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watchOS 5: Competitions, Workout detection and Siri face heart data push fitness tracking

Apple Watch already excels as an advanced fitness tracker, and watchOS 5 will further push the watch into that space later this fall. Apple is adding Competition to Activity Sharing, automatic workout detection, and presenting useful heart rate data on the Siri watch face for the first time. Check out our experience so far…


Starting with watchOS 5, Apple is upgrading Activity Sharing with a new motivational feature: Competition. Apple Watch users can challenge friends to one-on-one competitions.

This social component is especially useful if you’re looking for a new push to increase your physical activity or jumpstart a new workout routine. Competitions run for seven days each and the winner walks away with a virtual medal that proves you bested your opponent.

No group competitions this year, but you can run multiple competitions with different friends if you’re super competitive.

The feature is quite clever with suggestions to start a competition with a friend right from an Activity Sharing alert if they close their rings. The friend then has a day to respond to your challenge before the invitation expires. If they accept, the competition starts the following day. There’s one award for winning the competition and another award for participation.

Here’s how Activity Sharing Competition points are awarded:

Get a point for every percent you add to your rings each day. You can earn up to 125 points on your Stand ring and unlimited points on your Move and Exercise rings.

The best strategy? Just keep moving.

Automatic Workout Detection

watchOS 5 addresses a common complaint about Apple Watch: you need to start and stop workouts if you want the most accurate credit for your activity. That’s because Apple Watch uses different formulas to calculate workout metrics based on what you tell it you’re doing, but watchOS 5 improves this experience.

Workout detection isn’t totally automatic now — the best practice is still to start and stop workout tracking through an app or with Siri — but watchOS 5 will nudge you if it thinks you’ve started or ended your workout without starting or stopping a session in an app.

Workout detection supports starting five exercises in watchOS 5:

  • running
  • walking
  • swimming
  • elliptical workouts
  • rower workouts

watchOS 5 enables the ‘Start Workout Reminder’ by default and credits you retroactively if you start a workout from the alert, but it’s not a replacement for manually starting workouts — just an intelligent reminder if you forget.

Ending a workout automatically is simpler. All workout types are supported except for ‘Other’ workouts, and these are much more reliable since it’s easy to detect inactivity. You’ll still want to stop workouts manually to capture the most accurate data, but the new ‘End Workout Reminder’ will help you avoid keeping your Outdoor Run tracking going long after you’ve crashed on the couch.

Heart Data on Siri Face

The Siri watch face is getting smarter in a lot of ways with watchOS 5. This includes intelligently showing heart rate data that was previously tucked away in the Activity app on iPhone or Heart Rate app on Apple Watch.

For example, the Siri watch face will now show you resting heart rate passively throughout the day. Resting heart rate can be found in the Heart Rate app on Apple Watch, but intelligently surfacing it as a Siri face data source means you’re more likely to know your resting heart rate.

Even better is seeing your recovery heart rate on the Siri watch face after a workout. This captures your heart rate one minute and two minutes after a workout ends. The idea is a healthy heart quickly recovers from a workout. This was previously tucked away in the Activity app on iPhone after a workout, but presenting it intelligently on the Siri watch face increases the likelihood that you’ll actually see it.

watchOS 5 is available in developer beta now and expected to be released later this fall for Apple Watch Series 1 and up. First-generation Apple Watch models are not supported.

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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.