There are thousands of apps for Apple Watch. The tiny snag is that most of them aren’t much cop.
Why? Well some misunderstand how a wearable is best used, and demand you spend far too long with your wrist in front of your face; others misfire on ergonomics or usability.
Others briefly impress, but that’s not good enough for us. We want apps that are clever and well-designed but also that we return to on a regular basis.
That, then, is what this list is all about: the best Apple Watch apps we’re actively using.
Runkeeper (£free + IAP)
A long-time favourite of healthy folks, Runkeeper also happens to have a snazzy Apple Watch app. If you have an older Apple Watch, Runkeeper will happily communicate with your iPhone, providing updates on your current progress as you wheeze your way around a circuit that suddenly appears to be a million miles in length.
Got an Apple Watch Series 2? Turn off Run With Phone and the Runkeeper app will use your wearable’s GPS to build a map of your journey. Great for checking out routes of successful runs. Not so much if your old route involved a sneaky bakery pit-stop that you were dead set on no-one ever discovering.
Most Apple Watch apps are designed to feed you information while you’re awake. Sleep++ is almost the opposite – grabbing information while you’re snoozing. Broadly speaking, it’s designed to track motion, thereby figuring out how restless you are – and when. If it turns out you’re always rolling about at 3am, it might be worth seeing if your neighbour’s performing impromptu guitar solos around that time.
With watchOS 3’s Background Refresh, Sleep++ is now more responsive when you wake, enabling you to immediately analyse last night’s sleep. And although you might wonder when you can charge your Apple Watch if you wear it overnight, the developer notes that shouldn’t be a concern.
Productive (£free or £2.99)
On the iPhone, Productive is designed to help you build good habits. You create individual habits and say how often you want to do them. The app then builds daily schedules, split into morning, afternoon and evening.
The Apple Watch app is a basic companion – but a smart one. On launch, it’ll switch to the relevant list, enabling you to quickly check through your schedule. Finished a task? Tap Done and wear a smug grin. Don’t fancy doing one today? Tap Skip and perfect your guilty face for a bit.
Just Press Record (£2.29)
The idea behind Just Press Record is to make capturing voice memos insanely simple. On Apple Watch, the app starts off as a massive microphone button. Prod it to start recording. When you’re done, the recording lurks on your Apple Watch until it next connects to your iPhone, at which point it transfers. Easy.
Using the Apple Watch app, you can also peruse and playback recent recordings. The only snag is there’s no background playback, so it’s best for shortish memos. Still, that’s a small niggle when using it makes you feel like you’re living in a trashy sci-fi flick.
The eBay iPhone app is so good these days that we rarely venture on to the desktop site, and so it’s great to see the smarts of the world’s largest car-boot sale extending to Apple Watch.
The pared-down interface enables you to check your activity, watched and bid-on items, and the status of whatever you’re currently selling. You can thrill at the amount of cash you’ve made over the past month, and also sneakily bid on an imminently ending auction of a limited Lego minifig when you should be paying attention in a meeting. Or so we’ve been told.
Weirdly, Notes has yet to make its way across to Apple Watch, but fortunately Drafts ably fills that particular void. The app enables you to capture new notes by dictation, which are then hurled into your Drafts inbox. Alternatively, you can append or prepend whatever you input to an existing note – for example, to update a diary or shopping list.
If you don’t fancy talking at your Apple Watch, you can use the new watchOS 3 Scribble feature to write notes instead. Also, your inbox is browsable and your notes are readable on you Apple Watch, saving you from having to keep heading to your iPhone.
It feels a bit odd to recommend an app primarily for one feature, but here we are. For reasons beyond us, Calendar on Apple Watch still lacks the means to create new entries. By contrast, Fantastical’s been able to do so for ages.
Much like the iPhone version, Fantastical for Apple Watch has some natural-language smarts, meaning you can say something like “lunch with Mark next Wednesday at 12 for 2 hours” and the event will be correctly created. Beyond that… well, it’s a calendar for your Apple Watch, although a good-looking and snappy one.
If you’ve fond memories of calculator watches, you’re probably a) quite old and b) not going to be convinced about using a calculator app on Apple Watch. Because frankly, doing so is a mite fiddly.
Still, PCalc is the best of them. The buttons are fairly chunky, and although operators lurk on a second screen, accessing them is fast. The app also includes a handy third screen for calculations. It defaults to tips, but you can spin the Digital Crown to get at units for all kinds of things.
Note that freebie PCalc Lite offers similar functionality to massive cheapskates.
We've seen an app recommended for one feature - and now this is an app that only does one thing: keep count. Clicker gives you a big number on the screen that increments every time you tap. Beyond that, you can clear the number or subtract one from it. You can also keep track of your counting by way of a complication.
If that feels a bit too limited, Tally 2 is a useful alternative, with multiple counters and the means to define custom steps. But its lack of a complication feels like a missed opportunity on Apple Watch.
Twitterrific (£free + £1.49 IAP)
The official Twitter app is an oddball, giving you access to your entire feed and current trends. Believe us, you don’t want to plough through a Twitter feed using a tiny screen strapped to your wrist.
