The Apple Watch Ultra heralded an improved Compass app as part of its focus on outdoor navigation – and that’s now rolled out onto both generations of the Apple Watch SE and Series 5 and newer models.
Providing your smartwatch is running watchOS 9 and above, the Compass app now enables users to set GPS waypoints, and navigate back to the start of hikes and routes. We still don't rate it as the most intuitive app to use, but, in the right situation, it definitely has its uses.
Here are our experiences using the Apple Watch Compass app – and how to get the most out of it.
Ways to use the Apple Watch Compass app
- Set a bearing and navigate toward it
- Set a GPS waypoint and navigate toward it
- Track your walk and then retrace your steps back to the start
How to set a GPS waypoint
Everyone will use the Compass app in a different way. Our favorite way was to add waypoints on a walk and get a heading.
When used in expansive areas such as Dartmoor, where we did our testing, it’s useful to get the reassurance of where your next point of interest lies - especially when the weather is closing in.
1. To add a waypoint, you need to get the GPS location. We grabbed some from Maps.me.
2. In the Compass app on Apple Watch, go to the 'Waypoint' option (bottom left).
3. To add the new waypoint, tap 'Map'.
4. Add the longitude and latitude.
5. Tap 'Label' and give it a useful name. You’ll want to do this because things can get confusing if you accumulate lots of waypoints. You can also give it a color and symbol.
6. Press 'Done'.
How to navigate to a Waypoint
1. To navigate to your set waypoint, zoom out using the crown until you see your waypoint within the compass area - then tap.
2. A list of waypoints will be shown, so tap your neatly-named waypoint and press 'Choose'.
3. You will now see a dedicated screen that will show the distance to your waypoint and its heading.
How to navigate to a bearing
If you just want to navigate to a bearing, that’s easy, too.
1. Open the Compass app on your Apple Watch.
2. Tap the 'Menu' button in the top left.
3. Scroll down to 'Bearing'.
4. Use the crown to set the bearing.
5. Press 'Done'.
How to navigate back to the start
1. At the start of your walk, press the 'Backtrack' button, which is the icon in the bottom right.
2. This will then plot your route as you walk. When you want to go back to the start, you can press that button again and press 'Retrace Steps'.
3. You can now follow breadcrumb waypoints all the way back to the start of your route.
What if you forget to start tracing your steps? Well, if you have Apple Maps installed, the Compass app will store the location of your parked car as a waypoint.
It won’t navigate you to your car, but you can see the heading and distance on the Apple Watch, which will keep you plodding in the right direction.
How we test