16 Hidden Apple Watch Features You Must Know About
Unlock the hidden potential of your smartwatch with these lesser-known tips, tricks and Apple Watch features
Apple Watch hacks
I was late to the Apple game, but the first time I held an iPhone in my hands, I realized I could never go back. The accessibility and connection amazed me, and the myriad apps that could help me meal plan, budget and occupy my children when I needed a minute were beyond convenient. Over the years, I’ve discovered other Apple products, but the one that surprised me most was the Apple Watch. Thanks to the countless Apple Watch features, these wearable gadgets are by far the best smartwatch on the market—at least, in my opinion.
While Apple’s smartwatch includes obvious features, such as telling time, tracking exercise and receiving text messages, there are many other Apple Watch features you may be missing out on—like the red dot on an Apple Watch or whether an Apple Watch is water-resistant. Even after using mine for years, I’m amazed by the new tools, milestone updates and software capabilities that continue to change—there’s always something new to discover. So sit back, clean your Apple Watch and discover the hacks you need to know.
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Unlock your Mac or iPhone
When you have multiple Apple products, you can start to feel like you belong to a (very large) family. That’s because Apple is so great at cultivating a seamless ecosystem among its many products. One of the simple-to-use Apple Watch features is allowing you to unlock your iPhone through your watch. This feature is specifically meant to be used when you have a facial obstruction (like wearing a mask or goggles) that prevents you from using Face ID.
You can use this feature by opening your iPhone and going to Settings > Face ID & Passcode, and entering your passcode. Scroll down until you find “Unlock with Apple Watch” and turn the setting on. Next time you can’t open your phone using Face ID, and you’re wearing your Apple Watch, you simply wake your iPhone and glance at its screen. Voilà, your phone is open! The Apple Watch will tap your wrist to let you know your iPhone has been unlocked.
The Apple Watch can also unlock your Mac laptop when it wakes from sleep. To ensure synchronization between your Mac and Apple Watch, make sure you’re logged into iCloud with the same Apple ID on both devices.
Perform basic calculations
Calculating a tip at a restaurant before using Apple Pay for the bill? It doesn’t take a math whiz to get it right, thanks to the Apple Watch feature that allows you to do basic calculations on your wrist. Simply go to the calculator app on your watch (or ask Siri your math question—Siri won’t judge).
There are a few instances where taking a screenshot might be useful on your Apple Watch—maybe you’ve just earned your monthly exercise award and want to share it with friends, or you’ve made it through a stressful meeting and want to share your elevated heart rate with a work bestie. Just take a screenshot!
While screenshots are not automatically enabled, you can easily give your smartwatch the OK to screengrab. On your iPhone, open the Watch app, then click General > Enable Screenshots. Once screenshots have been enabled, you can take them on your Apple Watch by simultaneously pressing the side button and the digital crown. The display will flash and your Apple Watch will vibrate to indicate that a screenshot has been taken. You’ll find your Apple Watch screenshots in the Photos app on your iPhone.
Encourage proper handwashing
One of the lesser-known Apple Watch features is promoting efficient and effective handwashing. But how does it work? Your Apple Watch can tell when you’re washing your hands and will remind you to keep scrubbing for 20 seconds, the amount of time that public health experts recommend. If you happen to stop washing before the 20 seconds are up, it’ll remind you to keep going until you’ve reached the recommended time.
To turn on handwashing alerts, simply open your watch and tap Settings > Handwashing > Turn on the Handwashing Timer. Once you’re in the Handwashing settings, you can also receive reminders to wash your hands when you get home. Just note that in order to receive these reminders, you’ll need to set a home address in your My Card in the Contacts app on iPhone.
Monitor your heart
Recently, my husband was stung by a wasp, which may not seem like a big deal, but he’s anaphylactic to wasp stings. He managed to get to his EpiPen within minutes, and while I raced the car to the emergency room, my husband used his Apple Watch to monitor his heart rate. There are so many instances where heart-rate monitoring is helpful, whether it’s to ensure you’re not pushing yourself too hard during a workout or keeping track of unusual changes to your resting heart rate.
One Apple Watch feature that (while not a replacement for a visit to the cardiologist) is interesting is the ability to take an electrocardiogram (also called an ECG or EKG) with your watch. If you have reason to keep special track of your heart, open the Health app on your phone > Browse > Heart > Electrocardiograms (ECG) > Set Up ECG App. Once it’s set up, open the app to take an ECG. Just keep in mind that Apple Watch’s ECG feature does not detect a heart attack, blood clots, stroke or other health issues, and you should seek medical attention if you’re feeling any symptoms.
Control your Apple TV
How often do you lose your remotes? One solution my husband and I love: Our Apple Watches can control our Apple TV. As long as both devices are connected to the same Wi-Fi network, then the Apple Watch can be used as a remote. To use this Apple Watch feature, simply open the Remote app on your Apple Watch, then tap your Apple TV (or add your Apple TV, if needed). Then select it on your Apple TV settings. Enter the displayed passcode on your Apple Watch, and once the pairing icon appears, your Apple Watch can control your Apple TV.
