34 Apple Watch tips and tricks

Get the best experience from your Apple Watch with this essential guide
Apple Watch tips and tricks

The Apple Watch Series 2 (our Smartwatch and Wareable of the Year 2016) has been around for just over six months now, supplanting the original Apple Watch as Apple's headline wearable, though the Watch Series 1 (a zippier version of the first Apple smartwatch) lives alongside.

There's a host of tips and tricks to bend the Apple Watch to your will, and with watchOS 3 it's more versatile than ever..

It's one of the most complex wearable operating systems going, and while it makes for a steep learning curve, it also means there's an incredible amount of opportunity for customisation. In short, it's the most personal smartwatch to date.

Essential reading: Best Apple Watch apps

We've rounded up 34 essential hacks to help make the Apple Watch even more personal, including improvements introduced in watchOS 3 and subsequent updates. From adding music to trimming unwanted notifications and even taking screenshots, your experience will be richer for reading this list.

Eject water from Series 2

25 Apple Watch tips and tricks

Unlike the original Apple Watch, the second generation is waterproof and includes an eject mode to get rid of water lurking inside after you've gone swimming. If you want to manually use this feature, swipe up from the main home screen to view the Apple Watch Control Center. Look for the water droplet icon and press it. You'll then be prompted to twist the digital crown to eject the water.

It's actually a good idea to tap the droplet button before getting in the shower or pool (but don't worry if you forget) as it also locks the screen, preventing it from confusing water droplets for your own fingers.

Discreetly view the time

Another one for Series 2 owners only. If you want to check in on the time without raising your wrist, you can slowly twist the digital crown upwards and it'll brighten up the screen gradually to let you peek in, rather than fully illuminating the watch screen.

Take a screenshot

Both the original Apple Watch and the Series 2 can take screenshots when you hold down the digital crown and the action button below it at the same time. Images are then saved to your camera roll on your iPhone. If you've upgraded to watchOS 3 though, this is not set as default. To enable screenshots, head to the Watch companion app and then go to General. There you'll be able to toggle Enable Screenshots on or off.

Organise the app dock

25 Apple Watch tips and tricks

Now that Apple has ditched Glances in watchOS 3, you can view all currently open apps by pressing the action button. You can also customise how these open apps are displayed. Once you've pressed the action button to open up the dock, press and hold on any of the app widgets and you'll be able to drag it up or down the order of apps.

Scribble a message

Another feature Apple decided to get rid of with watchOS 3 was the Friends Circle, which meant Digital Touch was moved to Messages. If you want to scribble a note to a friend instead of dictating one or picking one of Apple's pre-loaded responses, simply scroll down to the bottom of a message thread and hit the Scribble button.

Unlock Watch from your iPhone

If you didn't do this in the initial setup process, you can still unlock your Apple Watch and iPhone at the same time without having to hammer in a passcode (if you've set one of those up). To do this, go to the Watch companion app where you can toggle the Unlock with iPhone feature on or off. You need to be wearing the Watch for this feature to work though.

Unlock your Mac from your Watch

If you're fully kitted out with all the Apple stuff, then there is also a way that you can use your Apple Watch (original and Series 2) to skip typing in a password on your Mac to get access. If you want to pair the two together, the first thing you need to is make sure they are both signed into the same iCloud account.

Essential reading: Best Apple Watch faces to try out

Your next step is to head to your Mac (make sure it's running macOS Sierra or later) and choose System Preferences, then Security & Privacy and General. Here you'll be able to set the Apple Watch to unlock your Mac. Make sure two-factor authentication is enabled as well on your Mac (head to System Preferences > iCloud > Account Details > Security).

Sharing Activity rings

25 Apple Watch tips and tricks

Apple's answer to Fitbit, Garmin and the rest of the fitness tracker fraternity is its Activity platform. That's where all of your daily movements are recorded. In its latest iteration you can now share activity progress with other Apple Watch users. To do it you need to add friends, which has to be done by going to the dedicated Activity app on your iPhone. You can then select Sharing and hit the + icon in the corner to add contacts.

Jog on: The best Apple Watch running apps

Back on the Apple Watch, go to the Activity app and swipe right to see Activity data from your friends. You can also comment on workouts to keep them motivated, or to make fun of them. Either way, it's your call.

Turn on auto pause during a run

Like you can on the Samsung Gear S3, Apple also lets you halt run tracking when you get interrupted or have to stop at a set of traffic lights. You can now enable automatic run pausing simply by heading to the Apple Watch app on your iPhone, heading to the My Watch section and then selecting Workout. Here you'll be able to toggle on Running Auto Pause.

Check in on storage

There's a decent amount of room on the Apple Watch to accommodate apps, emails, and music. If you want to see how much storage you have to play with, head to the Apple Watch companion app, go to General and then select Usage. Here you'll be able to get a breakdown of how much space apps are taking up.

Change the wrist-raise action

30 Apple Watch tips and tricks

This tip came from complaining to Hole19 about constantly having to reopen the app while out on the course. Didn't we feel like fools.

