When someone says Apple Watch, the first thing that comes to the minds of a lot of people is fitness. And this makes total sense, considering Apple mostly markets the health features of the watch. However, there’s a lot more to this smartwatch than just tracking your activity, workouts, and the data revolving around them. I used to despise having anything on my wrists. I couldn’t tolerate bracelets, let alone a computing device that I have to be extra careful with. However, after using an Apple Watch for over a year in total, it has become an essential companion, rather than a meh accessory. And fitness tracking isn’t particularly what makes the Apple Watch special to me. There’s a lot more that the Apple Watch can do, and a fair few spots where it misses too.
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Back in December 2018, I won an Apple Watch Series 4 Nike Edition (GPS, 40mm) in a Christmas giveaway. It was the latest model at the time and I was hyped to get my hands on it. Setting it up was as straightforward as you’d expect Apple products to be, and I was ready to try its features within minutes. It was both intriguing and exciting because it was a device I couldn’t justify buying as a student — who dislikes wrist accessories and is on a limited budget. But it was there, right in front of me, a device that I wasn’t sure I could tolerate for more than one day. Spoiler alert — it grew on me and turned into a companion I keep on my wrist at all times, except when charging.
A month after using the Series 4, I had to sell it because I was short on money. It was the most valuable item of mine that I could live without at the time, so I had to bid the little fella farewell. However, deep down inside, I knew it wasn’t a final goodbye. I was certain that life would eventually reunite us — and it did. Two years later, in December 2020, I decided to buy myself an Apple Watch SE (GPS, 40mm) as a graduation gift. I had been contemplating the matter for a while, and Apple releasing an affordable model that year made me jump on the purchase. I’ve been using the SE for 11 months now. That’s a full year of Apple Watch usage, when combined with the month I spent with the Series 4.
So what makes this
accessory companion special to me? And what are the annoyances associated with it?
There are many features — both basic and advanced ones — that make the Apple Watch a reliable and helpful companion.
When I was working part-time, I used to close my three activity rings every single day. My streak for closing all three daily was around 9(!) months in a row. However, when I started working full-time, I could no longer do that. Fitness tracking was one of the reasons I bought an Apple Watch again last year. I knew that if something is pushing me to move, I’d listen to it. But eventually, I had to disable these activity notifications because I was working harder and no longer had the time or energy for them. That’s how and when I discovered that fitness tracking isn’t necessarily what makes the Apple Watch special.
I was afraid that by not closing my rings or caring about them, it’d turn into a useless watch. The truth — in my opinion — is that the Apple Watch is much, much more than that. It’s not a device solely made for health tracking, like those slim fitness bands produced by some rivals. It’s a personal and an iPhone companion that is capable of doing a lot. The features may sound gimmicky separately, but when combined and integrated into a person’s workflow, they become time and effort savers that make an actual difference.
Health-related features are what makes the Apple Watch special — generally speaking. However, that doesn’t apply to all of us. If I upgrade to a newer model in the future, it’s for the tight integrations with my other Apple devices and the aspects that aren’t fitness-related. This watch brings the best of two worlds together, and, as a result, it appeals to a bigger, more diverse audience.
One thing I miss when my watch is charging during my work hours is the ability to unlock my Mac without entering my password or Touch ID. For those unfamiliar with this feature, macOS allows you to unlock your Mac through your Apple Watch. The process is instant, and you don’t have to click any buttons. You just wake your Mac as you would usually do, and you’re in! Of course, there are certain conditions for this feature to work, such as having an unlocked, password-protected Apple Watch on your wrist. So now whenever my SE is on its charger, I open my MacBook’s lid and wait for it to unlock automatically, only to recall that my watch isn’t around. The feature feels so natural and is instant, you forget it exists. It becomes a transparent part of your workflow. You only miss it when you’re not wearing that handy buddy.
Despite its compact and cute design, the Apple Watch is actually a lil hacker that can bypass Face ID on your iPhone. Now, before you freak out, only you can enable it to do so. Apple released the iPhone X with Face ID before the COVID19 pandemic started. After it spread globally, unlocking Face ID iPhones when masked started to become a big annoyance to everyone around the world. Lowering your mask every time you want to check something on your phone is most definitely not a safe option, and inputting in a 6 digit pin every single time is not convenient either. And don’t get me started on typing a longer password instead. As a redemption, Apple eventually implemented a feature that allows users to use their watches as an alternative to Face ID when masked.
The feature is similar to that of unlocking your Mac. The watch has to be on your wrist, unlocked, password-protected, and close to your device. Once Face ID detects your mask, your watch will vibrate — as a security notification — and unlock your iPhone instantly. If that was someone next to you holding your phone, you can lock the iPhone again through the security alert on your watch. This feature makes life so much easier, and I only realize how much I depend on it when I go out and leave my watch behind on its charger.
