The WatchOS 8 Feature that Significantly Improves Apple Watch Fitness Apps

Now that iOS 15 and Apple watchOS 8 are available to everyone, it’s time to dive into the new features. There are the obvious and eye-catching ones, like the World Timer watch face (which is rather lovely) and new workout options (tai chi and Pilates).

However, it’s the Always On compatibility for third-party apps that could alter how you use your Apple Watch.

Only Apple’s chosen applications had full support for the Watch’s Always On state until watchOS 8, which meant the apps remained active and completely visible when you lowered your wrist. The majority of other apps would become hazy and black, with Apple’s digital clock hiding a section of the screen.

This was especially problematic with third-party fitness applications, which are significantly more useful if you can continually glance at the numbers on your Watch’s screen without raising your wrist. (To see what I mean, try it while performing pull-ups.)

This is why, rather than utilizing some of the far more advanced third-party fitness programs, I generally switched to using Apple’s Workout app, which offered this functionality from the start.

However, with watchOS 8, any app can remain completely viewable (although dimly) in the Always-On state. The following is taken from Apple’s documentation on the new feature: “Always On has been expanded in watchOS 8 to include your apps. As long as your program is either the frontmost app or is in a background session, Apple Watch displays its user interface. The system updates the user interface at a significantly lower frequency than while it is operating in the forefront to save battery life. It also causes the watch to fade.”

This does not happen automatically; in order for this to operate, the app must be developed for watchOS 8 (developers, see details here), which not all app developers have done at the time of writing.

Helium, a running program, has released a new version with this capability. I tried it out, and it’s much more useful when the watch is set to Always On, with almost all of its metrics visible and active.

In the following days, I expect more Apple Watch app developers to implement this adjustment.

Meanwhile, several of Apple’s own apps that didn’t have this capability before are worth checking out. Maps, Mindfulness, Now Playing, Phone, Podcasts, Stopwatch, Timers, and Voice Memos are among the new apps that enable Always On with watchOS 8.

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