So you've got a fancy new Apple Watch Series 3 with cellular, or you've jumped in with the more affordable Series 1 or bagged a Watch Series 2. You're extremely excited, but you also want to skip out on all that fumbling around and get straight to it.
The good news is that watchOS 4, Apple's smartwatch operating system, is one of the more comprehensive on the market. This makes for a steep learning curve, but there's a great amount of opportunity for customization. And things are only set to improve when watchOS 5 lands later this year. We've already spent some time with an early version of the software, and we'll soon be updating this list with tips on upcoming features, such as the new notification management and Walkie Talkie.
Hands on: Apple Watch Series 4 review
For now, though, we've rounded up 41 essential hacks to help make the current Apple Watch even more personal, including improvements introduced in watchOS 4 and subsequent updates. From adding music to trimming unwanted notifications and even taking screenshots, your experience will be richer for reading this list.
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Organize, and use, the app dock
Apple ditched glances back in watchOS 3, and now you can view all currently open apps by pressing the side button. You should totally use this dock, stacking it with your most used apps. Why? Because these are the apps your Watch will prioritize when pulling in information and background refreshes.
Essential reading: Best Apple Watch apps
You can customize the dock in your companion Watch app. It can be set to pull in the most recent apps you used, which works a little bit like multitasking on the iPhone. Or, you could turn it into a proper dock with your favorite apps. If you choose the latter, you can easily customize which apps appear.
If you'd like to customize the dock on the Watch itself, you can do so by clicking the side button, then 3D touching an app and tapping "Keep in Dock."
Track your sleep
Apple doesn't offer its own built-in sleep tracking mode, which means it can't quite match Fitbit, Garmin and others for offering the complete fitness tracking experience straight out of the box. But thankfully, there are a bunch of apps that can bring the feature to the Watch. We've picked out the best sleep tracker apps for the Apple Watch so you don't have to go hunting for them on the App Store.
Discreetly view the time
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. Sorry, original Apple Watch owners, this one won't work for you.
If you're overburdened by notifications you can wipe your recent 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.
Control music playback
If you've updated to watchOS 4.3, you can control the music playback on the Apple HomePod and iPhone straight from the Watch. Of course, iPhone users could briefly do this after watchOS 4 first launched, though it was swiftly removed after music streaming was added to the smartwatch through watchOS 4.1.
With many users enjoying the control, though, and the HomePod launching, users are now one again able to select tunes, alter volume and skip all from the wrist.
Change AirPods volume
If you want to change the volume on the AirPods without taking out your iPhone, you have to ask Siri. Convoluted to say the least, but if you have an Apple Watch, you're in luck.
When you're playing music on a Watch running on watchOS 4 or later, whether it's from your iPhone or Watch, you can glance at your watch to see what's "Now Playing." All you have to do is rotate the Digital Crown to raise and lower the volume. It couldn't be more convenient.
Take a screenshot
All Apple Watches 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. This is not set as default though. 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.
Get some bands
One of the things Apple really pushes with the Apple Watch is bands. There are new bands released every couple of months, with new colors to match the season, and your wardrobe. That's why we recommend having a look at what's out there and taking advantage of the customization options.
Read this: The best third party Apple Watch bands
And if you don't want to splash the cash on Apple's bands, there are always third-party options. Do be warned, though, they might not fit as well.
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.
Turn on elevated heart rate notifications
Apple is taking heart health more seriously, and one of the newer features - as well as resting heart rate - is a notification when your heart rate is higher than it should be. You can enable it in the heart rate section of the companion app.
When you turn it on, you'll be asked to choose a threshold between 100bpm and 150bpm. Your Apple Watch will only alert you when you go past the threshold and appear to have been inactive for about 10 minutes. On top of that, it'll look for signs that your elevated heart rate is a longer-term problem, rather than a temporary blip brought on by something terrifying - like a horror movie.
Chain together your workouts
You triathlete, you. To date the Apple Watch has let you down, but it's getting better, and in watchOS 4 you can now chain together workouts, which means less time rubbing those sweaty fingers around the screen. If you want to jump from one type of workout to another, rather than stopping the current one, swipe right and tap the + button to add a new one on.
Unlock your Mac from your Watch
If you're fully kitted out with all the Apple stuff, there's also a way that you can use your Apple Watch to skip typing in a password on your Mac to get access, so long as you have a mid-2013 or newer Mac that's running macOS Sierra 10.12 or later. 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 choose Security & Privacy and click the General tab. 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
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.
