Apple Watch beginner's guide: Tips for navigating your first hour

Just picked up your smartwatch? Check out all the basics
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Getting to grips with the Apple Watch can be a challenge, which is why we've compiled this quick guide on your very first steps with the smartwatch. From downloading apps to using the control center and handling notifications, we've got you covered.

Much has changed since the introduction of the Apple Watch Series 4, mostly to overcome complaints in previous generations.

Essential reading: Top Apple Watch tips and tricks

We've updated this guide to reflect those changes, with the learning curve now smoothed for users jumping on board with their new smartwatch. Dive straight in and get to grips with your Apple smartwatch.

The Apple Watch wrist twist

Apple Watch beginner's guide: Tips for navigating your first hour

The Apple Watch screen still drifts off at every available opportunity in order to save precious battery life. In theory, it should turn on when you raise your wrist and go dark when you lower it or don't interact with the watch for five or six seconds. The Series 4 is a lot better at recognising wrist raises, and you shouldn't find it difficult to illuminate the screen with a movement of your wrist.

If you want it to stay illuminated for 70 seconds, rather than the standard 15, just go to the General menu in the iPhone companion app, then choose Wake Screen and then flick to the desired time.

Using the Apple Watch Digital Crown

Apple Watch beginner's guide: Tips for navigating your first hour

The Digital Crown has multiple uses and these depend on context:

- A single press will activate the Apple Watch display if it's off.

- A single press will switch between the watch face and the apps screen.

- You can return to the apps screen when using an app with a single press.

- Slowly twist to awaken the Apple Watch display.

- Press and hold the Crown to activate Siri.

Double-tapping the Digital Crown will switch you between the most recent two apps. Note that the watch face is considered an app in this context. Therefore, if you want to switch between two other apps, first enter the Home screen, launch one, tap the Digital Crown to return to the Home screen, and launch the other. You can now bounce between them with double-clicks.

The new haptic feedback offered on the Digital Crown on the Series 4 helps selecting and distinguishing different items on your Watch - like scrolling through music and podcast lists, for instance.

Using Control Center

Apple Watch beginner's guide: Tips for navigating your first hour

Much of the quick settings on your Apple Watch can be accessed via the Control Center. Just swipe up from the bottom of the watch face to open it.

From this screen you can check your battery level, place the watch into airplane mode, toggle silent and do not disturb modes, and ping your iPhone, if you've lost it. You also eject water from the Watch, which will prompt you to twist the crown to push the water out.

Download apps on the Apple Watch

You get a stock set of apps on the Apple Watch, but downloading more has to be done through your iPhone. Head to the companion app and tap the App Store tab at the bottom for some ideas. If none of these float your boat, you can hit the search tab and manually look for apps to install.

Need some help? Check out our top picks of Apple Watch apps to download.

Using Siri on Apple Watch

Apple Watch beginner's guide: Tips for navigating your first hour

Press-hold the Digital Crown or say "Hey, Siri!" to activate Siri. Say "Help" and Siri responds with a list of command categories; pressing a button gives you instructions and tips for the likes of setting alarms, quickly accessing apps ("Launch" or "Open" and then the app name), and finding basic information, such as local restaurants, movie times and weather forecasts.

Siri is also often used within apps to enter replies and content. Should you want to punctuate your text, you'll need to speak the relevant characters in full.

Instant launch

Apple Watch beginner's guide: Tips for navigating your first hour

The side button was changed after the first Apple Watch generation. Where before it was the gateway to contacts, that functionality was quickly replaced by an Instant Launch dock.

Instant Launch stores eight apps in the watch's memory – like a kind of app stasis – ready to fire into life, mitigating the Apple Watch's propensity for painfully slow loading times. Just swipe through and tap an app to, literally, instantly launch it.

You can customise what appears in this Instant Launch selection by going to Dock within the Apple Watch companion app and choosing apps from the list.

Set up Apple Pay

A double-click of the side button accesses your Apple Pay cards, which can be swiped between. You then hold the watch near the card reader, with the display facing it. (If you're in a country that doesn't have Apple Pay – i.e. most of them – this shortcut doesn't work and it can't be reassigned.)

Set up LTE

If you've got the new Watch Series 3 with LTE, then you have the option to leave your iPhone behind and make or take calls or stream music without having to be connected to your smartphone. You will need to pay extra for the luxury, so that's worth keeping in mind. To get this up and running we've pulled together a guide to setting up LTE on the Apple Watch Series 4.

