The Apple Watch might not have revolutionized the smartwatch market the way that the iPhone changed cellphone market, but it’s still a major success. According to Canalys, a research firm, Apple sold nearly half of all smartwatches sold in the fourth quarter of 2016, then actually improved on those numbers in 2017.
To put that in perspective, Apple sold more watches than the entire Swiss Watch Industry over the same time period. That’s a heady achievement, and it makes sense; after all, when was the last time your Rolex showed you an email or forecasted the weather?
Despite that success, however, many Apple fanatics are failing to take full advantage of the product’s next-generation tech. Here’s a look at a few of the best hidden features of the Apple Watch:
1. If you’re fed up with Apple Watch notifications, we can help.
The little red dot on your Apple Watch can be useful if you’re waiting for an important email, but it can also induce a lot of stress (by the way, we’ll explain how the Apple Watch can actually help you limit stress a little bit later).
To turn it off, open the Apple Watch app on your iPhone, then tap the My Watch tab and select Notifications to turn off the indicator.
While you’re in there, you might want to make a few changes to limit the number of notifications you see. By default, the Apple Watch mirrors your iPhone’s notification settings. That’s usually fine, but if you’re using third-party apps, you can make a quick change to avoid an overwhelming avalanche of unnecessary notifications.
To do that, open up the Apple Watch app, then tap the My Watch tab, then Notifications. Here, you’ll see a list of third-party apps. Choose one, then change the settings to Custom to gain a little more control. If you don’t like it, you can switch back to Mirror My iPhone.
By the way, to quickly clear out your existing notifications, swipe down on the face of the watch by swiping left on each notification and tapping the X. Alternately, you can force-touch for a Clear All option.
One more crucial tip: To stop your watch from immediately displaying the contents of email messages, head back into the iPhone’s Apple Watch app, tap on Notifications, and turn on the Notifications Privacy feature. That’s essential if you’re constantly showing people your watch (and let’s be real, it’s too cool to not show off your timepiece sometimes).
2. Let’s talk about a few basic features that users tend to miss.
Ever wish you could show off a particularly glamorous watch face? Want to record your latest exercise achievement for posterity’s sake?
Yeah, we can’t think of many reasons to take a screenshot on the Apple Watch, but it’s certainly possible. Press both buttons to take a screenshot. To make the process a bit easier, hold the side button first, then tap the crown. You’ll hear a shutter sound. Head over to your iPhone’s Photos app to find your screenshot, then share it with your friends.
If you’ve ever tried to check the time during a movie, you know that the Apple Watch’s bright screen can be distracting—much to the chagrin of your fellow movie-goers. To quickly change the brightness, don’t tap the screen; instead, twist the digital crown. Make sure it’s as dim as possible before you head into the cinema.
One of the coolest features of the Apple Watch is its customizable faces. To change the available options, head to your iPhone’s Apple Watch app and tap on the Face Gallery tab. You can switch between available faces pretty easily. Simply press the Digital Crown to bring up your watch face, press the display firmly, then swipe left or right.
While you’re at it, you can swipe all the way to the left to edit Complications—Apple’s term for additional features like heart rate information, dates, and so on.
If you constantly find yourself accidentally switching your watch’s look, you can use the Apple Watch app to remove everything but a single watch face.
3. The Apple Watch’s messaging features are powerful, but not always intuitive.
You can respond to text messages by opening up Messages via the Dock, and if you receive a text, you can quickly call up the app by swiping down on the watch face.
Of course, replying is often an arduous task. You can use Scribble to write out each letter of your reply, but that can take forever. Siri can also convert text to speech, and you can send messages as audio rather than text (trigger either option by tapping the microphone icon).
The fastest way to respond to text messages is to use the preset replies. They’re pretty basic, however. To change them, open up the Apple Watch app on your iPhone, then tap My Watch, then Messages, then Default Replies. Tap any of the defaults to change or remove them.
By the way, Siri works with many third-party apps. Try commands like, “Hey Siri, make a call with Skype” or “Hey Siri, get me a ride with Lyft.”
4. Tired of manually unlocking each of your Apple devices?
The Apple Watch can help. Sort of.
You’ll need an Apple Watch with watchOS 3 (or later) and a Mac with macOS Sierra (or later). Check to make sure that your Apple ID uses two-factor authentication— if you’re not sure how to do this, there’s a guide from Apple here.
Make sure that your Mac has both Bluetooth and Wifi turned on, then go to the Apple menu on your Mac. Select System Preferences, click Security and Privacy, then look for the “Allow your Apple Watch to unlock your Mac” option under the General tab.
You can’t unlock your iPhone from your Apple Watch, but you can make your life a little bit easier by unlocking both devices simultaneously. On your iPhone, head over to the Watch app, then tap My Watch, then Passcode, then Turn Passcode On. Make sure that Wrist Detection is turned on.
With this setting enabled, your watch will remain unlocked until you take it off your wrist. You can also unlock your watch by unlocking your iPhone. If you’ve got a newer iPhone, that basically adds (some) Face ID functionality to your watch. Neat, right?
5. Keep a better eye on your health.
The Series 2 and 3 Apple Watch (and, we assume, the upcoming Series 4) can monitor your heart rate and notify you about sudden dramatic increases.
Open up the Apple Watch app, then tap My Watch, followed by Heart Rate. Here, you can choose a warning BPM (beats per minute).
So, what BPM should you choose? According to the American Heart Association, a resting heart rate of more than 100 BPM can be problematic, as the rapid heartbeat doesn’t “allow enough time for the heart to fill before it contracts, so blood flow to the rest of the body is compromised.” You might want to set your warning notifications higher or lower, depending on your body type and other factors, so consider asking your family physician for guidance.
The Apple Watch’s elevated heart rate notifications only come in if your BPM is soaring and you’ve been inactive for 10 minutes, so you shouldn’t get constant notifications during your workouts. If you do receive the notifications, this could be indicative of an underlying heart condition, and it’s best to seek medical attention.
To lower in non-emergencies—say, after a workout or during times of stress— you can try the built-in Breathe app, which uses haptic feedback to lead you through a simple mindfulness exercise.
6. You can also use the Apple Watch to track your sleep, provided you’re willing to do some extra work.
Currently, you’ll need a third-party app to track your sleep with the Apple Watch, but there are a number of excellent options in the App Store. A few of our favorites include Pillow, Sleep Watch (get it?), and AutoSleep.
Regardless of which app you choose, take the data with a grain of salt. Tracking your sleep can help you establish better habits, but they’re not perfect. In an informal experiment, researcher Jina Yoon of Brown University found that popular fitness trackers produce wildly different results when attempting to measure sleep stages—for instance, how long a user spends in the REM stage—and even sleep duration.
“These devices offer some powerful data tracking tools,” she concluded, “but it’s best to let the experts analyze your sleep if you have any chronic conditions.”
7. We’ve got some good news, Disney fans.
If you’ve got the Mickey Mouse or Minnie Mouse watch face, you’ll definitely want to try this trick. (And if you’ve already forgotten how to set your watch face, head back to section 2.)
Okay, all set? Okay, now make sure silent mode is off. Tap on Mickey or Minnie…and you’ll hear them speak the time.
Admittedly, this is a pretty niche feature, and it’s somewhat embarrassing if you trigger it accidentally—your boss could do without Mickie Mouse telling them the time in the middle of your performance review.
Still, we’re hopeful that Apple will incorporate other Disney Easter eggs in the future. They’re worth the stares.