Every built-in Apple Watch app, ranked
- 09 May, 2015 01:27
The apps that come with your Apple Watch run the gamut from super useful to superficial, but no matter what you think of any of them, they're not going away. On your iPhone, you can just make a folder of the un-deletable Apple apps (looking at you, Compass and Tips), so at least they're out of sight and out of mind. But the Apple Watch doesn't support folders, and you can't hide or delete any of its 20 built-in apps.
You can, however, reorder your home screen - either using the Apple Watch app for iPhone, which gives you way more real estate to work with, or by tapping-and-holding an icon on the Apple Watch's screen until they all jiggle, and then dragging them around with your finger. You'll want to put the ones you use the most near the center, and banish apps you're not into out to the edges. But as you add third-party apps, those go to the edges of your app cluster too, so you may find yourself continually pushing unloved apps further out--it's kind of a pain, to be honest.
To help you get everything sorted, we present these short reviews of every single app that shipped with the Apple Watch - and rank them best to worst. Which are your favorites, and which do you wish you could get rid of? What improvements do you think Apple should make? Sound off in the comments!
The Music app, of course, ties in with the Music app on your iPhone. If your iPhone is in range, you can browse your iPhone's music library by artist, album, songs, and playlists, either scrolling with your finger or by spinning the Digital Crown. (Just like a clickwheel!)
You can keep up to 2GB of music on your Apple Watch's 8GB of built-in storage. The default storage limit is 1GB of music, so to make room for more, visit the Apple Watch app on your iPhone, then tap Music in the list of apps. Tap Playlist limit to toggle between the low (100MB/15 songs) and high (2GB/250 songs) ends. Then tap the Synced Playlist setting, and pick a playlist from your iPhone to sync to your watch's local storage the next time your iPhone is plugged in.
The Apple Watch doesn't have a headphone jack, and it does have a speaker, but that speaker isn't up to playing music. Playing a song from the Music app will play it on your iPhone. You can switch to an AirPlay speaker or Bluetooth headphones by force-touching the screen in the Music app, which brings up controls for Shuffle, Repeat, Source (either the music stored on your iPhone, or only the songs saved to the Apple Watch), and AirPlay.
The Music app's glance is a Now Playing screen that can control the music playing from the Music app--but that's not all. If your iPhone is playing audio through another app (like Spotify, Rdio, iHeartRadio, Instacast, whatever you use), the Now Playing glance can control that too, with buttons for play/pause, forward, back, and volume.
Verdict: A I love the Music app. Scrolling through even a huge list of songs with the Apple Watch is wonderfully fun, because all it takes is a twist of the Digital Crown. It's wonderfully tactile, reminding me of using a clickwheel iPod back in the day. In fact, I'm going to make it a point to keep more music stored locally on my iPhone (instead of streaming everything from Rdio or Soundcloud), just because navigating it with the Apple Watch is so much fun.
Activity is so important to the Apple Watch experience that its available as a "complication" on several watch faces - that way, all it takes is a flick of your wrist to see how much progress you've taken toward your goals. The Activity interface is so compelling that it's the first in my list of glances, and I find myself tapping into the full app from the glance not because I actually need more info, but because I'm just curious to see the full set of stats.
Activity shows you three concentric rings: the large red ring is for Move (a calorie-burn goal based on your general activity level, and easily adjusted with a force touch), a medium green ring for Exercise (30 minutes per day), and a small blue ring for Stand (standing up and moving around for at least one minute per hour, 12 hours out of the day). In the glance, that's all you see, but tapping into the full app also includes separate screens for each metric, and you can swipe between them, plus scroll down to see a graph showing what times of the day you moved, exercised, or stood.
The watch will prompt you to get up and move around at 50 minutes past each hour, if you didn't already log at least a minute of activity in the hour so far. Unfortunately, I do get prompts to get up and move when I can't, like when I'm commuting by bus--this is a little frustrating since the iPhone's sensors can tell if I'm traveling in a vehicle. I'd love a tie-in to my calendar too. And just raising my adjustable desk from a sitting to a standing position isn't enough to convince the watch I'm standing--you really have to move around for it to tell.
(I also tend to respond to the watch's get-up-and-move prompts by wandering from my computer to my refrigerator--not to snack per se, just to see what's in there--but my lack of willpower isn't the Apple Watch's fault. I could just as easily do a silly dance for a minute.)
Verdict: A Even with its quirks, I've found the Activity app much more compelling and motivating than using a Fitbit or a Jawbone UP to track my steps. The app's gorgeous layout has me visiting multiple times per day, and a fitness app that actually makes you want to use it is already ahead of the pack.
