An Apple Watch Series 4 watch on a man's wrist.
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Your Apple Watch can help you find your iPhone, unlock your Mac, warn you if your hearing is in danger, or even detect when you’ve had a bad fall and send for help. Here are the features you should know.

Many of these features are new in watchOS 6, which was released alongside iOS 13 and macOS Catalina. The Apple Watch keeps getting more powerful.

Unlock Your Mac

The "Use Your Apple Watch to Unlock Apps and Your Mac" option under the General tab on a Mac.

In macOS Sierra, Apple added a feature that allows you to unlock your Mac with your Apple Watch. To use this feature, your Apple watch must run watchOS 3, be paired with an iPhone 5 or later, and your Mac will need to have been manufactured sometime after mid-2013.

To turn on automatic unlocking, head to System Preferences > General on your Mac. Make sure the “Allow Handoff Between This Mac and Your iCloud Devices” option is enabled. Next, head to System Preferences > Security & Privacy and enable “Allow Your Apple Watch to Unlock Your Mac” under the General tab.

Your Mac should now automatically unlock when you get within a few feet of the login screen. You must be signed in to the same Apple ID on your Apple Watch, paired iPhone, and Mac for this to work.

Approve with Apple Watch in macOS Catalina

New in macOS Catalina is the ability to “Approve with Apple Watch” for any admin-level authorization requests. These are the prompts that often appear when you attempt to delete or install software, view saved passwords in Safari, or access locked settings panels.

If you’ve already set up auto-unlock (above), then there’s nothing left to do; approve with Apple Watch will work. You’ll see prompts to approve changes on your wrist while you work on your Mac.

If you haven’t enabled auto-unlock yet, follow the instructions in the previous section.

Monitor Ambient Noise Levels

A Noise Monitoring alert on watchOS 6.

Apple’s watchOS 6 update adds ambient sound level monitoring if you have an Apple Watch Series 4 or newer model. The feature monitors sound levels around you and sends a notification if sound levels exceed a certain threshold for three minutes or more.

This feature should have announced itself when you upgraded to watchOS 6. If you missed it, you can enable it on your iPhone. To do so, open the Watch app, tap “Noise,” and then set the threshold you prefer.

You can also enable a complication on the watch face that will give you a real-time display of the current ambient noise levels. We’ve used it since watchOS 6 launched and haven’t noticed any negative effect on the Apple Watch battery.

After you enable ambient noise monitoring, you see a new entry under the Health app. It keeps track of the sound levels you encounter and alerts you if you’re exposed to loud sounds for an extended period.

Detect When You’ve Had a Bad Fall

The "Fall Detection" option on Apple Watch.

The Apple Watch Series 4 or later can also detect when you’ve “fallen and can’t get up.” If the watch detects a fall followed by a period of inactivity, it automatically calls emergency services and your selected emergency contacts.

By default, this feature is disabled unless you’re age 65 or older (and even then, you can disable it). You can enable it manually, but be aware that your watch might call emergency services when an event isn’t a true emergency.

To turn on Apple Watch fall detection:

  1. Launch the Watch app on your iPhone.
  2. Tap Emergency SOS.
  3. Toggle-On “Fall Detection.”

There are stories about the feature potentially saving lives, but you also have to consider the legal ramifications of a device that automatically calls the police (and waives the requirement for a warrant to enter your property).

The more physically active you are, the more likely you are to enable a false positive. Fortunately, though, the watch attempts to alert you before it calls emergency services.

Find Your Missing iPhone

The "Pinging iPhone" option on an Apple Watch.

One of the most useful features of the Apple Watch is the ability to “ping” your iPhone. This is perfect for those times when you lose your iPhone in the sofa cushions.

To access this feature, swipe up on the watch face to reveal Control Center, and then tap the bell icon.

Your iPhone makes a high-pitched, audible chime. You can keep tapping the bell icon until you’ve found your iPhone. If you tend to leave your iPhone in strange places, this feature might be enough to justify purchasing an Apple Watch.

Mute Incoming Call Alerts with a Gesture

Receiving call alerts on your Apple Watch is handy, but you don’t always want to take the call. If you’re in a dash to quickly silence an incoming call notification, just place your palm over your watch. It will stop vibrating and ringing, but the call won’t be rejected.