Twitterrific is smarter, concentrating on notifications. These can be activated individually in the iPhone app, meaning you get a ding on your wrist when something you consider important happens: a direct message, a new follower, or, if you’re a bit self-obsessed, when someone favourites one of your tweets.
The app enables you to respond appropriately to notifications, replying to a message or following back a new follower. You'll need to shell out £1.49 to make these features come alive on your Watch, but trust us: it's worth it.
CARROT Weather (£2.99 + IAP)
We get the thinking behind Apple’s Weather app, which uses a clock face to show how the weather will change over the next 10 hours or so, but it doesn’t scan too well. Several third-party apps do better, but CARROT has become our firm favourite.
The design is smart and clear, displaying current conditions and any imminent rainfall. Scroll and you get the week’s forecast; tap on an item and you get more details. The CARROT apps are also underpinned by a malevolent AI, which hates humans. It helpfully states that it “sucks to be you” if it’s about to pour down, and whimsically mulls that it’s “a bit moony” on cold, clear nights.
The only downside is having to splash out £1.49 for an Apple Watch complication, and a further £2.29 if you want premium features like alerts, notifications, and complication customisation. If that all feels a bit much, Dark Sky's good too, and offers a complication for nowt.
1Password (£free + £7.99 IAP)
Our favourite app for keeping passwords and other important information secure, 1Password proves handy on Apple Watch too. Sensibly, it doesn’t attempt to send your vault’s entire contents to your wrist; instead, you activate individual items, such as a credit cart, website login, or a note. These then show up as bright, tappable buttons inside the Apple Watch app.
Naturally, you might have security concerns, but 1Password for Apple Watch can be secured by a PIN. You can also force-quit the app after use, to make doubly sure your information isn’t accessible should someone pilfer your Apple Watch, your iPhone and presumably also your finger to crack Touch ID. (To do this, click-hold the side button, and when the power screen appears, click-hold the Digital Crown.)
Note that although the iPhone app is initially free to install, you'll need the £7.99 Pro Features in-app purchase to unlock Apple Watch functionality.
If you don’t need the security of 1Password but still fancy quick access to bite-sized notes (such as Wi-Fi passwords and door combinations), Cheatsheet’s an excellent download. Each tiny information nugget comprises a piece of text and custom icon, and cheats can be synced from the iPhone app.
You can also edit and create new cheats directly on Apple Watch (by way of dictation), along with using one of these notes as a complication. Just don’t make it your credit card PIN, eh?
BBC News (£free)
The problem with most news apps on Apple Watch is they try to be too clever, when all you really want is to rifle through some headlines. Most have sluggish page-swipe interfaces that get old fast.
BBC News understands such problems and avoids them entirely, hence why it’s the news app we keep returning to. You get headlines for the top stories, a user-defined ‘My News’ list you build in the iPhone app, and ‘most read’. Tap a headline and you get a synopsis under a tiny photo. Using Handoff, you can continue reading the current item on your iPhone.
On the iPhone, Citymapper is fantastic, giving you point-to-point directions for a range of supported cities, and location-based public transport details and alerts. The Apple Watch app is equally good, offering rapid access to favourite places, and information about nearby trains, buses, ferries and more.
Journey steps are clearly outlined, providing all the assistance you need, such as times of upcoming trains, stops on your route, and tiny maps that link through to Apple’s Maps app. We just wish it could somehow magically work for every town and city in the world rather than just the handful of (mainly) capitals it's currently set up for.
Find Near Me (£free)
On the iPhone, Find Near Me is a strange one — perhaps the most powerful of the simple freebie apps for finding local amenities and stores, but, boy, is it ugly. On Apple Watch, though, the tiny display has clearly forced the developer to simplify and the result is excellent: clear buttons to access a category, and then a results list with names and directions.
Tap an item and you get further details, including reviews for restaurants and the means to get directions by foot, bike or car. Handily, there’s Siri search integration, too, for when the predefined categories don’t cover where you want to go.
Overcast (£free + optional IAP)
Given the convenience factor of the Apple Watch being at the end of your arm, it follows that plenty of ‘app remotes’ now lurk on the App Store. Overcast is an interesting case, because the developer made an Apple Watch remote to control his excellent iPhone podcast app, decided it was rubbish, and rethought it from scratch.
The result is a massive improvement, based around a static ‘now playing’ screen, and using Force Touch to access the app’s effects (smart speed; voice boost) and your full list of podcasts.
Shazam is an app that elicited squeaks of joy from onlookers upon its arrival on smartphones. You’d waggle your smartphone about, and it’d figure out what music was playing nearby. Now, that’s old hat, but on a smartwatch… Yeah, it’s still a lot of fun.
During testing, the app proved remarkably reliable, didn’t miss a trick regarding selling you things (you can use Handoff to buy the current track in iTunes on your iPhone), and for many songs there are live lyrics. If people didn’t think you periodically peering at your wrist when notifications arrive was annoying enough, just imagine how thrilled they’ll be with you bellowing something awful by Coldplay when you’ve had one too many drinks but can still just about focus on your wrist.