Messages is outstanding on the Apple Watch for two reasons: Apple is being smart about the notifications, and more importantly, when a notification comes in, you can actually act on it. You can reply to texts right on the watch, by choosing a prewritten snippet (those are easily edited in the Apple Watch app on your iPhone) or tapping the microphone to dictate a reply to Siri.
Dictation either works really well or not at all. I've moved all my texting to the Apple Watch, and even when Siri doesn't understand me occasionally (less than 10 percent of the time, I'd estimate), I still find it quicker and easier than tapping out a reply on the iPhone. You can send the messages as audio clips or as dictated text, and if you overwhelmingly prefer one or the other, you can set a default in the Apple Watch app for iPhone.
The Messages app for Apple Watch has exclusive animated emoji that you can send to anyone, not just other Apple Watch users. They're adorable, but what isn't super clear is that you can use the Digital Crown--or smear your finger around the screen without swiping to the next page--to get different options for the animated face, heart, and hand. The standard iOS emoji are here too.
But the best part of Messages is how smart the notifications have been, at least in my experience. If my iPhone is unlocked and in use, the notification comes to my iPhone and not my Apple Watch. If the iPhone is locked, it comes to my Apple Watch. If I have Messages open on my Mac and it's the active app (as in, I'm using it to chat with someone), the message will pop up there and leave both my iPhone and Apple Watch dark. But when I switch out of Messages into another app on my Mac, like Safari, new messages once again ping my Apple Watch. I've been really impressed with how seamless it is, and haven't missed a message yet.
Verdict: A Yes, Messages could be improved--I'd love to be able to send a photo, for example, since all my favorites are stored right on the watch. But between using my own canned replies, my uncanny ability to speak in emoji, and the solid Siri performance, I've found Messages one of the most useful apps on the Apple Watch.
The Apple Watch, after all, is a watch. So being able to tell the time is pretty crucial. I love the Mickey Mouse watch face with his perfect 60-beats-per-minute toe tap, as well as the animated watch face where differently colored butterflies or flowers emerge out of the darkness. (No complications on that watch face, though, so I have to swipe up to the glances to see my Activity progress or how much battery life is left.) Here's how to select and customize the watch faces.
I also love how Apple claims the watch as the most accurate timepiece ever, but still lets you set ahead a few minutes. (Up to 59 minutes, actually.) Because what's a watch you can't set ahead a few minutes? Even the cheapest digital watch you got from a cereal box can do that! Of course, on the Apple Watch, it's even better, because timed alerts and notifications (say, calendar events or the start of a baseball game) still come in at the precise right time. It's just the clock that's different.
Verdict: A Apple should consider allowing watch faces designed by third-party developers, but I think they will--or at least release more of their own in the meantime. But what's here now is great, and tweaking their colors and complications with a force-press is fun and easy.
5. Passbook and Apple Pay
I've used Passbook at Starbucks, and Apple Pay at Subway, Panera, Walgreens, and a vending machine. Each time it's worked flawlessly, even easier than using my phone. On my iPhone, Passbook is only speedy for me when the passes pop up on my lock screen when I'm in the vicinity of wherever I would use that pass. If I have to unlock my phone, then find and launch Passbook, half the time I get distracted along the way by a notification on my lock screen, or an irresistable app on my home screen (cough, cough, Instagram and Twitter). Even though I have to launch Passbook on the Apple Watch manually, getting there feels faster.
The barcode Passbook put on the Apple Watch's screen is impossibly tiny (and I have the 38mm watch), so I was worried I'd have to wave it in front of the barcode scanner forever to get it to read. Not so. And for Apple Pay, all I had to do was double-tap my watch's button to pull up my default Apple Pay card, and then hold the face of my watch right over the credit card terminal. Beep! Done.
Verdict: A Apple Pay is delightful as ever, and I'm excited that iPhone 5s, 5c, and 5 users can get in on the party thanks to Apple Watch.
6. Camera Remote
This one is just plain cool - a remote shutter button for your iPhone camera. It can even launch the camera app on the paired iPhone if it's not launched already. (It even worked when my iPhone was locked.) The watch app has two buttons, a shutter button to take a shot immediately, or a button with a 3s indicator. Press that to see a 3-second countdown on the watch, followed by a burst of 10 photos taken by the iPhone. This is perfect not only for avoiding a bunch of selfies of you looking at your watch, but also for a photo of you jumping up in the air and doing karate kicks. Not that I've been trying that. Ahem.