Power off and power reserve

A press-hold of the side button loads the screen for powering off the Apple Watch, but the Power Reserve mode has been culled from there.

To put your Apple Watch in the long-life mode, which keeps the time on your display but disables other functions, swipe up from the bottom of your screen from the watch face. Press the battery percentage option and then choose Power Reserve.

Check out more tips and details through our complete guide to the Apple Watch battery life.

Take a screenshot

The ability to take screenshots has been turned off by default in watchOS 3, so you'll have to head into the Watch companion app to turn them back on. Go to General > Enable screenshots. Once you're up and running just press the crown and side button together to take a screengrab. The picture will appear in Photos on your iPhone.

Clear all notifications

Apple Watch beginner's guide: Tips for navigating your first hour

Apple Watch notifications come in different forms. Live notifications fill the screen, clearly displaying the app icon, the notification itself, and relevant options. The icon can be tapped to open the full app, or actions can be made directly from the notification, such as replying to a message. Those tend to be limited to stock Apple iPhone apps.

Should the notification and its action buttons be taller than the screen, use the Digital Crown to scroll through everything. To dismiss a live notification, swipe down, press the Digital Crown or use a Dismiss button.

Unread notifications can be accessed by dragging down on the watch face from the top edge. A red dot will denote if you have anything waiting to be read. A notification can be read in full by tapping on it. To clear all unread notifications at once, Force Touch the list and tap Clear All. There is no undo.

The Apple Watch Home screen

To access the apps screen press the Digital Crown on the watch face. To launch an app, tap its icon.

To navigate your apps, drag with a single finger. Rotate the Digital Crown downwards to zoom out and see more icons at once. Rotate the Digital Crown upwards to zoom in; past the maximum zoom level, any further rotation is another means of opening whichever app is centred on the screen.

To rearrange your apps, tap-hold an icon until they all jiggle. You can then drag individual apps to a new location. The Apple Watch Home screen positions apps in a honeycomb fashion, which is awkward and clunky, but you can, with patience, organise apps in spokes or long bars. We recommend using My Watch > Layout on your iPhone for major re-organisations, if you fancy retaining your sanity. Or, if you don't want anything to do with this style, you can switch to a list view by holding down on the menu screen.

To uninstall an app from Apple Watch, make the icons jiggle and then click the relevant cross button. You'll be asked whether you want to 'Delete App' or 'Cancel'. Tap the former. This won't affect the iPhone app.

How to send your heartbeat

Apple Watch beginner's guide: Tips for navigating your first hour

One of the Apple Watch's biggest gimmicks is sending your heartbeat and virtual touches via the Digital Touch feature. However, using it has always been a little opaque, and it's been increasingly pushed into the background.

You can now send Digital Touch drawings, heartbeats and taps from within the Messages app. Just open a message, tap the Digital Touch icon, and then sketch a drawing with your finger. Tap the screen, or hold two fingers on the screen to send a heartbeat.

You can also hold one finger on the screen to show anger, send a kiss by tapping two fingers on the screen and post a heartbreak by holding two fingers on the screen and then dragging them to the bottom once the visual appears.

Reset the Apple Watch

If your Apple Watch isn't working properly, restart its paired iPhone and also the Apple Watch. Your Apple Watch can be restarted by holding the side button until the power sliders appear, and then tapping Power Off. Turn the Apple Watch on again by holding the side button until the Apple logo appears.

If the Apple Watch has frozen entirely, force a restart by holding both the Digital Crown and side button for at least ten seconds.

Sometimes, only a single app freezes up. To force-quit it, open the app, and bring up the power screen. Then press-hold the side button until you see the problem app close and the Home screen reappear.

How we test

Conor Allison


Conor moved to Wareable Media Group in 2017, initially covering all the latest developments in smartwatches, fitness trackers, and VR. He made a name for himself writing about trying out translation earbuds on a first date and cycling with a wearable airbag, as well as covering the industry’s latest releases.

Following a stint as Reviews Editor at Pocket-lint, Conor returned to Wareable Media Group in 2022 as Editor-at-Large. Conor has become a wearables expert, and helps people get more from their wearable tech, via Wareable's considerable how-to-based guides. 

He has also contributed to British GQ, Wired, Metro, The Independent, and The Mirror. 

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