Any Apple Watch can play music without iPhone which is especially useful for outdoor workouts, but you have to decide what music and how you’ll listen ahead of time. It’s fairly simple if you follow the right steps, however, there are a few tricks to make syncing music to Apple Watch easier.
For starters, your music needs to be in Apple’s Music app on your iPhone before it can sync to Apple Watch. This includes songs added from Apple Music, purchased from iTunes, and even music you’ve added from other sources … as long as it’s in the iPhone Music app. Music from third-party services like Spotify and Tidal won’t sync to Apple Watch yet.
Apple Watch can’t stream music over the Internet like iPhones so the music needs to be downloaded and synced like back in the iPod days. Apple Watch has a limit of 250 songs or 2 GB which you can change in the Watch app on iPhone under Music → Storage Limit.
The Watch app on iPhone is also where you will set which music to sync. You can only sync one playlist at a time, however, so you may want to create a new playlist of music that you want to sync ahead of time. Otherwise you can go to the Watch app on iPhone and find Music → Synced Music to select a playlist.
My preference is to create a playlist called Apple Watch and add music to it specifically for syncing to Apple Watch. This is a workaround for the limitation of only being able to sync a single playlist and not multiple albums or playlists.
You can create a new playlist from the Music app on iPhone by going to Library → Playlist → New Playlist … where you can give your playlist a name like ‘Apple Watch’ (or WATCH) in my case) followed by an optional description, artwork, and public or private status.
From here you can tap Add Music to pick songs and albums to add to your playlist. You can even pull from multiple existing playlists (just keep the song count or storage amount in mind). You can also add music to your playlist after you create it from your library when browsing songs, albums, and artists.
Once your playlist is set, head back to the Watch app on iPhone and find Music → Synced Music to select your new playlist. You can update your playlist from your iPhone at any time to change your selection too. Just keep in mind that music won’t sync from iPhone to Apple Watch instantly.
Syncing music from iPhone to Apple Watch happens over Wi-Fi when your Apple Watch is charging, and your selected playlist will need to download to your iPhone (which happens automatically after being selected) before it can sync the downloaded music to Apple Watch.
If you don’t want to create you own playlist for Apple Watch, Apple Music members can optionally subscribe to playlists that have already been curated. For example, Nike has a nice selection of playlists for runners that updates periodically, and Apple Music’s New Music Mix and For You Mix can be synced (one at a time) to Apple Watch and update weekly.
Once you get your music synced to Apple Watch, you need a way to play it. Apple Watch has a low volume speaker for alerts and phone calls, but Apple doesn’t allow you to play music from it. You’ll need to pair wireless headphones over Bluetooth for music playback.
AirPods and other W1 earphones should pair with Apple Watch automatically after being paired with iPhone, but other Bluetooth audio needs to be manually paired the first time.
Once your Bluetooth headphones are in pairing mode, click the Digital Crown on Apple Watch to find the app launcher, then swipe around to the Settings icon which looks like a gear. Go to Settings → Bluetooth → Devices to find your headphones. Tap the headphones label to prompt pairing.
From there, you can swipe up from the watch face to find the AirPlay icon at the bottom of Control Center where you can select your headphones.
Apple Watch will require wireless audio to be paired before playing local music from the Music app too. Click the Digital Crown on Apple Watch, then swipe around to the Music app which matches the same app on iPhone.
After launching Music on Apple Watch, swipe down to reveal the source toggle that lets you choose to play music from Apple Watch rather than iPhone. Once you make a selection, Apple Watch will prompt you to select an audio source if you haven’t already.
From here you can use a fitness app like the Workouts app or Nike+ Run Club to track a workout while playing music directly from Apple Watch without having to strap an iPhone to your arm. Mapping outdoor runs from Apple Watch Series 2 while listening to synced music over AirPods is a far better experience for me than running with an iPhone in my hand or in an arm band.
Syncing music to Apple Watch could definitely be a simpler experience in the future, but creating a dedicated playlist for now is probably the best solution for most people.