If you’ve just bought a new gadget, the first thing you want to do is rip it out of the packaging and try it out right away. That’s why we’ve put together this helpful guide for when you’re setting up your new Apple Watch for the first time.
Below we’ll talk you through the whole process of setting up the smartwatch and how to start using it. It’s relatively simple, but there are a few things you should know during the process – but we’ll talk you through it to make it a seamless experience.
This guide will talk you through how to set up your Apple Watch, Apple Watch 2, Apple Watch 3, Apple Watch 4, and Apple Watch 5, as it’s almost exactly the same process for all these devices.
Just remember, you’ll need an iPhone to set up your new Apple Watch, and it should be running the latest version of iOS. If you haven’t updated, now is the time.
Before you set up Apple Watch
Resist the temptation to put it on straight away. Before you strap your Apple Watch around your wrist, flip it over and spot the two small indents next to the straps.
These are the band release buttons, press and hold one and slide the band out sideways to remove it. Check in the Watch’s packaging and you’ll find another band (you get one large and one small). Try both and see which fits best.
Now lay your Watch on a flat surface; this makes the automatic sync with your iPhone easier (try to avoid manual pairing if possible). Make sure your iPhone has Bluetooth turned on and that it’s connected to a local WiFi or cellular network.
Locate the side button (shaped like a pill) on your Apple Watch and press it to turn it on. Tap ‘Start Pairing’ on the Watch and in the Apple Watch app on your phone. If it doesn’t appear, you may be asked to use your rear camera to take a photo of an animation on the Watch’s screen, like you can see below.
If this is your first Apple Watch, click ‘Set Up Apple Watch.’ You can also opt to restore from a backup if you’ve made one. You might be asked to update to the latest version of watchOS if a new version has come out since your Apple Watch model was released.
You may be asked to sign in with your Apple ID password, which can be done later but certain features relying on your cell number will be locked until you do.
Now you’ll pick settings, including which are shared with your iPhone. If you activated certain features on your iPhone, like Find My or Location Services, these will be automatically turned on for your Apple Watch upon setup.
For older models, during setup you’ll be asked to specify which wrist you’ll wear the Watch on. This doesn’t affect the orientation of the Watch’s display incidentally, which is set separately. Combined, these choices tell the Watch the direction of movement that should cause its display to turn on when you raise your wrist.
Don’t worry if you’re unsure because all these settings can be adjusted later from the iPhone app.
For security in case your Watch is stolen, set up a passcode during the initial setup process. The Watch uses the sensors on its back to determine when you’ve taken it off, after which the passcode must be entered to use it.
You’ll be asked whether you want the Watch to unlock when you unlock your iPhone (as long as you are wearing the Watch).
The default passcode is four digits long, but tapping ‘Add a Long Passcode’ enables you to enter a 10-digit number. This is much harder to bypass, but only use it if you are truly security conscious.
You might also turn on the Erase Data setting, which is done in the Apple Watch app on your iPhone after initial setup (look under My Watch > Passcode). When this is on, the Watch erases its contents after 10 incorrect passcode entries.
Getting back to setting up: when you’re asked whether to install all Watch apps that are included with your iPhone apps, we think it’s smarter to install them later to speed up the setup process. Besides, installing every available app can make the Watch’s Home screen overly busy.
If you’re setting up an Apple Watch with LTE, this will be where you’re asked to enter the details for your carrier. It’ll appear within the Watch app on your phone, and if you want to skip here and do it later in the app that works too.
Finally, the Apple Watch syncs with your iPhone and you can use it as soon as that finishes (it takes a few minutes). Strap on the Watch, tap the screen and enter your passcode. Now when you raise your wrist, the screen will spring to life.
Setting up the home screen
In the Apple Watch app on your iPhone, scroll down to find two group of apps. The first one contains Apple’s apps, while the lower block is where you’ll find apps from other developers.