One of the features I depend on almost daily is music control. When you’re playing music on your iPhone, your Apple Watch’s Now Playing app will get triggered. This allows you to control the volume, adjust the queue, pause/play, and change the output device. It spares me the hassle of taking my phone out, unlocking it in some cases, and entering the music app to select a different playlist. It also makes me feel safer knowing that no one will snatch my phone in public, considering that’s relatively common where I live. My phone sits securely in my front pocket, as I add songs to the queue.
While the Apple Watch requires an iPhone to set up, it still is very capable on its own. The cellular model provides even more independence, like calling and sending SMS through a carrier and using 4G on the go. However, as a WiFi-only model user, the watch still can do a lot when your iPhone is dead or not around.
For example, you can download songs to it for offline listening, leave your phone behind, and connect Bluetooth earbuds to it. This allows you to go on a jog while leaving your phone at home — without missing out on the music. Other features you can take advantage of when your phone isn’t around are FaceTime and iMessage, assuming you’re connected to WiFi. You can communicate with your loved ones through Apple’s services even if your phone is off.
These watches support Apple Wallet — meaning you get to store QR codes in there and view them with a double side click. Some regions support adding vaccination certificates through their official apps. However, plenty of countries have no official way to do so. For this reason, we’ve prepared a guide for you on how to manually add your vaccination certificate to Apple Wallet for easy access.
I use this feature at least once a week. Whenever I’m entering a pub, shopping center, or certain restaurants, I just flip my wrist, double click, scan, and get going. It’s so convenient, and it spares me the hassle of taking my phone out and digging through my files to find and display it. It’s particularly helpful when I’m carrying plenty of bags and can’t really reach for my phone.
Enabling Focus until the following morning from the watch’s Control Center
One of the underrated features of the Apple Watch is its tiny display. How is this a feature? Well, at night, when I’m about to go to sleep, I sometimes remember not enabling Focus (also known as Do Not Disturb or DND). I don’t use the automatic Focus schedule because my sleeping cycles are random and always changing. As a result, I enable it manually every night, set it to turn off on its own in the morning, and that automatically syncs across all of my Apple devices. The small display of the watch doesn’t blind my sensitive eyes when I’m toggling it, compared to using my phone’s larger screen for that. It’s also easier than reaching my bed stand to grab my phone.
Other instances of the watch coming in handy at night are when I randomly wake up during late (early?) hours. I just check my wrist for an idea of the time and to see if there are any important notifications. I can get back to sleep directly after because the display is too small and dim. When I used to check the time on my iPhone, it would usually make it harder for me to fall asleep again, even with Night Shift enabled.
Audible alarms are the worst — to me at least. I would much rather have gentle haptic feedback on my wrist than hear my phone screaming right next to my ear. It’s literal nightmare fuel, no matter how “soothing” the tone actually is. If you’re unsure how to do it, here’s a guide on how to set a silent but vibrating alarm on your Apple Watch. It seriously makes a big difference!
I might belong to the “weirdos” category here, but I’m sure there are plenty of other people who are the same. This one’s for you, fellows! Some people — including me — prefer leaving their iPhones on silent mode at all times. Vibrations are enough, and I dislike the endless notification and other system sounds. Apple Watch ensures I don’t miss any notifications because it’s perpetually on my wrist. This way if my phone is charging in the other room, silent, or I’m showering, I’ll away get to glance at my notifications.
When I’m on a date or meeting with a friend, I keep my phone in my pocket at all times — unless they’re checking theirs. I dislike placing it on the table where we’re sitting for plenty of irrelevant reasons. Apple Watch allows me to stealthily take a look at a notification without taking my phone out. I can just check its screen in under a second — with my wrist below the table’s surface to be out of the other person’s sight — just to make sure it’s not an emergency. This way I don’t disrespect my company by taking my phone out, and I get the peace of my mind that whoever is notifying me doesn’t need something urgently.
The Camera app on Apple Watch — which acts as a remote and preview screen
Are you exploring some abandoned place with no people around? Do you want to have a photo taken of you for those sweet, sweet likes, views, and clicks? The Apple Watch is a great fit for that role!You can place your iPhone anywhere and use your watch as a remote for the camera. It’s infinitely better than timers because you can take your time with finding the right spot and check a live preview of the photo on your wrist before taking it.
Not sure how much to tip the waiting staff? Type the total on your Apple Watch’s Calculator app and hit the Tip button. You’ll get to choose the percentage of the bill you want to tip, and it’ll display both how much you’d have to tip and the new total. You can also select the number of people paying for a bill to find out how much each has to contribute. It’s a handy feature that is missing from the Calculator app on iOS — for some reason.
Are you walking around in the city? When navigating through Apple Maps, the watch automatically loads the Maps app and guides you. This way you don’t need to check your phone every time you have to make a turn. In fact, the watch will even vibrate on your wrist to alert you about upcoming turns.
