14 Improvements in watchOS 5 beta 3 for runners, swimmers, cyclists and triathletes

I've been wearing two watches again, it used to be one Apple Watch and one Garmin 935, but since dropping the 935 and moving entirely over to Apple Watch for training and life, my series 3 LTE has been permanently on my left wrist.

And now it has been joined by another series 3 LTE on my right wrist - this one running the beta version of watchOS 5 (currently at version 3).  Early versions of the beta (1 and 2) were fairly useless for sports tracking often stalling early into the workout and then not logging anything.  But that was expected for Beta software (which is essentially pre-release test software), however, version 3 is proving to be very useable for workouts.  In fact, I am tending to select with watchOS 5 logs over the watchOS 4 ones because of the extra capability and accuracy (see below)

How to get watchOS 5 beta

If you want to get your hands on watchOS 5 beta 3 now then you have to be a developer on the Apple developer programme - details here: https://www.imore.com/how-download-watchos-5-beta.  There is no public beta for watchOS 5 I'm afraid and you'll need an iPhone you are happy to install iOS 12 beta on.  

So although signs are looking good, I would not yet recommend installing watchOS 5 on your primary (or only) Apple Watch.  I am doing that for you so you don't need to :)

You can expect watchOS 5 final version to be released in September as a free update.

Here's my setup:

  • I am using an iPhone SE running iOS 12 beta, paired to an Apple Watch Series 3 LTE running watchOS 5 and living on my right wrist.
  • My main Apple Watch (also series 3 LTE) is on my left wrist, running watchOS 4 and paired to an iPhone X running iOS 11 (all latest public versions)
  • Both iPhones and Apple Watches are using my main Apple ID so they share a lot of account information, including health data

Wearing Two Apple Watches?

Just a note on using two Apple Watches.  I'm guessing this is pretty rare, but I was surprised with the support that Apple has added.  There are essentially three ways to do this:

  1. Have two Apple Watches paired to a single iPhone.  This is the neatest option, with iPhone automatically switching to whichever watch you are wearing for logging health data and everything else. 
  2. Have two Apple Watches paired to two iPhones that both use the same Apple ID.  This is what I am currently doing (because I needed an iPhone on iOS 12 beta and didn't want to do that yet to my main iPhone X).  This works surprisingly well too, with health data synced via iCloud
  3. Have two Apple Watches paired to two iPhones that each use a different Apple ID.  I haven't tried this, but I guess it would be like being two people, though could be a useful way to test out social aspects like workout challenges.  Instead, I have persuaded my wife to ditch her step tracker band and move over to an Apple Watch 3 38mm.  So far she is finding closing her rings much more interesting than counting steps.

14 Improvements for watchOS 5

And with that let's crack on with the improvements (in no particular order) for beta 3 of watchOS 5

1. Heart rate for Open Water Swimming

I've noted that my Open Water Swims now record heart rate in a much more granular fashion than watchOS 4 did which is very nice.  Still some anomalies but I expect this to be resolved before release. The summary now shows the heart rate chart and the stroke you swam (e.g. Freestyle)

2. Cadence for running

watchOS 5 now supports cadence for running natively in the workout app (before it was only available in third-party apps, or if you exported the health data to another platform.  Now cadence is shown as a metric in the Workout app during your workout and afterwards in the summary data.

The new metrics available to running workouts

3. Pace alerts - average and rolling

This is a great improvement for running with the standard Workout app - you can now set a pace alert in mins/km or mins/mile based on either an average or rolling pace.  When you are behind or ahead of pace you get a nice little musical notification (going up in tone for ahead, and down for behind) and a message on your screen.  

Average pace is over the whole workout and is good if you are targetting an overall pace and thus time for an event or session.

Rolling pace is more forgiving, and provides your pace over the last km or mile at any time.  This is better for a training session where you are targeting a pace but not worried about the overall time.  So for example, if you have a slow section uphill and fall behind your target pace it will all be forgotten a km (or mile) later and you can get back to your steady target pace.  Contrast that to an overall average pace where you would need to speed up to bring your average for the whole run back in line.

I'd love to see more options for settings alerts (cadence or heart rate zone for example), though you do get distance alerts already, and of course, there are always third-party apps that can provide this if you need them (e.g. iSmoothRun)

4. Better auto-pause for running

I have found the auto-pause for running in watchOS 4 a little frustrating at times, pausing very quickly and also being a little eager to start again, when I'm just walking through a gate for example.

watchOS 5 seems to have improved this, it's not always ahead or behind watchOS 4 but it always seems to be more accurate.  i.e. it pauses when I have stopped and starts again when I'm running where my watchOS 4 watch may have paused and started and paused and started multiple times for the same section.  


5. New calorie calculations 

It's a bit hard to say if this is an improvement but on watchOS 5 calorie calculations are definitely different, and often a little more than on watchOS 4 for the exact same workout.  Assuming Apple would only want to make this more accurate and have more data to do so now, I tend towards this being be an accuracy improvement, though time will tell I guess


6. Battery life is promising

In beta 1 and beta 2 battery life on the watchOS 5 watch was pretty bad.  But I have found in beta 3 that it is now comparable with watchOS 4, and in some cases has been significantly better.  I haven't completed any scientific tests, but have just noted that often when I look at the battery life on both watches they are pretty much equal for the same scenarios (e.g. with or without iPhone near, LTE turned on or off, in a workout etc).

It's early days but I would have expected battery life to be much worse in a beta so it is encouraging that Apple appeared to have some parity at this stage already.  Couple this with the rumoured increased battery life in series 4 hardware (expected September) then we could be in for a nice treat in terms of battery life in general.