Protect your Apple Watch from water
Apple Watches are water-resistant, not waterproof. But there are steps you can take to help preserve your watch’s water resistance, which Apple notes diminishes over time. If you’re an avid swimmer, one of the more exciting Apple Watch features is their Water Lock technology, which is automatically turned on when you select a swimming workout on your Apple Watch. You’ll know it’s on when you see the icon of a blue drop of water at the top of your watch face. When Water Lock is on, your Apple Watch doesn’t respond to touch to prevent accidental input while in the water. Additionally, when you turn off Water Lock, your watch will eject any water that remains in its speaker.
If you want to turn it on manually (if you’re lounging in the pool or want to be extra careful when it’s raining or snowing), open the Control Center on your Apple Watch by swiping up from the bottom of the display of your home screen. Then tap the icon that looks like a drop of water.
Turn off unread notifications
There are many different status icons and symbols on the Apple Watch that you may want to familiarize yourself with. The red dot you see on your watch is one of them, and it’s simply an indicator that you have unread notifications on your watch. While some people love this feature, others might prefer to check notifications manually—or maybe they just don’t need to be reminded. To hide the red dot, simply open the Apple Watch app on your iPhone and tap Notifications. You can then turn off the Notifications Indicator.
Track your Apple Fitness+ workout
Apple Fitness+ is a paid subscription fitness tracking and content app that syncs seamlessly with the Apple Watch. It features new workouts, meditations and some of the world’s top trainers, and you can start your workouts directly from your watch. That feature was one of the first that excited me, making working out far less awkward for me. I can use my watch to tap into trainer guidance and workout timers. Plus, it’s motivating to watch your personal performance metrics, including heart rate and calories burned, throughout your workout.
Log your state of mind
I have so many unfilled journals and genuine goals to use them. But for me, adding data to an app seems more doable than jotting down answers to prompts about my mental and emotional state. Thankfully, a new feature in the Mindfulness app can help.
Available for watchOS 10, this feature allows you to document your current “state of mind” and identify its influencing factors. By simply rotating the digital crown on your Apple Watch, you can reflect the corresponding shape that mirrors your feelings. You can also add additional insight into what might be contributing to your mental state, such as hobbies, travel and work, and articulate your emotions, whether it’s joyous, content or worrisome.
Hop on a Group FaceTime
I still remember talking to my best friends in middle school on my cordless home phone, hiding behind my bed while the three of us gossiped about our school day. It was the age of three-way calls, and we couldn’t fathom the future reality of tiny computers in our pockets.
Now, you can have a group FaceTime with up to 32 people on certain iPhone and iPad products. And a new feature available for watchOS 10 will even allow Apple Watch users to engage in Group FaceTime audio-only calls. Each time a participant talks, a photo of that participant will expand in the watch view.
Announced in its new privacy settings and security enhancement, Apple Watches with watchOS 10 will now have the capability to NameDrop, an AirDrop feature that uses an encrypted connection and allows you to easily and securely share your contact info, photos or other important information with someone else. You also get to pick which details you share and which you keep private. To use this feature on your Apple Watch, click Share in the Contacts app on your watch or tap the My Card watch face and put your Apple Watch next to the person you’re sharing with. You can also share info between your iPhone seamlessly and securely.
Discover your time in daylight
If you live in a cold climate and go into hibernation mode during the long, agonizing winters, you likely know how important daylight can be for your mental health—even in frigid temps. In a new feature available for watchOS 10, you can track the amount of time you spend in daylight by using the ambient light sensor. This information is then added in your Health App on the iPhone or iPad. This feature may motivate Apple Watch users to increase their time spent outside, which can have an overall positive impact on your health.
Clear all notifications
I’m a huge fan of an uncluttered screen. To clear your notifications on your Apple Watch, you can touch and hold the top of the watch face, which will open the Notification Center. Then you can dismiss each notification individually. If you prefer to clear all your notifications at once, simply touch and hold the top of the watch face, swipe all the way down on the notifications (or turn the crown down) until you hit the bottom of the notifications. Then click Clear All.
Control your watch with just a gesture
The latest Apple Watch Series 9 features an incredible double-tap gesture that allows users to control their device without ever touching the display. With your watch hand, simply tap your index finger and thumb together twice. That small gesture allows you to easily perform common actions, such as stopping timers, answering and ending phone calls, taking photos and snoozing your pesky alarm. You read that right. There are some technological advancements that feel downright jaw-dropping, and this introduction was one of them—I could hardly believe it.
Navigate to your lost phone
“It’s like hot and cold for your phone,” my husband shouted while watching the new unveiling of the Apple Watch Series 9. Now, when you can’t find your iPhone, you can easily navigate toward it using your Apple Watch, which will guide you through distance and directional prompts. According to Apple, this is a new favorite feature. Called Precision Finding, it not only provides distance and direction, it also offers visual, haptic (pulsing on your wrist) and audio guidance to a misplaced iPhone, even if it is in a different room.
Additional reporting by Leah Campbell.
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