Not sure where you’ve placed your iPhone in a messy room? You can make it scream for help or flash its LED right from the Apple Watch’s Control Center. Never lose your phone in untidy environments again!
Do certain stocks mean something to you? Care about the weather conditions? The state of the Earth or phase of the Moon? Sunrise and sunset times? The next alarm or calendar event? Apple Watch offers dozens of complications to choose from. You can view the information you care about at a glance, right from the watch face, without needing to launch any apps or take your phone out.
One of the watch apps I frequently use is Reminders. Whenever I’m shopping in person (rather than online), I check my list of needed items on my watch. That’s because carrying your phone while holding shopping bags or baskets isn’t exactly the easiest.
Despite its premium build and features that make life easier, the Apple Watch isn’t perfect. And Apple sometimes intentionally excludes features on certain models that can handle them just fine.
One of the annoyances of watchOS is not being able to view your iPhone’s battery percentage. This makes absolutely no sense to me, considering you can check the watch’s battery level on iOS. Sometimes my phone is a few meters away on its charger, and I wonder if it’s fully charged or not, as I work on my Mac. It would’ve been more practical being able to check that on my wrist, rather than having to get up and walk towards the actual phone. A very welcome addition would be a battery widget that works across iOS, iPadOS, and macOS that shows the battery levels of all connected devices. You can already get an estimation through the Find My app,and there’s nothing stopping Apple from taking this feature to the next level.
This isn’t something that bothers me personally, but a lot of my friends using Android wish they could pair an Apple Watch to their phones. While I wouldn’t expect all features and integrations to work on that OS, there are plenty of handy ones that Apple could implement. Android lacks a real, truly excellent smartwatch experience the way Apple has curated for iPhone with the Apple Watch; and while simply bringing the Apple Watch experience over will most likely not be an equivalent match, it will certainly spur more innovation on the Android side of smartwatches as Apple will enter as a big name competitor. And there is incentive for Apple to do so too — Android remains a dominant mobile ecosystem, and Apple can monetize experiences like Apple Fitness Plus to a wider audience. The Apple Watch is a great health device that doesn’t rely on a connected smartphone for capturing its data, so the software ecosystem lock feels rather unfair.
It would also be cool if Apple added the Watch, Health, and Fitness apps on macOS and iPadOS. This way health data can be viewed on any Apple device — thanks to iCloud sync — and watch settings can be adjusted. This would also act as an Android support alternative, considering plenty of Android users own iPads or Macs but not iPhones. I could understand why Apple wouldn’t want to bring watch support to Android. However, bringing it to other Apple operating systems isn’t as much of a challenge. A very welcome addition would be mirroring notifications from Macs and iPads, too — not just the paired iPhone.
How does the Apple Watch charge? Wirelessly. So if I place it on my phone’s Qi wireless charger, it’ll charge just fine, right? Erm, about that…
The lack of Qi wireless charging makes absolutely no sense to me. I don’t personally use a wireless charger for my iPhone and AirPods Pro. However, had I used one, I would’ve been pissed off at the fact that the Apple Watch uses a different wireless charging technology. Just use Qi already.
We’re bored, Apple. You have enough resources to work on the insides as you tweaks the chassis. Slightly larger screens and smaller bezels aren’t exactly what we’re looking for. The watch has looked almost the same since it was first released. A major redesign is long overdue — in my opinion.
While the Apple Watch is very capable on its own, it still isn’t completely independent. Yes, you can download apps and software updates while listening to music without an iPhone. But — at the end of the day — it’s still a limited device that can’t be depended on at all times. Taking watchOS to the next level by making it fully self-reliant would solve the issue of lacking multi-platform support.
Just like some Android users get to use iPads or Macs without owning iPhones, the watch could become a similar device that anyone can buy. Apple has made it easier by allowing families to pair watches from other members’ iPhones, but this requires a cellular model of the watch. The ideal solution would be an independent setup process with an optional button to use an iPhone for data transfer and a faster setup.
This smartwatch is a powerful and feature-rich device — don’t get me wrong — but watchOS updates have been very dull lately. I feel like iOS gets the most of Apple’s attention every year at WWDC. It makes sense, considering the iPhone is their most popular product. However, it would be refreshing to see groundbreaking changes come to the smol OS, rather than a new watch face and two gimmicky additions with every “major” annual release.
The Apple Watch has grown on me and become a device I miss when I’m not wearing it. I always find myself looking at my bare wrist when it’s charging, only to realize there’s no screen there to check the time or notifications. Had I not won in that giveaway two years ago, I probably wouldn’t have bought one anytime soon. It’s one of those devices I wasn’t particularly interested in before trying them. But once I tried using it for a while, I fell in love with what it has to offer, and indeed it has turned from a meh accessory to an essential companion that I depend on in so many ways — that aren’t necessarily fitness-related.
What are your favorite Apple Watch features? Let us know in the comments section below.