7. Walkie talkie could be fun for family and coach

I haven't been able to test this as yet but there is a new built-in app called Walkie-Talkie that enables direct communication with those who you have invited when you mark yourself as available.

This would be super annoying in a lot of situations - in a meeting for example and your wife's voice suddenly asks what time you are home today, so you probably want to only mark yourself available when you truly are (An Apple Watch makes it clear on all watch faces when you are marked as available with an ugly-ish yellow icon top and centre).

But I can imagine this could be a cool way for family to offer encouragement to you whilst you are out on a workout - you don't have to press anything to hear them, their voice will just play over the speaker or headphones - Come on Dad!

And a coach may also find this an interesting way to communicate with you in the same way :)

Bear in mind this sort of thing would not be allowed in events such as an IronMan though where remote coaching can lead to a disqualification so make sure you check the rules for your event before using it.

8. Podcasts while running is great

 I love running while listening to podcasts and in watchOS 4 this wasn’t natively supported.  There were third party apps that attempted solutions but none really worked for me because of slow sync and having to manage another podcast library., so if I wanted to listen to a podcast on a long run I’d take my iPhone with me and play it from there.

Now in watchOS 5 there is a native Podcast app which automatically syncs with your Apple Podcast library so your Listen Now collection is always (pretty much) ready to go.  And if not you can play the podcast over LTE on a series 3 LTE (though this impacts battery life)

Probably better still is that Apple have improved the API’s so that third party apps can also build much better podcast apps, so if you are an Overcast user for example it is likely you will see a native Watch app for that in the future.

 9. Start Workout reminder

This one doesn’t seem to be complete as yet.  Initially in beta 1 and 2 I did get a reminder on the Siri watchface suggesting that I had started a workout - this is a weird place to put it and would not be something I’d typically notice.  I think I also had a normal notification but that appears to have disappeared in Beta 3.

Ideally I’d like this to just start a workout when detected without any interaction from me, and have the option to cancel it if needed. 


10. End workout reminder

Similarly this feature reminds you to end a workout when you are done.  This is working well and avoids logging the train ride on your commute after the cycle to the station. 


11. Notifications are grouped (Workout alerts)

We still have a limit of 40 people you can invite to workout sharing and if you hit that limit you will find the number of individual notifications overwhelming.

Now in watchOS 5 notifications are more manageable because they are grouped rather than you being bombarded with multiple individual ones.  Even better you can choose to have them delivered quietly (sent straight to notification centre without any noise or vibration on Apple Watch and iPhone)

12. Workout Challenges

Not one I’ve been able to try out in earnest yet this new feature lets you set up a 7 cay challenge with a friend with watchOS 5 giving each or you a score 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. 

Since this is based on a percentage and not an absolute of your Move Ring you can still compete with people who are more or less active than you are in a fair way.

I’m looking forward to making these challenges against my wife once she has watchOS 5 installed :) 

 13. Better HealthKit API’s for developers

The bottom line here is that since it should be easier for developers to work with HealthKit they should be more motivated to build workout apps that work well with the Health database.  There is no shortage of third party Apple Watch workout apps but I do find that they don’t always have solid integration into the Health database, meaning they may not update your rings correctly or record the gps track for a run for example.  I’m expecting the API improvements to help developers build richer apps.

14. Raise to Speak Siri - no need to say “Hey Siri”

Not strictly a workout feature but i have found I am using Siri more often now that I can simply raise my wrist and talk into it without saying “Hey Siri”.  Current favorite is to say “Set a reminder for 15 minutes” and use it as a nutrition reminder for long rides and runs.  When the timer goes off I tap “Repeat” for the next one :)


And Five things I’d like to see...

There are still plenty of things I’d like to see and these are the top 5 on my list:

  1. Top of the list is more alerts like the pace alert, for heart rate and cadence in running, but also for other sports such as pace alert in pool swimming, or even power zones in cycling
  2. Talking of cycling why haven’t we got auto-pause yet?  The current auto-pause is just for running and walking - and I would have thought it would be easier to detect when you have stopped cycling and auto-pause the workout.  And in the same vein how about power-saving mode for cycling too?  What am I missing Apple?
  3. Bluetooth support is currently limited to a max of 2 devices directly on Apple Watch and the implementation seems somehow limited - at least I have had no success pairing my PowerTap P1 power meters on my bike, though they pair perfectly to iPhone.  So better Bluetooth support for health devices please.
  4. Workout support - this is probably more likely to be something Apple would leave to third party app developers but I would still love to see support for structured workouts in the Workout app - running intervals would be the obvious one, but being able to build a workout for any sport would be fantastic.   Current third party workout builders on iPhone tend to be fairly clunky and hard to use, some Apple design love would go a long way :)
  5. Sports navigation - I’d love Apple Maps to be able to either create a custom route or import a gpx file and give me turn by turn directions for running and cycling with voice or tactic prompts. I have not found a satisfactory gpx route navigation app for Apple Watch so when I need this on a long ride, I revert to using my Wahoo Elemnt Bolt bike computer.


I like the way watchOS 5 is shaping up for workouts, there is plenty to admire and I am excited about what the combo of the new OS and new hardware with series 4 in September will bring.  One thing I have noticed is that watchOS 5 has visibly thinner activity rings than watchOS 4 - is this just a design change or does it indicate a fourth ring is going to be added - sleep tracking perhaps? 

Having said that everything is still in beta though so unless you are happy to potientially lose data or have activity logs messed up, I wouldn’t recommend installing this beta just yet.   Come September and the final release though, it looks like it will be an improvement overall for all Apple Watch active users.