In the Apple Watch settings menu turn on the Wrist Raise feature. Below, you'll have a couple options under 'On Screen Raise Show Last App'. You can choose to show the last app while you're in session, within two minutes of last use, within one hour of last use, or always. Now, when you raise your wrist you'll see the last app you were using.

You can also do it from within the Apple Watch app on your iPhone. Just go to General and then Wake Screen, you'll have the same couple options to choose from.

Change text size

If you find yourself constantly squinting at your wrist to read the Watch's notifications, you can change the text size. Simply go to Settings > Brightness & Text Size then configure it to whatever's comfortable for you.

Ping your iPhone

Lose your iPhone? Good thing you have your Apple Watch on because it can help you find your handset. Swipe up to bring up the Control Center, look for the 'Ping iPhone' button and tap to be reunited with your iPhone.

Use picture watch faces

By default, the Apple Watch selects images from the Favorites folder on your iPhone – something we'd never thought to use before. So go and tag some images in iOS using the heart button at the bottom. When you use the photo album watch face it will randomly select photos from the folder. You can tap the face to cycle through images.

How to use Apple Watch

Reply to emails from your wrist

While replying from your Apple Watch was restricted to just SMS messages in watchOS 1, you can now respond to emails. You can use the pre-ordained responses if you wish, or tap the microphone to dictate replies with your voice.

Force restart

Apple says to do this action as a last resort, so if you're left with no choice then hold the Digital Crown and side button together for 10 seconds. Just like restarting your iPhone, the Apple logo will pop up and your watch should restart.

Cover to mute

If your Watch is set to notify you or ring with sounds, but you're in the middle of a meeting or situation where loud dings are rude, you can turn on 'Cover to Mute' in the Sound & Haptics settings. Then simply cover your watch for three seconds for it take effect.

Use third-party complications

34 Apple Watch tips and tricks

Added to the mix in watchOS 2 (but we'll forgive you if you're new to this) information can be drawn from third-party apps into watch faces. The main face for this is the ever-useful Modular, but Utility and Chronograph also have options for adding data from the likes of CityMapper and AccuWeather too.

Press and hold the watch face to cycle through the selection of faces, and tap Customise to enter an editing mode. Swipe to the right to make the areas that can be customised appear in boxes. Tap the area you want to change, and then use the crown to scroll through options – this is where those third-party complications can be added. Most can be turned off if you prefer the minimalist look.

If you don't want to deal with the Watch's tiny display, you can also do this on your iPhone via the Face Gallery in the companion app.

Use Theater Mode

Have you ever sat in a dark movie theater, moved your arm to get a little more comfortable and then seen a beacon go off on your wrist? That was your Apple Watch. To avoid being a public nuisance in a movie theater, just swipe up on the watch face and click the Greek theater faces to enable Theater Mode, which will keep your Watch's display off during your film.

Time Travel through your day

Scrolling the digital crown when using a watch face that supports calendar features (Modular or Utility) will enable you to cycle through upcoming or past events in your calendar. However, in watchOS 3 this comes switched off. To turn it on, head to the Clock setting in the Watch app and toggle Time Travel to On. You'll then be able to scroll through the day's events; Pressing the crown will return you to the present.

Turn your Watch into a bedside clock

Night Stand Mode was introduced back in watchOS 2. So when you put your watch on charge just tip it onto its side to turn your smartwatch into a nifty little clock.

Wipe notifications

If you're overburdened by notifications you can wipe your history by swiping down from the top of your screen to access a chronological list. Once displayed, you can banish them all by long pressing the screen then tapping Clear All.

Transfer a call to your iPhone

Received a call on your Watch, but want to continue it on your actual phone? No problem. Accept the call from the smartwatch and swipe up to send it over. Seamless.

Re-open the last used app

Switching between apps is easy as well – you can jump back to the last used app just by double-tapping the Digital Crown.

Put the watch in power reserve mode

Draining power too fast? Swipe up on the main watch screen to bring up the Control Center. The first icon displays current battery status. Press this to reveal the Power Reserve button.

Trim notifications

By default, the Apple Watch will show any notification that appears on your iPhone, but you can turn each one off individually, to quell the digital noise. In the iPhone's Apple Watch app menu tap Notifications and scroll down to 'mirror iPhone alerts from' and start turning off those annoying offenders.

Add music to your watch

Adding MP3s to your Apple Watch isn't hugely compelling, but if you're out for a run without your iPhone, it can be useful. To get your music on the Watch you first need to first create a playlist on your iPhone, and then head to the Apple Watch companion app.

In the app, choose the Music app from the list on the phone and choose your playlist, and it will start syncing. If it doesn't, stick your Watch on its charging pad.

Get the full details: How to add music to your Apple Watch

You won't be able to see your music until you pair some wireless headphones, which is done via the Bluetooth part of the settings menu. Once they're synced, head to the Music app on the Watch, and long press to show synced playlists.

You may now go for a run.

Set up for left handers

The Digital Crown isn't best placed for south paws, who generally wear their watch on the right arm. However, you can have the Apple Watch flip its controls so that the crown works on the bottom left instead of top right. In the iPhone companion app go to General > Watch Orientation and then choose your preferred wrist and Digital Crown position.