Wake up your watch or pick up your iPhone before the call rings if you want to answer it; otherwise, it goes to voice mail.

Transfer Incoming Calls

You can also transfer calls to your iPhone. Just tap the ellipsis “…” on the incoming call screen, then tap “Answer on iPhone” to start the transfer.

The call goes to your iPhone, where it’s answered automatically and placed on hold. A pre-recorded message tells the caller what is happening. You can then pick up your iPhone and resume the call.

Tell Time with Haptic Feedback

The "Taptic Time" option on Apple Watch.

The Taptic Time feature uses the haptic feedback abilities of your Apple Watch to tap out the time on your wrist, so you don’t have to look at it. This feature is particularly useful for people who are visually-impaired or farsighted.

Follow these steps to enable Taptic Time:

  1. Launch the Settings app.
  2. Scroll down and tap “Clock.”
  3. Toggle-On Taptic Time, and then select a profile.

There are three profiles you can choose from: “Digits,” “Terse,” and “Morse Code.” “Digits” gives you a long tap every 10 hours, short taps for each individual hour, another long tap every 10 minutes, and individual short taps for each minute.

With the “Terse” profile, you receive long taps every five hours, short taps for the remaining hours, and long taps for each quarter of an hour.

The “Morse Code” profile taps each digit of the time in its associated Morse code pattern.

After you enable this feature and choose a profile, place and hold two fingers on the Apple Watch face to check the time.

Get Hourly Haptic Chimes

The "Chimes" menu on Apple Watch.

If you’d like to feel the sands of time slip away on your wrist, you can enable “Chimes.” When your watch isn’t in Silent mode, this feature makes a sound and buzzes your wrist each hour, half-hour, or quarter-hour.

To enable “Chimes,” follow the steps below:

  1. Launch the Settings app.
  2. Scroll down and tap “Accessibility.”
  3. Scroll down and toggle-On “Chimes.”
  4. Tap “Sounds,” and then choose “Bells” or “Birds.”
  5. Tap “Schedule,” and then tap “Hourly,” “Half-Hourly,” or “Quarter-Hourly.”

Register Workouts

The "Mind & Body" workout type in the Workout app on Apple Watch.

The Apple Watch is a great exercise companion, but it doesn’t necessarily have a workout for every type of activity you might want to record. However, you can choose “Other,” which awards activity at roughly the same rate as a brisk walk. If your heart rate elevates during this period, the watch awards more activity.

For better organization of workout data, you can label these workouts, but the window to do so is pretty narrow. You have to label it on the summary screen immediately following your workout. Follow these steps:

  1. Tap “Other” workout and complete your activity.
  2. End your workout, and then wait for the workout summary screen to appear.
  3. Tap “Name Workout,” and then select from the list of available workouts.

You’ll now be able to select this workout type (or the label) from the master list of workouts in the Workouts app.

Some of the interesting workout types include: “Martial Arts,” “Downhill Skiing,” “Pilates,” and “Kickboxing.”

Customize Workout Displays

An "Outdoor Cycle" workout display on Apple Watch.

Each workout appears differently when it’s active on your Apple watch. For example, a cycling workout displays elevation gain, distance, and average speed, while a walking workout displays average pace and total calories (or kilojoules) burned.

It’s possible to customize these displays to a small degree. To do so, open the Watch app on your iPhone and scroll down to “Workout.” Tap “Workout View” to see a list of the workout displays you can customize. Apple limits what you can add and remove based on the type of workout.

Most workout displays will already be “full,” which means you’ll need to remove an item from the “Include” list before you can add one from the “Do Not Include” list.

Toggle Between Current and Last-Used Apps

To switch quickly between two apps on your Apple watch, double-tap the digital crown. If you’d rather use the app switcher and browse through a list of your last-used apps (like you can on your iPhone), tap the side button once.

Eject Water From Apple Watch

The water lock icon on Apple Watch.

The first-generation Apple Watch and the Series 1 are water-resistant, but you shouldn’t submerge them in water. You can submerge and use Series 2 and newer in shallow water (including saltwater).

If you do submerge your Apple Watch, make sure you eject the water from the housing when you’re back on dry land. To do this, you have to enable the water lock on your Apple Watch, and then turn the digital crown so the speaker can unsettle any water that’s trapped inside.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. On the Watch face, swipe up from the bottom of the screen.
  2. Tap the water lock icon (the drop of water).
  3. Turn the digital crown until you hear and feel several long tones.
  4. Repeat as necessary until you’re sure there’s no more water inside.