It would be kind of cool if you could force-touch the screen to temporarily pair the app to a different iPhone, or flip the iPhone from the front camera to the back. But that latter feature is a forgivable omission, since you'll be setting up the shot with your iPhone anyway, propping it up on a stand and pointing it where you want. The Apple Watch app does support both cameras, you just have to switch between them on the iPhone. When you switch the Camera app on your phone into viewing mode, a message pops up on your watch saying the mode is not supported, but there's a handy button you can press to switch back to photo mode.
Verdict: A The speed is impressive--there's barely any shutter lag, and if you flip the iPhone from portrait to landscape mode, it's reflected on the watch immediately too. You can even tap the Apple Watch's screen to tell the iPhone camera where to focus. I like it and will carry my trusty iPhone tripod more faithfully now that I have this.
Workout hits your battery extra hard, since it keeps track of your heart rate the entire time you're exercising. (The rest of the time, the Apple Watch checks your heart rate once every 10 minutes.) It's geared toward cardio: the options include outdoor walk, outdoor run, outdoor cycle, indoor walk, indoor run, indoor cycle, elliptical, rower, stair stepper, and "other." Exercises like yoga, pilates, boxing, and weight training may not be counted as "exercise" minutes toward your goal--it depends on your heart rate data. But for the cardio exercises in the menu, it works well.
When you start a new workout, you can choose a goal based on calorie burn elapsed time, distance (for outdoor workouts), or just go for it in open-ended mode and see how long you can last. You get a buzz as you get closer to your goal, and it's easy to glance down at your wrist and see your progress at any time. (Tap the time at the top-right of the screen to toggle between the time of day and how long you've been working out.) Force-touch the screen to pause or end your workout, and be sure to scroll down the display of stats and press Save to log it in your Health database.
We've got a deeper dive into both the Activity and Workout apps, and we're planning a head-to-head showdown of its heart rate accuracy versus a dedicated chest strap.
Verdict: A I like how the Workout app won't let me cheat--I recently logged 40 minutes on a stationary bike, but slacked off for the first 15 before getting serious for the last 25. The Apple Watch kept me honest, only giving me Exercise minutes in the Activity app for the minutes I was really, truly working out.
The Apple Watch is a great remote control since it's always strapped to your wrist, and the Remote app lets you command your Apple TV or the iTunes library on your Mac. Adding the Apple TV was relatively simple: Using another remote, I navigated the Apple TV to Settings > General > Remote. Then I tapped "Add New" in the Remote app on the watch, which gave me a four-digit code, and made an option pop up on the TV screen that said "Susie's Apple Watch." Select that, enter the code, and it worked just fine.
Navigating the Apple TV's menu is easy with swipes and taps, and the Menu and Play/Pause buttons on the bottom look tiny, but I found them easy to hit. The only drawback is that if you have to enter text (when searching, or logging into a service), you have to select one letter at a time. So in those cases it would be faster to use the Remote app on your iPhone, since that provides a software keyboard.
I did have more trouble setting up Remote to control my Mac's iTunes library. The watch app gives you a four-digit code, and you have to click an Apple Watch icon in your iTunes library's tab bar to enter the code. But the icon wasn't showing up on my Mac. I wound up restarting iTunes, the Mac, and even the Apple Watch before it finally appeared. Once set up, the Remote app on the watch let me control playback, but in a pretty bare-bones way: I have to pick out music on the Mac and start it playing, and then all I can do from the phone is pause/play, go back or forward by one track, adjust the volume, and force-touch to select a different AirPlay speaker. The Music app for the Apple Watch actually lets you browse the artists, songs, and playlists stored on your watch or your phone, so this feels a little hobbled in comparison, but most people probably have a lot more music in iTunes on a Mac than they do in Music on an iPhone, so maybe navigating a big collection via the Remote app would feel unwieldy.
Verdict: A- Controlling the Apple TV is a joy--except for the rare times I need to enter text, and if the next version of the Apple TV gets Siri support, that'll help a lot. Controlling an iTunes library on a Mac is less useful, but still nice to have.
Yes, you can make and receive phone calls on the Apple Watch, as long as your paired iPhone is in range. The watch acts as a little speakerphone, and you can talk into your wrist, and hear the replies come from the watch's built-in speaker. It works pretty well--I even used it in the car without turning the radio all the way down, and my friend and I were able to hear each other pretty well. I appreciate that you can listen to voicemails directly on the watch, too. Just don't ask Siri to play them, or she'll try to hand you off to your iPhone.
