Best Apple Watch apps for email, chat and messaging
- Microsoft Outlook
- Free / in-app purchases
Microsoft makes some lovely iOS and Apple Watch apps, and this is one of them: it brings the power of Office apps together with Siri Shortcuts, enabling you to ask when your next meeting is or tell the team you’re running late. The Apple Watch app has been re-engineered to make it incredibly fast (the iPhone app is faster too), and it’s a great way to access email on the go if you’re in a Microsoft-based environment.
In addition to improving things under the hood, Microsoft has also made some visual improvements. It has been updated to take advantage of the Complications available on the Apple Watch 4, so if you use the Infograph or Infograph Modular watch faces you can now configure a Complication to show the next event in your Outlook calendar.
As with other iOS Office apps, Outlook is freemium: the app itself is free but it really needs an Office 365 Home or Office 365 Personal subscription to be truly useful. They’re currently $9.99/£8.99/AU$13.99 and $6.99/£6.49/AU$9.99 a month respectively as in-app purchases, but you can save a bit of money if you buy them directly from Microsoft instead.
- Shift Keyboard
- $0.99 / £0.99 / AU$1.49
If you think putting a normal keyboard on such a small screen is a step back, developer Adam Foot hopes to prove you wrong. The keys are sized for easy, accurate typing and compared to voice recognition or Scribble handwriting recognition there’s less risk of errors: what you tap is what you get.
It’s worth noting that while Shift Keyboard can replace the keyboard on your iPhone, Apple doesn’t let apps do that on the Apple Watch: on your wrist, Shift Keyboard runs as a stand-alone app. It does provide a complication for your Apple Watch face so that you can quickly access it, though.
The main attraction here isn’t so much the keys as the ability to add multiple emoji to your messages, something the Apple Watch isn’t brilliant at. All you need to do is create your emoji-packed message in the app and send it to Messages. If you tend to send messages that rely on a lot of visuals then Shift Keyboard will pay for itself quickly in terms of time saved, but if like us you tend to be more about plain text then it might be a harder sell.
- FlickType Keyboard
- Free / In-app purchases
FlickType wants to make your Apple Watch text input faster and more accessible, promising up to three times faster input than using dictation or Scribble handwriting recognition. It uses the standard QWERTY layout but can read your letters aloud, enabling you to type eyes-free, which is particularly useful for blind or partially sighted users.
The app uses an algorithm to try and guess what you’re trying to write based on the pattern of your taps – so it should get the right result even if you make a typo or two. If it does get things wrong or your typos are too hard to comprehend you can edit with a quick flick of the finger. The app also supports emoji and text shortcuts for even faster input. And it is very, very fast, with impressive accuracy.
In an interesting reversal of the usual pricing model, the Apple Watch version of FlickType is free – but if you want to use the app on your iPhone or iPad you’ll need to subscribe. That’s presumably because Apple doesn’t let third-party keyboard apps replace the default Scribble service, so the app isn’t quite as flexible on your wrist as it is on your phone: you have to copy your text from FlickType into the app you’re using.
Oh, the drama: Telegram 5 initially dropped its Apple Watch companion app, but now it’s back! Back! BACK!
The reason for this is that Telegram 5 has been rebuilt from the ground up to make it faster and more efficient; the Watch update simply wasn’t ready in time.
Telegram is a secure instant messaging service that works on iPhone, iPad and once again, Apple Watch. It enables you to group chat with up to 30,000 people, which is more than enough for most of us, and unlike other messaging services it’s really good at sharing things like documents, zip files and other useful things.
It’s both free and ad-free, and if you’re worried about privacy you can take part in Secret Chats where messages self-destruct after a specified time. As with all private apps that doesn’t stop somebody taking a screenshot, taking a photo or duplicating content in some other way, but the end-to-end encryption does mean you can be confident that others aren’t listening in.
Telegram’s main selling point is its efficiency. It’s designed to do its job with the minimum amount of data transfer necessary, something that’s important in places with poor network coverage or for people with metered data connections, and it’s also designed to operate with the minimum load on your battery.
- Tweetbot 4
If you aren’t already familiar with Tweetbot 4, it’s the best Mac and iOS Twitter client bar none. This is why it can charge $4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99 for an iOS app and people gladly pay it, and it’s worth checking out on the Apple Watch too.
Tweetbot doesn’t unleash the Twitter firehose onto your wrist - we can’t think of anything guaranteed to kill your battery more quickly - but it does give you exactly the information you need when you aren’t looking at your phone.
