watchOS 5: Podcasts, Siri face, custom Control Center, more

watchOS 5 is packed with lots of welcome changes and new features on Apple Watch — many that check off boxes from my wish list this year. Not everything works in the first developer beta version, but there’s a lot to try now and more coming this fall:

If you use Apple Podcasts on iPhone or iTunes, the new Podcasts app for Apple Watch is very, very good. The watch app automatically syncs your subscriptions from iPhone, you can browse shows and episodes, skip back and ahead during an episode, and change playback speed.

Streaming works over Wi-Fi or LTE with Bluetooth headphones or speakers, and you can now remotely control playback on the iPhone from the watch app — just like with Apple Music.

Personally, I listen to podcasts as much as I listen to music, so this new app makes audio streaming on Apple Watch feel near complete. For third-party podcast players, developers will be able to use a background audio API that will hopefully support apps like Overcast as well.

Control Center on Apple Watch is now editable, and rearranging tiles happens right on the watch with a jiggle mode — not in the Watch app on iPhone like the Dock.

This is welcome for a few reasons: Control Center continues to gain new tiles as the watch gets new functions (cellular, swim-proof, etc.), frequently used tiles aren’t often at the top, and tiles sometimes change with watchOS updates.

Now the user is in control of Control Center — at least the arrangement. You can’t hide tiles that you don’t want to see, bottom tiles that were full width are now half width to afford editing, and the edit button is always hanging out down there now. I’ve arranged mine in a way that makes more sense to me, however, so the change is appreciated.

And the Siri watch face is indeed smarter in watchOS 5 thanks to Siri Shortcuts based on Apple’s Workflow acquisition. We’re still learning how this will work for third-party apps, but there are a few new data sources appearing already.

The full list of data sources now includes: Activity, Alarms, Breathe, Calendar, Favorite Teams (as set in TV app), Health, Heart Rate, Home, InCallService (unclear what this does yet), Mail, Messages, Music, News, Notes, Now Playing, Photos, Podcasts, Reminders, Stocks, Stopwatch, Timer, Wallet, Weather, and Workout.

There’s also a new color theme, gray, in addition to the multi-color Siri theme that changes the background tiles.

And the Solar watch face now supports two complications.

There are also loads of other tweaks and changes throughout watchOS 5 that we can see so far:

  • Weather app now shows UV index and wind speed data, 10 day forecast easier to find with a scroll
  • watchOS 5’s web support for links is very functional, you can even dictate or use Scribble to enter text
  • Walkie-Talkie (first teased in the original Apple Watch announcement) isn’t quite ready yet
  • Messages has improves how dictation, Scribble, the emoji and sticker picker, Digital Touch, and Apple Pay appear; there’s also a new categorized organizer for emoji
  • Do Not Disturb features introduced in iOS 12 are present on watchOS 5 after giving Calendar permission
  • New Workout start and stop reminders have toggles
  • watchOS 5 lets Apple Watch switch Wi-Fi networks, not just toggle Wi-Fi on or off
  • The new feature that lets Siri work without saying ‘Hey Siri’ doesn’t appear to be activated in beta 1, but there is a toggle for it
  • You can now add cities to Weather and World Clock from the watch apps
  • The new grouped alerts already work like iOS 12, Notification Center and Control Center are also bouncier now

We’ll continue exploring watchOS 5 — including the new fitness features — and all of Apple’s new releases this week and throughout the summer so stay tuned for much more coverage!

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Avatar for Zac Hall Zac Hall

Zac covers Apple news for 9to5Mac and hosts the 9to5Mac Happy Hour and 9to5Mac Watch Time podcasts.