'll get credit for activity you did previous to that moment, meaning you won't miss out on much of your workout even though automatic detection waits a bit before asking you. Similarly, you will be prompted to end a workout if you forget to do so, and your workout time will be adjusted for you.
  • Yoga and hiking are now available as workout types. Apple says that their yoga workouts use motion and heart rate to determine what kind of yoga is being performed, as there are so many variants with a wide range of activity levels. As to hiking, elevation and other special metrics are applied to separate hikes from regular walks and keep the calorie burn estimate more accurate. The existing running workout gets new features, too, with a rolling mile time, paces per minute, and other details now available.

Other Changes

Finally, we have some other changes that don't have their own section, but are no less important or useful.

  • You can now access control and notification centers anywhere. Even if you're in an app, you can swipe down or up from the top or bottom of the screen to open the control or notification center. It's wonderful to be able to check notifications while doing a workout or controlling your music.
  • The Control Center is now laid out in two columns instead of one. More importantly, you can edit it! Swipe up or down on any control center icon and double tap on "edit". You can now move any control left or right until it's where you want it. You can put any control wherever you like.
  • The Siri face has received two improvements: third-party apps can offer complications for it, and Apple says it is now more accurate, offering data in a more timely manner than in the past.
  • Notifications can now be interactive, with apps that support the new feature able to offer choices right in Notification Center. You might alter how many people are on a reservation, or move an appointment time, without needing to open the relevant app at all. Plus, notifications are now grouped and offer management options, just like in iOS 12.
  • Some universities now offer student ID cards on Apple Watch. It is unclear whether Apple works with specific universities to make this happen, or if the program is available to anyone. It is also unclear if this can apply to ID cards for places other than schools.

Thomas Domville has recorded a podcast in which he showcases much of what's new and changed in watchOS 5.

Additionally, for a more complete list of what’s new in watchOS 5, MacRumors offers a good overview.

And What About Accessibility?

It is our understanding that watchOS 5 brings no substantive new features or enhancements for blind and low vision users. We are currently aware of the following accessibility-related changes, mostly to do with accessing the mainstream features new in this update:

  • Touch the very top or bottom edge of the screen and, when you feel the haptic feedback and hear the sound, move your finger toward the opposite edge. This is how you access Control Center (swipe from bottom to top) or Control Center (top to bottom) within apps. The two-finger gestures you are used to on watch faces still work, for now at least, but the new system is the only way to access these features when you're inside an app.
  • Actions are now available in Control Center, to let you edit which items go where.

We have only been able to carry out some extremely limited testing of watchOS 5, so have not yet been able to explore in full these new features or check for any further changes which will affect blind or low vision users. We will update this post with anything else that we learn. To help with this, please add a comment below to let us know of any changes, improvements or regressions that you find during your own use of watchOS 5.

How to Update to watchOS 5

watchOS 5 is available by going to the Watch app on your iPhone and navigating to General> Software Update. To install the update, your Watch must be connected to its charger and have at least 50% battery power.

More information on how to update the software on your Apple Watch is available on this Apple Support page.

As always, we look forward to hearing your thoughts on this update. While there are no changes specific to accessibility (that we found, at least), all the great new mainstream features seem to be fully accessible from day one. Let us know in the comments what you're looking forward to most, and if you find anything we missed in our testing.

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Submitted by Will on Saturday, September 15, 2018

hi, so do i have to have the podcasts app installed just to use the podcasts app, so duplicating the podcasts i have in overcast? i thought, from what read from WWDC that we could say to the watch hey siri, or just now raise the wrist, play the applevis podcast, for example, and it would just stream the latest episode, am i missing something? i will listen to the audio podcast concerning this. thanks, Will

Submitted by Piotr Machacz on Saturday, September 15, 2018

I don't use the Apple podcasts app but I would assume you need it on the phone as well. Since you brought this up, you definitely need the FaceTime app on your phone to use the walkie talkie feature. This is something which tripped me up while I was testing. I uninstalled the FaceTime app from my phone because I could still make and receive FaceTime calls from the phone app, but had to put it back to get Walky Talkie to appear on the watch.

One big feature probably worth bringing up is that the Watch now has Web Kit, at least in Mail and Messages. What this means is you can read just about any Email now, even ones with fancy HTML layouts and follow links to read web pages. Same goes for Messages, if someone sends you a link you can check it out right on the watch

Submitted by Morgan Watkins on Saturday, September 15, 2018

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

I am wondering and hoping that there is a Read All gesture, like the two finger swipe on the iPhone, that will read the entire Apple Watch screen. This could be extremely useful with extended mail and Web access. Would also like to know of any other ways to do this.

Submitted by That Blind Canuck on Friday, September 21, 2018

I was just wondering if anyone out there that has a Series 1 Apple Watch, if they've updated to Watch OS 5, how does it perform with VoiceOver enabled? Does the watch perform just as snappy as it did with Watch OS 4?

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