This is best for quick calls, in my opinion. I probably wouldn't want to conduct a long, rambling conversation while mumbling into my wrist like Dick Tracy. Well, maybe if I was lying in down, so I could just kind of prop my arm near my face. You know, if my iPhone was way across the room. (Yes, I admit that for a watch that doubles as a fitness tracker, this is a very lazy scenario to dream up.)
Verdict: A- Phone's solid performance was something of a surprise--who knew a wrist-worn Bluetooth speakerphone would be so convenient? But it's still more awkward than just talking on the phone.
The Weather app supports multiple cities, and its interface is really cool. While most weather apps for the iPhone display hour-by-hour forecasts in a linear timeline, Weather on the Apple Watch has a cool circular interface that looks right at home on a watch. For each city, the current temperature is in the center of a ring, with hourly conditions circling the outside. You can tap that display to toggle to an hourly temperature forecast, and a precipitation forecast. Or you can force-tap the screen to jump directly from one to another.
Swiping across the screen changes the city, but you can't add new cities directly from the watch. That isn't a big deal, though, since your current location is always in the list, wherever you are. You can add new cities in the Weather app on your iPhone, and select which is the default for the watch in the Apple Watch app for iPhone. The Weather app's glance shows only that default city (which can be Current Location), and tends to load somewhat slowly, but comes in very handy when you need to see if you should bring your jacket.
Verdict: A- Bay Area weather doesn't vary a whole lot, which makes weather apps less exciting here. (Oh, it'll be around 60 and mostly sunny pretty much all the time? You don't say.) I like the layout of Weather and hope the performance gets snappier with a few software updates. Being able to add a new city with voice search would be welcome.
This isn't an app on the home screen--instead, you just press the Apple Watch's button once to call up your favorite friends list. This is 12 friends in a watch-like circle interface. They're automatically populated with the Favorites in the Phone app on your iPhone, but you can customize the list further in the Apple Watch app for iPhone, if you want different people as favorites on each device.
Once you select a friend with your finger or the Digital Crown, you get shortcuts to send them a message or give them a call, and if the person also has an Apple Watch, you can tap the tiny finger icon to enter Digital Touch mode. This lets you tap the screen to have the taps replicated on the wrist of your friend, which is a neat way to get someone's attention. You can also draw a little sketch on the screen--very simple, one-color drawings, like a smiley face, heart, or "HI!" work the best. A color picker at the top-right offers a few preset colors, or you can force-touch it to choose from more shades. When you finish drawing, you just lift your finger and watch your image fade away, to be redrawn the same way on your friend's watch.
Holding two fingers on the watch's screen in Digital Touch mode will grab your heart beat and start tapping out its rhythm on your watch as well as your friend's. It's a cool feeling but also incredibly intimate, like pressing your fingers onto someone's pulse point. A community has popped up on Reddit to let Apple Watch owners test this out if they don't already have other friends with the Apple Watch, but I find it too personal to share my heartbeat with strangers.
Verdict: B+ Occasionally, Digital Touch gives me an error message that my drawing can't send, but otherwise, it's a pretty fun feature to play with--assuming you have watch-owning pals to use it with. I'd like to see more than 12 slots in the Friends shortcut list, especially since there isn't a standalone Contacts app on the watch--maybe you could have a few groups of 12, and swipe between them.
Maps offers turn-by-turn navigation for walking or driving, but you won't hear spoken directions. Instead, you'll feel taps on your wrist to signal you to upcoming turns. Before a right turn, you'll feel 10 taps all in a row. For a left turn, the watch will tap you six times, but in three sets of two taps so it's easier to distinguish. (Tap-tap, tap-tap, tap-tap.) The watch face shows two views, either a tiny slice of the map showing your route, or a more easily read screen that just shows what your next turn is and how far away you are. Swipe between them.
If you go off course, the Maps app will reroute you, and you'll feel a buzz on your wrist to let you know it's doing that. Since the Apple Watch doesn't have its own GPS chip, you do need your iPhone to be connected via Bluetooth to use Maps at all.
You can start a new navigation session from the watch itself, which is great. Just force-touch the screen, and you'll get choices for Contacts and Search. The Search screen lets you search by dictation, or browse your Favorites and Recents. Locations you've searched for in Maps on your iPhone show up here too. While navigating, you can force-touch the screen to stop.
