The Apple Watch is great right out of the box, but you’ll want to add a few apps to really make it sing. Apple’s wearable is a true marvel, and the Series 5 is the best yet, but you’ll never know just how useful it can be if you don’t expand your horizons a bit.
When we think about the Apple Watch apps we just can’t live without, these are at the top of the list. Some are free, some are not, but every single one is worth your while.
Updated 12/27/2019: Now that watchOS 6 is out with new tools for developers and new built-in apps (like a calculator), we've updated our recommendations.
If there’s one major feature missing from the Apple Watch, it’s automatic sleep tracking. Rumors persist about Apple adding the capability, but year after year, we're disappointed when it doesn't. Fortunately, it’s not that hard to add with an app like AutoSleep, Sleep Watch, Sleep++, or Pillow. There are now several good sleep-tracking apps to choose from, but most require either a substantial in-app purchase to make proper use of, or a subscription that can really add up.
That's one reason we like AutoSleep. Not only does it work well and give you lots of great data, it's just one up-front (and reasonable) price. No hidden upgrade in-app-purchases, no subscriptions. Just three bucks to add quality sleep automatic sleep tracking to your Apple Watch.
There are plenty of good weather apps out there, many of which support Apple Watch, but Carrot Weather may be our favorite. It combines excellent weather forecasting (with data from Weather Underground or Dark Sky), lots of customization, and even achievements. The snarky evil robot voice helps make weather fun.
Apple Watch support is especially robust, with several different complications available and the ability to customize them in the app. Carrot Weather was one of the first third-party apps to make use of the new corner complications on Apple Watch Series 4, and it gives you a card on the Siri watch face, too.
The only downside is that the app costs $4.99, and on top of that you have subscribe to a Premium Club membership for $0.49 a month or $3.99 a year to get certain features. The cost is to cover the increased API usage of its data sources for features like real-time precipitation warnings.
Carrot Weather ($4.99, in-app purchases)
Shazam is the number one name in identifying music. I mean, it’s so associated with being able to “name that tune” that there’s even a game show with Jamie Foxx.
Apple bought Shazam in September and didn’t do anything other than remove ads from the app, which just makes it better. We figure the company has big plans for the Shazam technology, but in the meantime, it’s an excellent app for your Apple Watch. Just tap that Shazam complication and the app immediately loads up and starts listening. You can use the iPhone app to go through the history of songs you’ve found and add them to Apple Music or Spotify.
Having the ability to identify songs on your wrist is so convenient that you'll probably use it a lot more than if you have to pull your phone out.
There are plenty of games for the Apple Watch, but most of them don't fit the form factor very well. They're either way too simple, or they're so complex that you can't really play them will on the tiny Apple Watch screen.
Rules! is a puzzle game that works equally well on your iPhone or your Apple Watch. It's simple: follow a rule to tap the cards in the right order. As you progress, the rules stack up, and you have to remember what you've done before. It's totally simple and surprisingly addictive. Perhaps best of all, games are short enough to actually be worth playing on your wrist—you can kill just a minute or two while waiting in line, for example.
If you’re a sports fan, the Apple Watch is a great device for keeping up-to-date on the latest news and scores. And theScore app is our favorite way to do it. Totally free and completely customizable, the app will keep you up to date with news and score for all of your favorite teams, whether you follow the pros or amateurs.
You can see in-game action, plays, and of course, score updates as games are going on, as well as check out upcoming games right on your wrist. if you can’t be in front of the TV, it’s the next best thing.
Things is one of the most well-received task managers around, and it’s easy to see why. It’s attractive, simple, clear, and easy to use. It does what any good task manager should: make it easy to jot down a new task, accomplish what you have to do today, and it stay out of your way the rest of the time. It’s an Apple Design Award winner, and it shows.
Things on the Apple Watch is great. Quickly add a to-do item to organize later on your iPhone. Look at today’s tasks, check off items as you do them, or postpone them for later with just a couple taps. It supports the Siri watch face, which is the perfect place to get daily task reminders.
Things isn’t cheap. At $9.99, it’s one of the more expensive iPhone apps of its type. But a really good task manager will save you time and help you get more done, without feeling frustrated and overwhelmed. That’s worth the price of a couple cups of coffee.
Things 3 ($9.99)
Whether you want to lose weight, eat healthier, learn a new skill, or build any new good habit, the key to success is repetition. Going to the gym once a week isn't going to change you, no matter how hard you work out. You'll never learn guitar if you practice until your fingers bleed once a month.
Streaks is a simple way to create custom reminders to do something each day (it can track up to 12 daily tasks). It will remind you when it's time to do the task, and even check off tasks related to the Health app data automatically.
The Apple Watch app gives you rich notifications, plenty of complications, and great icons and colors to use in your custom activities.
Citymapper is an absolutely amazing transit app. It gives you bus and subway times, alerts you to service outages, helps you plot trips, and so much more. It works by grabbing public data feeds from dozens of city transit agencies. It’s won all kinds of App of the Year awards, and for good reason.
On Apple Watch it’s even better. With a glance at your wrist you can see where to go next, which bus or train to get on, and when it’s coming. It can be hard to fiddle with your phone on crowded transit, but a glance at your wrist can show you what stop you’re supposed to get off at.
The downside to Citymapper is that, since it relies on public transit data, its only available in a couple dozen cities. It’s perfect if you live in, or are traveling to, a huge metropolitan area, but not of much use to anyone else.
There are lots of music and podcast apps that support Apple Watch, and there's no reason to list them all here. If you like it on your phone, you'll probably like it on your Watch.
But TuneIn deserves special mention for a particular use case: it allows you to listen to thousands of AM or FM radio stations from around the world, streaming online. We used to like iHeartRadio for this task, but it stopped offering an Apple Watch app. The marketing around TuneIn is set around listening to sports games on the radio and popular podcasts, but don't let that fool you; you if there's an FM radio station you love, you can probably listen to it via TuneIn.
TuneIn (free, in-app purchases)
Night Sky is one of our favorite iPhone and iPad apps. If you’ve ever looked up and wondered “what star or planet is that?” then Night Sky is for you. It does so much more, too. There are several slick AR modes, notifications for watching the international space station fly overhead, Siri Shortcuts… you don’t have to be an astronomy fan to fall in love with this app.
You might not think a sky chart on your watch would be useful, but you’d be wrong. Just raise your wrist to the sky and move it around to quickly find and identify objects in the sky. When your watch is down, it turns into a sort of “sky compass” that points you in the direction of stuff worth looking at. It’s almost like magic.
Night Sky (free, in-app purchases)