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9 ways to get more out of your Apple Watch

Your Apple Watch is much more than a mini iPhone. Here's how to get the most out of that little computer on your wrist.
Written by Maria Diaz, Staff Writer
Closeup of Apple Watch shortcuts

There are a lot of options on your Apple Watch you're probably using daily.

Maria Diaz/ZDNET

An Apple Watch works much like a shortcut for your iPhone. 

If you have one, you're probably used to taking calls on it, pinging your iPhone whenever you can't find it, tracking your workouts, and checking your notifications right on your wrist while your phone stays in your pocket. 

But the truth is that your Apple Watch can do much more than work as a mini version of your iPhone. 

Also: How to change your Apple Watch face

Here are just a few ways your Apple Watch can become a tool to help your productivity at work and in your day-to-day life. 

5 top ways to get the most out of your Apple Watch

1. Control the iPhone camera

Speaking of featuring shortcuts for your iPhone, the Apple Watch can control your iPhone's camera. This is particularly useful if you need to record yourself or want to take a group picture. 

One of the apps on the Apple Watch is similar to the iPhone's camera app. When you open it, it'll turn on your phone's camera. The app will has a three-second timer by default so you don't appear tapping your watch in that selfie. Just prop your iPhone on a table or shelf, or a tripod if you want to get fancy, and you're ready to control the camera remotely.

To find the camera app on your Apple Watch, simply look through your apps by pressing down on the digital crown, then choose the one with the camera icon. This will open the camera on your iPhone and show a preview of what the camera sees on your watch's display.

Also: How to turn off Macro mode on iPhone Pro

You can choose from the front or rear camera from your watch, as well as options like flash, live photo, and HDR. Holding down the shutter button will record a video.

Hand holding Apple Watch next to iPhone of the same shot
Maria Diaz/ZDNET

2. Automatic hand-washing timer

The importance of hand-washing in personal health and hygiene can't be overstated -- as we all know more than ever now that we've lived through a pandemic. 

To help us all keep up with the thorough hand-washing habit, the Apple Watch can automatically detect when you start washing your hands. It then starts a 20-second countdown, vibrating when the time is up. If you don't already wash for the recommended 20 seconds, this is a great tool to motivate you to start.

This feature is unfortunately not available for teeth-brushing, but I wouldn't put it past Apple to consider it in the future.

Review: I put the Apple Watch Ultra through a Tough Mudder

Now you can stop singing the ABC's every time you wash your hands.

Closeup of automatic hand-washing timer on Apple Watch
Maria Diaz/ZDNET

3. Use Apple Maps on your Apple Watch

If you need directions often and have an Apple Watch, then I can't recommend using Apple Maps enough. 

In true Apple ecosystem fashion, your Apple Watch works best when combined with Apple's proprietary navigation app. You can search for directions from the Apple Watch, and when you're using step-by-step navigation, you'll get haptic feedback when you need to make a turn or take an exit. 

Also: How to share your location on iPhone (and do it safely)

This feature is particularly helpful if you live in a big city and do a lot of walking. You can avoid getting distracted by looking down at your phone for turn-by-turn directions. This can also prevent distracted driving, or if you just tend to miss turns and exits no matter what navigation app you use.

Keep in mind that this is more of a guide than a replacement for GPS navigation, as the Apple Watch doesn't give different vibration patterns to alert to make a right or left turn, rather it vibrates when you need to take an action. You'd still need to look down at your watch to see what to do, unless you have earphones in to hear the voice direction at the same time. 

Use Apple Maps on your Apple Watch
Maria Diaz/ZDNET

4. The sleep schedule

The Apple Watch is a great sleep tracker. It's able to track sleep stages and cycles with decent accuracy, especially for a device we wear on our wrists. But using it in combination with your sleep schedule on your iPhone is even more helpful.

Also: How to sleep better with the Apple Watch

The Health app houses your sleep options. Here you can see all your sleep data from nights past and also edit your sleep schedule. 

Adding a sleep schedule from 11:15 p.m. to 6:15 a.m. means I get reminders to start winding down each night at 10:30 p.m. The sleep focus comes on automatically every day during my "asleep" times on both the iPhone and Apple Watch. And I set an alarm for each morning.

Personally, using the Apple Watch for my alarm alone has made it a lot easier to get up in the mornings, since I feel the vibrations on my wrist every morning rather than just an audible alarm. I don't know how I'd be able to peel myself off the bed without it anymore.

Closeup of sleep schedule on Apple Watch
Maria Diaz/ZDNET

5. Repurpose your stand reminders

If you're always trying to close the activity rings on your Apple Watch, then you're probably used to getting reminders to stand up every hour at fifty minutes past. 

Now, I'm not sure about you, but I've grown to appreciate the reminders to get out of my chair and move around. It did wonders when house-training my dog, too, but that's an added benefit. However, the Apple Watch's stand reminders can be applied to create your own version of the Pomodoro Technique, for example.

This is a time management and productivity technique that alternates focused work sessions with restorative breaks. 

Also: Want to win an Apple Watch activity challenge? Here are 3 ways to make it happen

Though the timing for stand reminders is different when you follow the true Pomodoro Technique, the purpose remains: Give yourself time every hour to take your eyes off of any screens and stretch, maybe walk around or, if you work from home, pet your furry friend for some extra endorphins.

Closeup of Apple Watch reminder to stand
pixedeli/Getty Images

Other great ways to use an Apple Watch

  • Tip calculator: If you're dining out and need to calculate your tips quickly, just open the Apple Watch calculator app, enter the bill amount, tap on Tip, and have your watch figure out the amount. You can edit tip percentages, see both the tip amount and total amount in the calculator, and even add a number of people to split the check with.
  • Never misplace your iPhone again: Whenever my kids are home, I can trust that one of them will take my iPhone to play with the camera. Then they will be called to dinner and abandon my phone in the weirdest places. I don't mind this, to be fair; it just means that I'm constantly using my Apple Watch to ping my iPhone. This shortens the time it takes for me to find my phone, especially when I find it under their beds.
  • Walkie Talkie: When I moved into my house I used to joke that we'd need a '70s intercom system installed to communicate with each other, with all the rooms being separated and mostly walled off -- but the Apple Watch's Walkie Talkie feature was the solution. If there's someone else in your home with an Apple Watch, you can talk in real time with them using your watches.
  • Apple Pay on your wrist: Using Apple Pay on your iPhone as a contactless payment option is already a great feature. But not even having to dig your phone out of your purse or pockets and using your Apple Watch to check out at the register is even better -- and it works even if you don't have your iPhone with you.

Can I download apps on the Apple Watch?

If you go into the App Store from your Apple Watch, you can find a host of third-party apps made specifically for it. Explore your watch's App Store to find anything from note-taking and calendar apps to coloring book apps. Many of these apps can also be added as complications to your watch face.

Also: How to set up an Apple Watch

Can I play games on the Apple Watch?

Even though the Apple Watch features a much smaller screen than your typical smartphone, there are a lot of games available to play on it. Granted, they tend to be simpler versions than you'd get on an iPhone, but they are available. The process to find games for your Apple Watch is just like looking for apps, simply go to the App Store and search through the games available.

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