The Surprising Reasons You Might Want an Apple Watch

The Apple Watch is no more ‘just a watch’ than your iPhone is ‘just a phone’

Key Takeaways

  • Older watches (Series 3 and up) will run the upcoming watchOS 7, but only Series 5 has the cool always-on display.
  • You (still) need an iPhone in order to use an Apple Watch.
  • The Apple Watch has way more tricks than you might think.
Apple Watch Series 5 is displayed during a special event on September 10, 2019
Justin Sullivan / Getty Images 

Apple’s September 15th special event is called Time Flies, and it’s almost certainly about the next Apple Watch update, aka the Apple Watch Series 6. We don’t know what this update will bring, but if you’re wondering whether or not you need an Apple Watch, we’re here to help.

Instead of listing the features of the Apple Watch, which can be seen on Apple’s site, I asked watch users what had most surprised them about how they use it, vs. how they thought they were going to use it. The answers are, appropriately, surprising.

"Unlocking my Mac is seamless and so helpful," web designer Out-of-Season Jon told Lifewire via Twitter. "Also, dealing with texts quickly has been a surprise use."

That’s surprise number one: If you own a Mac, and you’re wearing your Apple Watch, the Mac will unlock automatically whenever you use it—no password required. You can also authenticate against your Mac’s password requests by pressing a button on the Apple Watch.

More User Favorites

Jon’s other favorite feature is being able to quickly reply to incoming messages. You can speak a reply, and it can be sent as audio or transcribed into words. You can also choose from a canned response or use a finger to write words on the screen. It all sounds rather too much for a tiny screen, but in practice, it’s great.

"It’s when I don’t have my watch on that quickly dealing with texts is a chore," adds Jon.

A pair of Apple Watches showing incoming calls and messages

Texting is one of my own surprise uses for the watch. You can quickly glance at your wrist to see the message instead of pulling your iPhone out of a pocket or purse. In fact, between this and the watch’s customizable notifications, which pass on alerts from the iPhone, my phone pretty much stays in my pocket unless I want to snap a photo. Bonus tip: you can use the Apple Watch as a remote viewfinder for your iPhone, and trigger its shutter from afar.

And what about the built-in flashlight? "I use the torch all the time," said UK tech journalist Dan Grabham on Twitter.

Surprisingly Useful

The Apple Watch is a watch in the same way the iPhone is a phone. It tells the time, but it does so much more than that. In fact, until last year’s Series 5 model, which added an always-on watch face (earlier models keep the screen blank until you looked at it), the Apple Watch wasn’t even a very good watch.

Apple Watch Series 3 is displayed during an Apple special event at the Steve Jobs Theatre
Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

I got my first Apple Watch last year, after holding out for an always-on display. I thought I’d use it to tell the time, and to maybe count my steps (there’s a built-in pedometer). I do both, but I also use it to check the weather, to control the podcast app on my iPhone, and even to log the exposures from photos taken with my old film camera. 

Siri Isn’t Too Bad

Because there’s no keyboard, Siri is vital on the Apple Watch. I use it to set timers for brewing tea ("Four-minute timer"), to set reminders ("Remind me to take out the trash when I get home"), and to find stuff out ("What’s 20 degrees Celsius in Fahrenheit?"). Because the watch is always there, it’s a lot more useful for these quick interactions than the iPhone. 

Another related bonus is that any alarms on your iPhone get sent to your Apple Watch. So if you set a reminder, and now your iPhone is beeping in another room, you can just cancel the alert from the watch without getting up. This integration goes the other way, too. "'Pinging Phone' is literally my most-used function," journalist Cam Bunton told Lifewire via Twitter. That is, he taps a control on his watch, and his iPhone beeps to reveal its location.

Which Apple Watch Should You Buy?

The good news is you don’t have to spend $399 or more to get the latest Series 5 Apple Watch. The older Series 3 is available from $199, and it will still be able to install and run the new watchOS 7 when it launches this fall.

In practical use, there is very little difference between them. All of the favorite features mentioned above are available on the older Series 3 model. The newer version adds a compass, fall-detection, an ECG measurement (in some countries), and has more options for the finish, but in practice, you won’t really notice much.

The big difference in the always-on display in the Series 5, and that should be the basis of your decision. On the other hand, a newer model will be able to take advantage of future software updates for longer than an older model.

So, after all that, do you need an Apple Watch? Of course not. But stop thinking of it as a watch, and instead consider it as an advanced, biometric, wrist-mounted computer, and it won’t seem so expensive. I wouldn’t be without mine now. Especially as I can use it to pay for my groceries without taking off my mask or entering a passcode.

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