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 automatic 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 your data usage
If you've got a Series 3 with LTE, you may want to keep an eye on your data usage. You never know whether something will tip you over your monthly plan. Alternatively, it's neat to see how little data the Apple Watch actually uses.
You'll have to head over to the companion app, checking in on the cellular menu option to see the information. Once you do, however, you'll find out how much data you've used in the current period and which apps are using that data.
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
This tip came from complaining to golf app developer 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.
Eject water after a swim
From Series 2 onward, the Apple Watch 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.
Ping your iPhone
Lose your iPhone? Good thing you have your Apple Watch on because it can help you find your handset in a pinch. Swipe up to bring up the Control Center, look for the 'Ping iPhone' button and tap to be reunited with your iPhone. If you tap and hold the 'Ping iPhone' button, your iPhone's LED flash will blink, giving you a visual hide in case the speaker gets too muffled.
Use pictures as 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.
Alternatively, with watchOS 4 you can now turn those photos into trippy designs with the kaleidoscope face. On your iPhone, you should now now see a 'Create Watch Face' option in the action menu on any picture. This will let you stick picture on your Watch either as is, or in kaleidoscope form.
Reply from the wrist
Apple still doesn't have a keyboard on the Apple Watch (and probably never will) but there are other ways you can respond to texts and emails. Apart from using custom responses, you can either tap the microphone to dictate replies with your voice, or scribble it letter by letter. That's a little tasking, but Siri is getting better at voice detection, and when you're paired with some Bluetooth headphones with a mic, the experience is much smoother.
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.
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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
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 Customize to enter an editing mode. Swipe to the right to make the areas that can be customized 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 the cinema, 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.
Do some gym-based cardio
Apple GymKit is finally starting to roll out, and while it'll take a while for gyms across the world to get in the necessary equipment, the process has begun. Essentially, GymKit allows you to tap your Apple Watch to an NFC terminal on cardio equipment, which will perfectly sync up all your exercise data.
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, this comes switched off by default. 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. This has even been updated in watchOS 4.3 to allow the mode in the standard orientation, too - great for those who use a dock to charge their Watch at night.
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.
Master the Workout app
Apple's Workout app got a big upgrade in watchOS 4. It's got a new look, firstly, and includes a whole bunch of new workouts like High Intensity Interval Training - even skiing and snowboarding got a boost through watchOS 4.2. But it's also just easier to use. For instance, if you swipe to the left you can queue up addition workouts, lock the screen for swimming and end or pause a workout.
By the way, when you end a workout now it automatically saves it. No more having to click save after you're done. If you swipe to the right, you'll be able to get some quick access controls to your music, including changing the track and raising and lowering the volume. Clicking on the three dots up in the right corner will let you customize your workout a bit, changing the calories and time.
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.
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
Apple Music streaming now comes directly to your Apple Watch thanks to cellular support on the Series 3. But adding MP3s to your Apple Watch is still your best course of action if you want to pair it with some AirPods for music. You'll need to head over to the companion Watch app, then over to the Music section.
Here, you'll see a couple options. You can have a couple of ever-updating playlists automatically sync music to your Watch when it's charging. You can also manually add in songs by artist, album and playlist just below that. Thankfully, Apple has made this process much, much easier than before. Previously, you had to create a playlist first before syncing over any music.
Get the full details: How to add music to your Apple Watch
Of course, you should get a good pair of Bluetooth headphones to listen to the music. AirPods work best. In fact, when you start playing a song on your Watch and there's no Bluetooth headphone connected it'll throw up a little pop-up box asking you to sync some headphones.
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.
Reorganize your apps
Thankfully, there are a couple different ways to organize your apps in watchOS 4. You can keep the old honeycomb grid if you want, and if you do choose that way, know that it's much easier to fire up the companion app, head over to App Layout and organize it all there. If you want to be done with the honeycomb grid, you can also switch over to a list view. On the Watch, just force touch on the app selection screen to choose to the grid view option.
Make Mickey and Minnie speak
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'.
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 three 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.
Delete stock Apple apps
Unless you're really invested in the stock market, you probably haven't touched Apple's Stocks 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.
Set up Apple Pay Cash
New to watchOS 4.2, Apple Pay Cash is essentially a prepaid debit card that'll both let you pay for things in stores and pay friends. So if you owe your friends for that lunch, or you just lost a bet, you can simply open the messages app on your Watch and pay them. You can also request money from friends if they're avoiding you.
Setting up Apple Pay Cash is simple. If you've got a debit card linked to your Apple Pay account, all you have to do is head to Settings on your phone, then 'Wallet & Apple Pay' then 'Apple Pay Cash.' You simply agree to the terms and - voila - you're all set up.
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