Ideally, you should enable the water lock before you jump in the shower, pool, or ocean. This locks the touch screen and prevents your Apple Watch from registering accidental swipes. Your watch does this for you if you start a “Swimming Workout.”

Use the Apple Watch as a Walkie-Talkie

The Walkie-Talkie App on Apple Watch.

In watchOS 5, Apple added a new gimmick: the walkie-talkie feature. It only works with others who have an Apple Watch, and it’s a bit temperamental at the best of times. You need an Apple Watch Series 1 or later to use the walkie-talkie feature.

To use it, make sure your watch is up to date and running watchOS 5.3 or later. Your iPhone should be running iOS 12.4 and have the FaceTime app installed and configured. Go to Settings > FaceTime and turn on FaceTime.

Open the Walkie-Talkie app, tap “Add” to find the person you want to chat with, tap and hold the onscreen button to select a contact, and then release it. Your message is then sent to your contact.

Your Apple Watch automatically plays aloud any messages you receive, even if Silent mode is enabled.

To make yourself unavailable on Walkie-Talkie, swipe up on the watch face to reveal Control Center, and then tap the yellow Walkie-Talkie icon; it will turn gray.

Quickly Clear All Notifications

The "Clear All" button on Apple Watch.

To see a list of notifications you’ve received on your watch, swipe down from the top of the screen on the watch face. Whenever you have notifications in this “tray,” you’ll see a red dot at the top of the watch face.

To quickly clear all notifications and the red dot, swipe down on the watch face to reveal your notifications. Next, Force Touch the screen (i.e., press it harder than you normally do, until you feel a haptic click). Tap “Clear All” to clear all notifications.

Hands-Free Siri

Siri responding to a hands-free query on Apple Watch.

Unlike your iPhone, Siri isn’t always listening on your Apple Watch, but you can still use it hands-free. To activate Siri, raise your Apple Watch to your face before you speak your query. You don’t have to say, “Hey, Siri,” beforehand.

It can take a while to get used to this. We’ve found that if you raise your hand, and then pause for a moment before you speak, it yields the best results.

Kill Unresponsive Apps

Tap the red "X" to kill an unresponsive app.

Sometimes, just like iOS, apps crash on watchOS. When this happens, you have to kill them, just as you would on an iPhone.

To do this, press the side button (not the digital crown) once to open the app switcher. Scroll to the app you want to kill, and then swipe right. Tap the red “X” that appears to kill the app.

Browse the App Store

An app downloading from the App Store on an Apple Watch.

With watchOS 6, you can browse and install watchOS apps from the Home screen on your Apple Watch, rather than having to do it all on your iPhone. This works on any Apple Watch compatible with watchOS 6 (Series 1 and newer), so make sure you’ve updated under Watch > General > System Preferences on your iPhone.

Shake Up the Home Screen

The "Grid View" and "List View" layout options on Apple Watch.

Here, we’ve got two tips in one! If you Force Touch (press harder than usual until you feel a haptic click) the Home screen on your Apple Watch, you can choose between the default grid view and the more traditional list view, which you can navigate via the Digital Crown.

If you want to stick with the grid view, it’s a lot easier to organize it via your iPhone. Just launch the Watch app, select App Layout, and then drag your apps wherever you want them.

Add Your Initials to the Watch Face

A Monogram complication on Apple Watch.

Some watch faces can display a monogram of up to five letters. To set your monogram, launch the Watch app on your iPhone, and then scroll down to Clock. Type the five letters you’d like under “Monogram,” and then add the monogram complication to the watch face of your choosing.

More to Come

If there’s one thing Apple has demonstrated with the Apple Watch, it’s a commitment to software updates. The watchOS has changed dramatically since it was introduced on the first-generation Apple Watch. Every year, new features are added, so expect even more goodies from Apple with watchOS 7 in 2020.

Did you just pick up a new Apple Watch Series 6? Here’s how you can turn off the always-on display or hide sensitive complications.

Tim Brookes Tim Brookes
Tim Brookes is a technology writer with more than a decade of experience. He's invested in the Apple ecosystem, with experience covering Macs, iPhones, and iPads for publications like Zapier and MakeUseOf.
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