Verdict: B Still no public transit directions in Maps--not on the watch or even on the iPhone--although rumor has it Apple is still working on that. But I love getting taps on my wrist when it's time to turn, instead of spoken directions that interrupt whatever music or podcasts I'm listening to.
Mail is useful for skimming email and then using Force Touch to either delete it, keep it unread, or flag it for followup. But its design is nothing to write home about, and I'd like a few more options. My ideal Mail app would let me archive messages, or even forward them to someone else.
Perhaps a third-party mail app will up the ante with gestures: I could trace an L on the screen to move an email message to a Later list, or an R to send it to a list of messages I need to reply to (back on my iPhone, iPad, or Mac of course), maybe a circle to archive it, and a diagonal slash to delete it.
Verdict: B- Right now, Mail is mostly a notification engine. Even reading messages on the watch's small screen isn't a great experience, and I'd appreciate more features for triaging the deluge of email I get every day.
You can keep up to 75MB of images (or 500 photos) stored directly on your Apple Watch, so you can view them even if your iPhone is off or out of range. The default synced album is Favorites, but you can choose a different one in the Apple Watch app for iPhone.
Viewing photos on the watch just isn't a stellar experience, though. First you see miniscule thumbnails representing the entire album at once, and then you need to use the Digital Crown to zoom in, since the display doesn't support Multi-Touch (and is a little too small to comfortably pinch-to-zoom anyway). Once you're viewing a photo, you can swipe to the next or previous image, but that's it. You can't text photos, draw on them with Digital Touch, nothing.
You can take screenshots on your Apple Watch by pressing the Digital Crown and the button at the same time, and those PNG files are quickly synced back to your iPhone, but don't become visible on the Apple Watch itself unless your synced album is Camera Roll or Recently Added.
Verdict: B- Apple's insistence on putting your photos on all your devices makes sense, but this app needs a couple of updates before it's truly great. How about a Force Touch option to flip the display around, so I can show off the photos to a person standing in front of me? The ability to text a photo, or save a photo attached to an incoming text or email, would be great too.
The Calendar app is certainly nice to have on the Apple Watch, but it could use a few improvements too. You can use Force Touch to switch between a day planner view and a list view, and the Apple Watch app for iPhone lets you toggle alerts on and off for upcoming events, invitations, invitee responses, and shared calendar alerts.
Managing your calendar events happens entirely on other devices: your iPhone, iPad, or Mac. All you can do on the watch is look at your calendar. You can't change the time of an event, edit its name, invite other people, or even tap an address to open it in Maps. The interface is easy to read, but otherwise on the dull side.
Verdict: C Alerts work well, but the inability to send addresses from calendar events to Maps feels like a pretty big oversight. I was able to use Siri on the Apple Watch to create a new event, but only on my default iCloud calendar, not on my Exchange or Gmail calendars, no matter how nicely I asked.
I use the Stopwatch feature inside the Clock app on my iPhone a few times a year at most, but the Stopwatch app on the Apple Watch has a much flashier design. Force-touch the screen to select Analog, Digital, Graph, and Hybrid mode--Digital more closely resembles the iPhone's implementation, but Hybrid looks the coolest. You can even switch between the views while the stopwatch is running, and it'll keep on ticking.
Verdict: C The Stopwatch app doesn't save previous times on the watch itself, or send them to the iPhone for safe-keeping. And I keep mixing its icon up with Timer (see below), which looks nearly identical.
17 (tie). World Clock, Timer, and Alarm
These apps have slick designs too, but not quite as neat as Stopwatch - and they're all things you can do just fine with Siri. So in my humble opinion, these apps don't need to take up three separate icons on my home screen. Plus, I mix up Stopwatch and Timer's icons all the time. I wish I could hide these icons from the home screen and either use Siri to launch the apps, or just ask Siri what time it is in another city, and have her set my alarms and timers for me.
Verdict: D On the iPhone, these functions are in one app. I understand why Apple would split them out on a watch, since it's a timepiece first and foremost. But I think they could still work within the same app: We could swipe between the features, or use Force Touch to choose one. I'm sure Apple's implementation will work for some people, but I'd prefer to have more options.
The Stocks app is bare-bones, and it annoys me to no end that I can't hide or delete it. You have to set up the stocks you want to track inside the Stocks app for your iPhone, but then the watch gives you plenty of data about each one, including its current price, and a historical graph you can change from one day to six months.
Verdict: D- I'm sure plenty of people who want or need to keep tabs on stock prices constantly will enjoy this app. I wish I could get rid of it, and I think plenty of people will agree with that sentiment as well.