How to Use Your Apple Watch

An Apple Watch user guide for beginners

What to Know

  • Use the Watch app on your iPhone to set it up. Most features require a connection to an iPhone or Wi-Fi.
  • Turn and lift your wrist to activate your watch to accept a call, read messages, or give Siri voice commands.
  • To start a workout, launch the Workout app and choose an exercise. When done, swipe right and choose End.

This article explains how to use an Apple Watch. The information applies to all Apple smartwatches.

How Does Apple Watch Work?

When you first take the Apple Watch out of the box, you'll use the Watch app on your iPhone to set it up. Apple Watch uses a combination of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to communicate with the iPhone. And while some of its features can be used without the iPhone nearby, other features require a connection to an iPhone.

Most apps and features of the Apple Watch require some type of data connection. You won't be able to place phone calls, text friends, listen to the radio, or use Siri without that connection. Newer versions of the Apple Watch support connecting to cellular data without the need for an iPhone, but some users may need to have an iPhone nearby, or they will need to connect to a Wi-Fi network.

Among the many great features of the Apple Watch is the ability to place and receive phone calls, text messages, and emails. But it is also a fitness device, a music player, a calendar, a smart home controller, and (of course) a pretty good timekeeper.

Up close shot of the Apple Watch's digital crown and side button
Apple Inc.

How to Use Your Apple Watch's Hardware

Here are the basic physical controls of the Apple Watch.

  • Digital crown: The digital crown doesn't just take us from the watch face screen to the home screen with the apps. You can also turn it to zoom in and out of the app screen, and if you have an app open, it will scroll up or down within the app.
  • Side button: It's easy to dismiss the side button, but it's the key to three important features. First, clicking it will open a list of your most recently used apps, which makes switching back and forth between apps much easier. Second, holding it down will open the Power Off and Emergency SOS screen. And third, continuing to hold it down will automatically shut down the device if for some reason you cannot get the Power Off screen to display. As a bonus, holding down both the side button and the digital crown will snap a screenshot of the Apple Watch's display.
  • Force Touch: This feature is activated by first placing a finger lightly on the screen and then pressing down against the display. If performed on the watch face screen, Force Touch will allow you to customize the different watch faces. On the app screen, it will let you change to a list-oriented screen rather than a grid. Individual apps may also have special Force Touch functionality. For example, using Force Touch in the Activity app will allow you to see a weekly summary or change your Move Goal.

How to Use Apple Watch Gestures

In addition to hardware controls, there are a few basic gestures that will help you use the Apple Watch. These gestures are similar to the gestures found on the iPhone and iPad.

  • Drag and tap: These two gestures define how to operate the Apple Watch and can be demonstrated on the app screen. Placing your finger on the display and 'dragging' it around will cause the circular grid of apps to move alongside your finger. Tapping an individual app with a finger will launch that app.
  • Swipe down: The swipe gestures operate differently depending on whether or not you're on the Apple Watch's watch face. On the watch face, a swipe-down gesture, which is performed by placing a finger on the middle of the screen and moving it down without lifting it from the display, opens the Notification Center. The Notification Center displays any text messages or notifications sent to the Apple Watch. Swiping down within an app will generally scroll up a list or page.
  • Swipe up: On the watch face screen, a swipe up will reveal the hidden control panel. This panel contains shortcuts to settings and features. Of special note is the button with a phone with semi-circles to either side. This shortcut will cause your iPhone to make a beeping or pinging sound, which will help you locate it. Swiping up within an app will allow you to scroll down a list or page. (Remember, this can also be accomplished by turning the digital crown.)
  • Swipe left or right: On the watch face screen, swiping from left to right on the display will change out the watch face. You can swipe left to go back to a previous watch face, or use Force Touch to customize the watch faces. Swiping left or right within an app will have specific functionality depending on the app. For example, swiping from right to left on a notification in the Notification Center will allow you to delete the notification or customize that type of notification.
  • Zoom tap: You can zoom in or out of the display by double-tapping the screen with two fingers. The double tap must be performed fairly quickly. While zoomed in on the display, you can move around the screen by placing two fingers on the display and dragging them without lifting them from the screen.
A finger gesturing on an Apple Watch's display
Apple Inc 

How to Place Calls, Respond to Text Messages, and Read Email

Apple Watch features a lift-to-activate gesture, so simply turning and lifting your wrist will activate it. This makes it easy to accept a call or read a text message.

