Whether you’re brand new to the Apple Watch or you’ve been wearing yours since day one, there are a few key tips everyone should know to get the most out of the new smartwatch. Many of these actually weren’t available on day one and only became possible recently, and each of these I’ve found essential to having the best experience possible. Knowing the best apps to add new features is a great start, and each of these tips presented in no particular order will make your Apple Watch even better.
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1. Don’t Install All Available Apps At Setup. When you first pair your new Apple Watch with your iPhone, the Watch companion app walks you through multiple setup steps that let you choose your wrist and set a passcode. Syncing your apps from your iPhone to your Apple Watch is one of the last steps and one that can potentially overwhelm you depending on which way you go.
Choose ‘Install All’ and every single iPhone app with an Apple Watch version will sync over and take a little longer to finish pairing, or pick ‘Choose Later’ and pairing will finish quicker and you can decide which apps you want to try next in the companion Watch app on the iPhone. It’s not a big deal if your iPhone only has a few apps installed, but mine’s collected a lot of single-purpose apps like Fandango that just don’t have recommendable Apple Watch apps.
If you do install every app, you can go through the Watch companion app and toggle off ones you don’t like, or click the Digital Crown button on the side of the Apple Watch to see the app grid, then press and hold over the icons to enter wiggle mode where you can tap and delete apps from the Watch.
2. Decide Which Glances Are Useful. Once you’ve decided which apps you want to install and which aren’t worth getting in the way, take a stroll through your Apple Watch glances and decide which of these are beneficial and which ones slow you down.
Glances are the little information cards and control panels that appear when you swipe up from your Apple Watch face. They’re organized linearly through paginated screens so swiping through several to find the one you want can be a lot of work when convenience is the name of the game.
I’m currently using 7 glances with the most frequently accessed up front: Settings, Now Playing, Weather, Battery, Activity, Calendar, and Heartbeat. By default glances for Maps, Stocks, and World Clock are also included, but these aren’t useful to me personally.
You can further customize glances by adding third-party app glances including ones for many of my best app recommendations. To manage glances, use the Watch app on your iPhone to select Glances from the My Watch tab then tap Edit in the top right corner. From here you can add, remove, and rearrange your glances. Note that the Settings glance is required, although you can place it at the bottom if you want to avoid it.
3. Change Wake Screen On Tap Duration. Apple Watch keeps its screen off most of the time in order to preserve battery life, but that can limit its use as a real watch replacement in some situations which I noted in my initial review in May. The first major software update for Apple Watch, watchOS 2, added a new setting that lets you fix this problem.
By default, Apple Watch stays lit for 15 seconds when you raise your wrist or tap the display (which I didn’t know worked for my first week of testing). You can change that duration to 70 seconds, which smartly gets you just over 1 minute of screen-on time before you need to interact again. With either option, Apple Watch will dim again when you lower your wrist.
On the Watch app for iPhone, change this from the My Watch tab under General > Wake Screen > On Tap: Wake for 70 Seconds. This small setting has eased a lot of frustration for me without any noticeable hit on battery life.
4. Organize Your Apps. You can customize your Apple Watch app layout just like you can rearrange the apps on your iPhone Home screen. App icons are circles instead of rounded rectangles and the layout is more honeycomb-like than a grid, but pressing and holding on an icon still puts you in jiggle mode and you can move apps around to where you prefer.
Personally, I maintain the default layout for Apple’s apps for reference with one exception. I swap Alarm and World Clock as well as Timer and Stopwatch; I use Alarm and Timer frequently, but World and Stopwatch which are centered by default rarely. For most people, however, I recommend putting your most frequently used apps whether it’s Workout or Instagram around the clock in the center for quick access.
Beyond that, I like to group similar apps together around Apple’s apps. News apps, work apps, social apps, and utility apps are all placed in their own groups. You can’t make folders like on iPhones, but these app neighborhoods and a little muscle memory make apps more useful.
Pro tip: rearranging apps from the Apple Watch can be a bit tricky, so use the App Layout section in the Watch app on iPhone instead.
5. Use Apple Pay. I hear from a lot of Apple Watch owners that Apple Pay is one of the most popular uses for the device. It’s both convenient and James Bond spy-like to smoothly pay for something at checkout with your watch.
To set it up, go to the Watch app on iPhone, My Watch tab, then look for the Wallet & Apple Pay section and Add Credit or Debit Card option. Apple Pay is always looking for readers on iPhones, but you have to double-click the side button below the Digital Crown to activate Apple Pay on Apple Watch.
Apple Pay only works on iPhone 6 or later, but you can actually use Apple Pay on the Apple Watch with iPhone 5 or later including iPhone 5c and iPhone 5s. Once it’s set up, it works even without your iPhone around too.