Third-party Watch apps are bundled with their iPhone app. Tap on a third-party app in the list and turn on the Show On Apple Watch switch to install it on your Watch.
Some apps also provide Glances, which give quick access to key features when you slide a finger up from the bottom of the watch face). You can enable up to 20 of them.
Apps are rearranged (and third-party ones removed) directly from the Watch’s Home screen. Tap and hold an app icon until all the icons start to jiggle. Tap and hold an app icon to grab it, and move it to a new position.
To delete a third-party app (indicated with a cross at its top-left), tap its icon swiftly and choose Delete App.
It’s a lot easier to arrange apps in the iPhone app. Tap App Layout and drag app icons around to rearrange them; the layout on your Watch refreshes a moment later. Tap My Watch at the top-left when you’re finished.
What Settings will you want to change right away?
The Apple Watch is a vastly more complex creature than you might imagine, with myriad options spread out across several areas.
The first thing to know is that there are two places to configure settings. On the Watch’s Home screen you’ll find a Settings app that contains fundamental settings.
The Apple Watch app on your iPhone presents many more when you tap My Watch, making it the best place to start.
Receiving many notifications on the Apple Watch soon becomes overwhelming. Calm things down by tapping Notifications to view the settings for each app. They might offer different settings, but most include two options: Mirror my iPhone (the default) and Custom.
If you select the former, the phone’s options are summarised below; to adjust them, go to Settings > Notifications on your iPhone.
Tap Custom to choose an app’s notification behaviour on your Watch. Three options are available: Show Alerts determines whether visual notifications appear on the screen, the Sound switch controls audible prompts, and Haptic decides whether the Watch gives you a gentle tap on the wrist.
Some apps have more complex Notifications. For example, Activity presents separate controls for stand reminders (so you can stop your Watch telling you to stand up and move around) as well as progress updates during the day, daily goal completions, long-term achievements and a weekly summary.
Get rid of the red dot
If you miss a notification a red dot appears at the top of the watch face. Turn off Notifications Indicator if you find it annoying.
Increase your privacy
While the Watch’s small screen makes it fairly private, you might want to hide the content of alerts. Switch on Notification Privacy and you’ll only see the type of alert and the person it’s from, and you’ll only see the full details if you tap the alert.
Check for updates
One important feature found in the Apple Watch app that isn’t on the device itself is software update. Go to General > Software Update and the app will check if a new version of Watch OS is available and enable you to install it.
Your Watch will need to be charging and have at least 50% battery power though. The latest software is currently a version of watchOS 6, which you should be able to download to all versions of the Apple Watch apart from the original version.
If you’re buying an Apple Watch now though, it’s likely you’re going to be buying the Series 1 model or above.
Auto update apps
To save having to remember to install new apps, tap General > Automatic Downloads and switch on Automatically Download Apps.
Now when you install an iPhone app with an Apple Watch component, it’ll automatically appear on your Watch’s Home screen.
Check the usage
Older Apple Watch models only sport 8GB of storage, which might quickly fill up because only 5.9GB of it is available to you. The Series 4 has 16GB and Series 5 up to 32GB, leaving more space for local media. You can see what is eating up space in General > Usage.
Fast-forward the time
If you like to set a watch slightly ahead of time, tap Settings on your Apple Watch’s Home screen and choose Time. Tap where it says ‘+0 min’ and rotate the Digital Crown to determine how far ahead you want to set the time, then tap Set.
This only affects the watch face; the actual time is displayed elsewhere.
The Settings glance
Swipe up from the bottom of the watch face to open Glances and then swipe right until you reach the leftmost one: the Settings glance.
It contains shortcuts that toggle AirPlane Mode, Do Not Disturb, and Silent Mode with just a tap.
Find your iPhone
The large button across the bottom of the Settings glance is used to tell your iPhone to emit a pinging noise (reminiscent of a submarine radar). This is ideal for locating your iPhone when you’ve put it down nearby yet can’t remember exactly where.