Apple Watch Set Up

Apple Watch just arrived? Great! Let’s get you up and running with our Apple Watch quick-start guide. Our Apple Watch setup guide shows how to set up an Apple Watch, get it charged and powered on, set the right language and other preferences, pair it with an iPhone, download some Apple Watch apps and get started.

This is a simple guide to setting up a new Apple Watch, intended to cover all the queries that newcomers to this device may have. In other words, there is likely to be information here that you know already, particularly if you’re an experienced Apple user. Hopefully the subheads will help you to skip to the bits you don’t know about.

Pair Apple Watch with iPhone

The first thing you need to do with your new Apple Watch is set it up and pair it with your iPhone. That’s what the Apple Watch app is for. It comes pre-installed on your iPhone and lets you set up and manage almost every aspect of your Apple Watch.

The Apple Watch app is what you’ll use to complete the initial pairing and sync, and how you’ll adjust settings and install apps going forward. You can even choose to set it up right or left handed. If you’re not sure how to get started, we’ll walk you through the entire process!

  1. Open the Watch app on your iPhone. Then tap a language on your Apple Watch. To scroll through the list, rotate the Digital Crown or swipe the screen.
  2. Pair your devices. Tap Start Pairing on your Apple Watch and again on your iPhone. A pairing animation should appear on your Apple Watch.
  3. Hold your iPhone over the pairing animation on your Apple Watch. Center the watch face in the onscreen viewfinder on your iPhone until a message says Your Apple Watch is Paired.
Pair Apple Watch with iPhone

If you don’t see the pairing animation or if your iPhone doesn’t read it, you can pair your devices manually.

Choose Apple Watch Preference

Next, you’ll need to choose your wrist preference, right or left. The Apple Watch works on either. After that, you’ll need to accept the Terms of Service, which you are obviously not going to read in full. Take a drink from your beverage of choice instead.

You’ll also need to register your Apple Watch with Apple via your Apple ID during this process. Next, you will see a series of setup notices for Location Services, Siri, and Diagnostics. The Watch pulls the settings for each of these from your iPhone. So if you have Location turned on for your iPhone, it will be available to the Watch. Ditto for the rest.

Choose Apple Watch Preference

Set up Security and Apps

Now, Apple will ask you to set up a numeric passcode on your watch. Do that, and when it asks you if you’d like to unlock your watch with your phone, say yes. What all this means is that so long as your Watch is on your wrist, it will stay unlocked. If you take it off, you’ll need to enter the passcode to use it. When it’s on your wrist, unlocking your phone just once will also unlock the watch.

The last option you’ll see offers to pre-install apps on your Watch as a comprehensive batch, instead of making you do it one by one. This is up to you, but having a bunch of apps on the Watch doesn’t seem to harm anything, so you may as well let it install them all.

Right now, Watch apps are just little extensions of the apps that are already installed on your phone, so there’s a very good chance you have a bunch of them already! You will manage what is and isn’t installed on your watch in a later step via the iPhone’s Watch app.

Set up Security and Apps

This next step takes a good while. The Watch needs to get a lot of information and apps. You’ll see a radial progress indicator around an Apple logo. Edition users: by now your wine has breathed long enough and you should feel free to partake. Don’t overdo it, though; that’s a mighty fine wine you’ve got there, and you should respect the time and effort that went into it.

Note that after the progress indicator has finished, the Watch may still be syncing some data or apps over from your iPhone. It may be a little slower than you expect during the first minutes of use because of that.

Set up a watch face

Congratulations! If you really wanted to, you could stop now and just see how you feel about the Apple Watch and its multivarious zones and interaction models. Our full review has the details on what happens in the watch face, apps, glances, and notifications. But if you want to have your Watch feel better, the truth is you’re really only a little less than halfway done.

But you deserve a break, and we recommend you kick back and mess around with some watch faces. Here’s how:

  1. If you’re not already on the watch face, press the digital crown until you are. You might need to press more than once, but don’t hold it down (that’s Siri), and don’t press too fast (double-clicking the Crown switches to your last-used app).
  2. Now, Force Touch the watch face. A Force Touch is, as the name implies, pressing harder down on the glass than just tapping. You’ll know it’s working when the watch face shrinks.
  3. Swipe left and right until you find the watch face you want.
  4. If you’re happy with it as is, just tap the watch face to choose it.
  5. If you’d like to customize it, tap the customize button at the bottom.
Set up a watch face

Dive into Settings

Like your iPhone, your Apple Watch has a huge array of settings to go through. You can adjust some of them on the Watch itself in its settings app, but it’s faster and easier to just do most of this on your iPhone — the settings sync over quickly.

The settings are split into a few sections, with general stuff at the top and app-by-app settings underneath. There are a ton of settings! Just spend some time navigating around to see if there’s anything you’d like to change, but for most of these you can probably live with the defaults.

We would recommend at least looking at Sounds & Haptics. That’s where you set how loudly your Watch beeps when you get a notification (suggestion: don’t let it beep at all). You can also set the strength of the haptics, which is how hard the watch taps you when you get an alert. Most of us have found that the max setting is best. And if you still can’t feel it, you can turn on "Prominent Haptics," which does exactly what it says: it makes your watch really vibrate a lot just before the regular tap when you get a notification.

Apple Watch Settings

Set favourite contacts

You’re good to go now, but there are a few functions that your Apple Watch won’t be able to perform until we do a little more work. Lets start with the quick-access list of favourite contacts, which is easiest to set up on the iPhone.

Open the Apple Watch app on your iPhone and (in the lefthand tab, My Watch) scroll down to and select Friends (it’s the fifth one down in the third bank of options). You’ll see the circular dial which will display up to 12 of your favourite people. Tap the plus sign on one of the empty slots and then select a contact from the list which pops up.

Set up Activity

Activity is a pre-installed app on the Apple Watch and a very popular one at that: plenty of Apple Watch owners, including the author of this article, use it more than any other app. It tracks how much exercise you get each day, counts your steps and how often you stand up, and generally sets you targets to improve your overall health.

If you want to use the Apple Watch as a fitness tracker, this is a great place to start, but you’ll need to set some targets, inform the app of your height and weight, and choose a few other options. It’s also worth "training" the Apple Watch so that it learns your stride length, which helps it to track runs and other activities in the related Workout app - this is used to track your performance in specific bursts of activity rather than throughout the day.

The Apple Watch hasn’t got GPS, so by itself it can’t tell how far you’re travelling, instead having to guess based on the frequency of your footfalls. But if you spend a little time - about 20 minutes is a huge help - using the Workout app while carrying both iPhone and Apple Watch, the watch can piggyback on the iPhone’s GPS, enabling the app to gather data that will improve its accuracy in future, even when separated from the phone.

Finish Apple Watch Set Up

That’s it! There still might be some data syncing over to the Apple Watch, so don’t panic if it feels a little laggy at first. It does get better once the sync is complete, but as we mentioned in our review, it will always have some load times for apps and glances.

There’s still more you could do, if you wanted. Apple has a whole section for Watch apps if you want to poke around in its store. If you know somebody with an Apple Watch, you can send them heartbeats and drawings. Say "Hey Siri" at it to do Siri things. Mess around with a few watch faces again.

But really, you’ve been sitting for a while, and at some point the Apple Watch is going to tell you that it would be a good idea to stand up. You may as well; that Activity Meter isn’t going to fill itself. Congrats on your new watch!