  • Phone calls: You can place a phone call the same way you would on your iPhone. Tap the Phone app, scroll down your contacts or favorites list, and tap the contact you would like to call. Remember, if you don't have an Apple Watch with a cellular connection, you will need to be within range of your iPhone to place the call.
  • Text Messages: You can reply to a text message by tapping the message and selecting reply. The button with a microphone will allow you to use Siri to dictate a reply, while the button with a hand brings up Scribble, an input that turns your handwriting into text. You can use this to draw one letter at a time. It also accepts most punctuation.
  • Email: Your email settings are mirrored from your iPhone by default, which means you will have access to all of your emails with the same notification settings. You can turn notifications for specific inboxes on or off by launching the Watch app on your iPhone, choosing Mail, and then selecting Custom under Mirror my iPhone. You can reply to individual email messages by using either Siri's voice dictation or the Scribble input.
  • Walkie-Talkie: Another way to communicate with the Apple Watch is with the Walkie-Talkie app. This app allows you to enter walkie-talkie mode with any other Apple Watch user. Tap the Walkie-Talkie icon, which is yellow with a walkie-talkie on it, and then choose a person from the contact list to talk to.

How to Use Siri on the Apple Watch

If you think Siri is helpful on your iPhone or iPad, it is doubly so on the Apple Watch. You should be able to activate Siri by raising the watch to your mouth and giving her a command or asking it a question. You can also use the “Hey Siri” phrase followed by your instructions.

If Siri isn't answering, launch the Settings app on your Apple Watch, select General, and then choose Siri. You can toggle both Hey Siri and Raise to Speak from within the Siri settings. For Raise to Speak, you may have the best results by speaking directly into the watch. You can also hold down the digital crown to bring up Siri.

Here are a few commands you can direct Siri to perform:

  • “Hey Siri, what's the weather like?”
  • “Launch Activity”
  • “Set an alarm for 6 AM tomorrow”
  • “Call [anyone]”
  • “Send a message to [anyone]”
  • “Play the Beatles”
  • “Remind me to [do something] at [time] or on [day]”
  • “Set a 10-minute timer”
  • “Get driving directions to the nearest gas station”
  • “What's the tip on a [any dollar amount] bill?”
  • And many other commands, including commands for specific apps such as “Call Phil on Skype”

Siri will default to walking directions, so, “Give me directions to the nearest gas station” will take you there on foot. Use the “driving directions” keyword phrase to get driving directions.

A photo of an Apple Watch with Siri
Apple, Inc 

How to Start a Workout With Apple Watch

The Apple Watch has two core exercise apps: the Activity app, which tracks normal activity on a daily basis, and the Workout app, which allows you to track specific workouts.

With the Activity app, you can change your Move Goal by using a Force Touch press, and you can get more detailed reports by launching the activity app on your iPhone. The exercise goal within the Activity app is only a basic exercise monitor that tracks your active time in rings of thirty minutes with no way to customize it.

That's where the Apple Watch's Workout app comes into the picture. Follow these steps to starting a workout:

  1. Launch the Workout app, indicated by a green app icon with a running figure.

  2. Choose from the list of workouts. These include running, swimming, cycling, rowing, and yoga, among others. If you don't see your exercise on the list, choose Other.

  3. Tap the workout. The Apple Watch will count down from three and then begin tracking your activity. When you are done, swipe right on the screen and choose End. You can also tap Pause to take a short break or Water Lock if your exercise is in the pool.

Workouts are tracked through the Activity app on your iPhone in the Workouts tab. You can view a report of an individual exercise by tapping it in the list. The report will include calories burned, total time, and average heart rate. It will also record the weather at the time of the workout, and if you own an Apple Watch with GPS, your location and path will be recorded on the map.

For a faster way to start a workout, use Siri. Say, “Hey Siri, start yoga workout.”

Apple Watch workout screen with Outdoor Cycle on the screen
Apple Inc

How to Customize Apple Watch Through Settings

The Apple Watch has a Settings app on the watch itself, as well as some settings that can be accessed through the Watch app on the iPhone. While there are a few settings available in both places, some customizations are only available through the Watch app or on the watch itself.

The Apple Watch's Settings app shares the same “gears turning” icon as the Settings app on the iPhone. It includes the ability to set the time forward for those who like their watch to run faster than the actual time. it includes connectivity controls for Bluetooth or Airplane mode, display options for the look and feel of the watch, and general settings like accessibility and Siri.

The Watch app on the iPhone is the more comprehensive of the two. Not only can you find many of the same settings found in the watch's Settings app, you can also change your app layout, modify the dock, set up Emergency SOS, customize Privacy settings, and fine-tune individual apps.

An Apple Watch showing the Settings app
Apple Inc. 
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