The developers have rightly assumed that if you have your phone to hand you won’t be using the watch instead, so they’ve concentrated on making an app for when you can’t or don’t want to pull your phone out of your pocket or purse. And that’s clever.
Its Activity pane shows you what’s happening in your feed, so if somebody’s followed you or replied to you or tweeted you then you’ll see it in Activity. Tapping on the item opens the appropriate tweet or user page, and with tweets you’ll see icons for a quick reply, a retweet or a like.
If you push into the screen using Force Touch you get an offer to create a new tweet, and both it and the reply option use Siri for dictation, because on-watch typing would be frankly horrible - and you can dictate a direct message or follow/unfollow accounts from the app too.
Microsoft earned well-deserved death stares from many Watch users when it bought and retired the excellent Sunrise Calendar iOS app, but its Outlook app is worth adding to your wrist.
It’s from the new, interesting Microsoft, not the staid bore of old: it works well, looks great and won’t crash your watch.
Outlook is a combined email and calendar app that connects to Microsoft Exchange, Office 365, Outlook.com, Hotmail, MSN, Gmail, Yahoo and iCloud, and its main claim to fame is the focused inbox: instead of showing you everything emailed, it shows the most important stuff only and learns by watching your swipes.
It’s particularly good in a corporate environment, where its talents cope admirably with endless meeting requests, time changes and backside-covering email traffic, enabling you to prioritize things that matter and forget about things that don’t.
That doesn’t mean it’s only for corporate types, though. Outlook is a really, really good email app and boasts a useful Complication that enables you to see what’s next on your schedule from the main Apple Watch display. If you have a busy life, a busy inbox or both it’s a very useful app to have on your arm.
There’s no shortage of apps promising to make email fun again, and Spark is one of our favorites: on our Mac and on our iPhone it does a superb job of showing us what we want and hiding what we don’t.
The Apple Watch app is as well thought-out as its siblings, with the ability to use Messages-style quick replies as well as emoji and dictation. It’s quite possible to reply to most everyday emails without reaching for your iPhone, although the option to Handoff is there if a message is too long to bother scrolling through on your wrist.
The main selling point for Spark is its Smart Inbox, which groups messages from multiple accounts into personal, notification and newsletter categories. It then displays how many unread messages you have for each category in the Watch app’s home screen.
You can pin messages for quick access, and you can snooze them to hide them for a specified period of time. We find ourselves using that last one a lot: messages we can’t process properly on our wrists are quickly snoozed so they’ll resurface when we’re back at our Macs. If you have to handle a lot of email Spark is a massive time saver.
- Free / In-app purchases for full feature set
There are lots of reasons to love Twitter, but there are lots of reasons to find it annoying too. Promoted tweets filling your timeline, people talking about subjects you couldn’t care less about, people retweeting people you couldn’t care less about, Piers Morgan… wouldn’t it be great if you could have a Twitter without all of those things? Don’t look to the official app for that any time soon. Go for Twitterrific instead.
Now in its fifth incarnation, Twitterrific on iOS is a superb Twitter tool. The Watch features require a $2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49 in-app purchase to work fully, and they’re worth paying for: you can track your stats, be notified about direct messages, favorites, new followers and other action, use Handoff to start replies on your phone, compose tweets via dictation and block idiots instantly.
We’d recommend keeping notifications to an absolute minimum unless you only follow a few people - Twitter can be incredibly noisy when you follow and/or are followed by lots of people - but the Watch app is a great way of staying on top of Twitter while you’re out and about. It also reduces the risk of picking up your phone and thinking “while I’m here I’ll just check…” and losing hours to trivia.
- Canary Mail
Canary Mail is a first: it’s the first third-party email app to use the Apple Watch 3’s 4G/LTE connection so you can access your email without lugging your iPhone around.
The feature is officially in beta but if you’re in the market for a new email app it’s a compelling reason to consider Canary over other iPhone email clients. The Watch support delivers short extracts of emails and the ability to quickly reply via scribbling or voice dictation.
The main iPhone app is very good indeed, supporting all the main email providers (including iCloud and, if IMAP’s enabled on the server, Exchange) and enabling you to use PGP, to use natural language search and to bulk-delete irrelevant or spammy emails. It offers email templates for frequently used messages, easy unsubscribing and integration with cloud storage, to-do and calendar services, and the none-more-black interface looks particularly good on the iPhone X’s OLED display.
It’s worth keeping an eye on the price if you’re considering Canary: it’s gone from being offered as a free trial for a few days with in-app purchases to $4.99/£4.99, and then to the current price of $9.99/£9.99/AU$14.99.