6. Sync Music + Photos. Apple Watch includes plenty of local storage for syncing music and photos, and you can even enjoy media from your Apple Watch when you’re away from your iPhone.
While your Apple Watch is charging, go to the Watch app > My Watch tab > Music section to choose a playlist to sync. This can even be an Apple Music playlist if you’re a subscriber to Apple’s subscription music service. Note that Apple Watch limits either 2GB or 250 songs of synced music.
Similarly, go to the Watch app > My Watch tab > Photos section to manage photo syncing. You can decide which single album to sync and whether you want to sync up to 25, 100, 250, or 500 photos. I’ve got mine set to sync up to 500 photos from my Favorites album, then I heart photos on my iPhone and they appear later on my Apple Watch. You can even see new Live Photos on Apple Watch. Photos look best on giant displays, but having my favorite ones synced on my Apple Watch is sort of like the modern-day set of wallet photos.
7. Pair Bluetooth Headphones/Speakers. Once you’ve got your favorite music playlist sync, you need to pair Bluetooth headphones or a speaker to your Apple Watch to enjoy it. This lets you workout and listen to music wirelessly from your Apple Watch without your iPhone, or you can play music from your Apple Watch and record video on your iPhone without interrupting the playback.
Once you’ve got your wireless headphones or speakers ready to pair, go to the Settings app on the Apple Watch by clicking the Digital Crown button from the watch face then tapping the gears icon from the app layout. Then tap Bluetooth near the top of the Settings list, and look for your Bluetooth device. From the watch face, you can manage which device you play music to by swiping up the Settings glance and tapping the AirPlay (source) button in the lower right corner. In the Music app, scroll down from the main list to choose your music source: iPhone or Apple Watch.
8. Customize Your Watch Face. Changing and personalizing the watch face on your Apple Watch is easily what makes or breaks the whole experience. What you see every time you glance at your wrist is where everything starts, and personalizing it to look how you want it to is equally important. Like with changing watch bands, I change between different watch faces depending on my mood and the situation.
Force Touch (deep press) the watch face to enter the mode that lets you change what you see. Tap customize to change which complications (widgets), colors, and images you see depending on the watch face, swipe left and right to see different options for each watch face, and use the Digital Crown to scroll through your options.
After you Force Touch a watch face to customize it, you can optionally swipe up to delete it, or swipe to the far right to create new watch faces. Apple doesn’t allow developers to create custom watch faces yet, you’ll need an Apple Watch Hermès for unique ones, but the next tip will let you personalize your watch face further.
9. Create Photo Watch Faces. Once you’ve synced a photo album from your iPhone to your Apple Watch, there are two watch faces that let you view photos with the current time: Photo Album and Photo. The first one lets you cycle through your entire synced album, viewing a different photo each time you check your watch. The second one lets you pick a single photo as your watch face with the current time above it.
Pick either of these by Force Touching (deep pressing) your current watch face, then swiping over to the watch face you choose. Pick customize below Photo, then use the Digital Crown to scroll out and view all your synced photos and tap the one you want to use. Live Photos shot on new iPhones will animate each time you raise your wrist.
You can also create multiple photo watch faces. Once you’ve synced your photo album from iPhone to Apple Watch, the easiest way to create new photo watch faces is right in the Photos app on Apple Watch. From the watch face, click the Digital Crown button then tap the Photos icon with the multicolor flower just like on your iPhone. Scroll with the Digital Crown to zoom in and out, and move your finger across the screen to pan around.
Tap the photo you want to use once you find it, then Force Touch (press firmly) on the photo to bring up the Create Watch Face button. Tapping that button brings you to your newly created photo watch face.
10. Use Nightstand Mode. My last pick is totally simple but something I find delightful. Apple added Nightstand Mode to Apple Watch with the watchOS 2 update a few months ago, adding functionality to the Apple Watch even when it’s docked and charging.
To use it, just turn Apple Watch on its side with the buttons facing up while it’s charging. You enter an alarm clock-style mode that shows the current time, charge status, day, date, and notification indicator. If you have an alarm set, you’ll see that too and you can even use the Digital Crown and side button to dismiss and snooze your alarm.
The display doesn’t stay on permanently but does light up when it senses motion or receives a tap which I find works well. The display will also gradually illuminate near the time that your alarm sounds off. Perhaps out of habit I still rely on my iPhone as my daily alarm clock, but I use Nightstand Mode to check the time without seeing alerts on my iPhone at night. I’d love if there was an option to leave the clock mode lit up anytime Apple Watch is charging … maybe in 2016.