Reorganise your apps

You can change the order of your apps on that familiar home screen in the companion app too. Just fire it up and choose App Layout, which is easily missed at the top. You can then press and hold on the tiles and move them about the honeycomb, like a game of wearable blockbusters.

Trim watch faces

While Mickey has been the face of Apple's marketing campaign, it's virtually impossible to tell the time from his stubby arms. In fact, there are only two watch faces we actually can bear to use. Banish the rest by swiping up on any offending design. If you want one back, just press the + at the end of the list.

Make Mickey and Minnie speak

34 Apple Watch tips and tricks

Say you're a bit sad, and you need a jolt of joy. You can head over to your Mickey or Minnie watch face and tap on them to hear them tell you the time in their trademark voices. You'll need to make sure it's on by heading to Sounds & Haptics in the companion and enabling 'Tap to Speak'.

Delete stock Apple apps

Unless you're really invested in the stock market, you probably haven't touched Apple's Stock app on the iPhone. So why would you open it up on your Apple Watch?

Back in iOS 10, Apple added the ability to remove stock apps from your iPhone. Lucky for you, deleting those stock apps also removes them from your Apple Watch.

Create new workouts

34 Apple Watch tips and tricks

Apple's Workout app doesn't have a lot of options. There's indoor and outdoor running, walking, elliptical, rowing and other. Did you know that you can create your own workout? All you have to do is select 'Other' before starting your workout.

After your workout, swipe left and click 'End'. Then scroll down and check 'Rename workout'. Voila, you'll be presented with a list that includes 58 other types of workouts. There's big stuff like strength training, boxing, kickboxing, surfing, soccer and basketball, but also smaller activities like fishing, bowling, barre, dancing, pilates, yoga and table tennis. You even have things for flexibility and mind & body.

Once you've saved your new workout, the Watch will keep it in your list of workouts for easy access later. This'll also allow you to use the nebulous other to create new workouts in the future, should you need them.

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  • Jacobkendall02 says:

    hey I was wondering if there was a way to turn OFF the screenshot feature on my apple watch

    • j.stables says:

      Afraid not. Do you do it accidentally or something?

  • Samuel01 says:

    replaced my pebble the day the apple watch was released. Back to my pebble. The touch screen has failed and my insider says thousands are being returned due to a "hardware design flaw".

    I have no estimated time for repair.

    Back to the future with pebble!

    • PolyphonicGoat says:

      Hahaha "back to the future". Please, spare me the fisher price propaganda here. That thing is no more futuristic than a fax machine. 

  • Kimaward says:

    I cannot get the swipe up feature to transfer a call to my iPhone to work??? 

    • bzeldin says:

      Neither can I

  • Josamp1116 says:

    my wife & i both have iphone 6s's. I bought her an apple watch for xmas and now all her phone calls show up 

    On my phone and some of my calls show up on her phone. Is there any way to turn that off?

    • AppleKing says:

      Yea you have to make your own Apple ID's so they don't connect

  • Bree says:

    my watch face options do not have a photo album option... How can i upload one?

    • jazante says:

      with OS3 in the watch app on your phone, look at the bottom bar. go to face gallery.

      scroll down to Photos, pick the first one that as favorites under, then you should see

      Photo Album then do your modification and hit ADD. ET voilà!

  • Chub123 says:

    Hi guys, 

    Just wondering can you change between notifications by moving your wrist left or right, reason I am asking is that I really want an iWatch but restricted due a disability, I only have 1 arm, I can use SIRI for the majority of the functionality, but would find it difficult to change between notifications when I'm wearing the watch, all suggestions really welcome. 

  • BoTate says:

    Can you have the face show the home screen (time etc.) when using the pedometer or do you have to watch your steps all day?

  • vysotsky says:

    I use the lose it app on my phone. When I had my fitbit the app recognized that I was wearing it and tracked my steps. How can I have it recognize that I'm wearing the apple watch and track those steps. 

  • kimzter says:

    several issues with my watch.  

    1) it gives me "stand time" cred of 12 hours -- I haven't even been AWAKE 12 hours and it was on the charger while I slept.

    2) I'm constantly depressing the home button when I flex my wrist.

    3) doesn't always PING my iPhone.  Sound is intermittent and doesn't seem to matter if I have phone silenced or not.

    Anyone with suggestions?

  • Kaz99 says:

    when I put my watch on after charging , the screen is big and I can't make it small again . It asks for pass code which most of the time I enter wrong as it is difficult to see what I am doing . It locks me out . How can I stop this . I have to now wait 15 minutes before I can try again . Then I need to make it smaller but don't know how , tried using the control button , but doesn't make it small enough . 

  • Appleway says:

    can you change the goals you set up for the activity?

  • Appleway says:

    how can I change my activity goals?

  • Mgmmike says:

    I put a custom watch face on my series 2 Apple Watch my question is.  Is it possible to change the color of the digital time from white to black etc.. it would be nice to change that when you have a light watch face so the time stands out more.

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