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Apple just made Apple Watch a lot smarter for runners

At its annual developers conference on Monday, Apple unveiled a range of new bells and whistles for its new Apple Watch interface, watchOS 5.

The updates, which also integrate changes made to the Siri voice assistant, are all aimed at making the watch smarter in its prediction of what you want it do for you. And they’re especially helpful for people who mostly use the watch for working out — a function Apple has particularly emphasized over time since it first launched the watch in 2015.

Smarter features for runners

The new Apple Watch interface is all about catering to active watch-wearers.

One new feature, “activity competitions,” allows you to create week-long competitions with friends to complete “rings” (workout goals you create) the fastest. You can win stickers when you beat them.

Apple tech VP Kevin Lynch demonstrates enhancements to Apple Watch at WWDC 2018.

The new watch interface also offers new workout categories for hiking and yoga, activities that didn’t have their own labels on Apple Watch before.

But the most valuable additions are for runners. The watch will now start tracking a run automatically if it senses you started running, even when you forgot to hit “start workout” or started it late. (This was a specific complaint we had in our Apple Watch Series 2 review — forget to hit “start” and your entire workout was lost, no data recorded.) The watch will also stop tracking a run when it senses that you’re done running.

The new interface also has an option to keep track of your rolling mile pace and your steps per minute cadence, and give you a custom alert pulse on your wrist (using haptic touch) when you fall below or go above the pace you wanted.

Walkie-Talkie feature on Apple Watch

Apple CEO Tim Cook said on stage that Apple Watch sales grew 60% in 2017. But experts these days generally say the overall outlook for smart watches has shrunk somewhat from the original promise: that smart watches were going to become ubiquitous.

So Apple is also adding bells and whistles that have nothing to do with working out, an effort to prove to the skeptics that the Apple Watch isn’t just a fitness tracker.

Shortcuts, a new feature on iOS 12 for Siri, is also now on Apple Watch. Siri on Apple Watch can turn on your “leaving home” settings in your house (via HomeKit), or play your morning playlist on the watch. The shortcuts “appear based on whether you typically do those activities at those times,” Apple tech VP Kevin Lynch said on stage.

And then there’s Walkie-Talkie, the new Apple Watch feature that most impressed the live audience at WWDC. Walkie-Talkie lets you talk to a friend through the watch (if they, too, have an Apple Watch) over cellular signal or Wi-Fi. The watch-to-watch conversation does mimic talking to someone on a handheld walkie-talkie: it isn’t a cell phone conversation, you hear their voice through your watch.

Daniel Roberts covers tech at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.

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