Best Apple Watch apps for learning and entertainment
Lifeline 2: Bloodline
- Lifeline 2: Bloodline
The original Lifeline was something of a smartwatch sensation, offering a gripping narrative in a game that you could play on your watch. It used your Apple Watch as a communicator, with the game putting you in the role of somebody in contact with a crashed moon landing, and it was really something special: so special that it hit the top of the charts in 29 different countries. Lifeline 2 brings similar mechanics to a brand new, much longer story and adds a 28-minute original soundtrack.
This time around the story is about Arika, a young woman on a deadly quest to rescue her brother and avenge the death of her parents. It’s by the same writer, Dave Justus, and has the same strengths as the original with a story that takes its time to fully unfold – but this time the game takes place right here on Earth. Or at least, some of it does.
The original Lifeline challenged people’s expectations of what Apple Watch gaming could be. The sequel hasn’t had the same impact but it remains an excellent example of how the Apple Watch can be a surprisingly great platform for interactive storytelling.
- Free (in-app purchases)
Some apps are designed for iPhone first and Apple Watch second, but not MiniWiki: its entire raison d’être is to bring you all of Wikipedia on your wrist.
It enables you to get content in four main ways: to read articles you’ve already downloaded, to find articles you’ve bookmarked, to find articles about things that are near you, and to find articles by search.
There’s also a most-read section that lets you see what other people have been looking for and a random button that does exactly what you’d expect a random Wikipedia button to do.
There’s only so much you can fit into a tiny rectangular display, but MiniWiki does it sensibly: there are no bells or whistles here, just the article text and inline images. In a nice touch you can set the Apple Watch app’s language independently of your iPhone, and if an article in your chosen language isn’t available you can see it in English instead.
If you’re wondering “why look at wikis on your watch?” the short answer is speed. MiniWiki is much faster than grabbing your phone and using your browser, and it’s faster to get there than by getting Siri to search the web.
If you’re going to charge four bucks, dollars or smackeroonies for a word-of-the-day app it had better be good – and LookUp is good, satisfying, pleasing and agreeable. Yes, we’ve been playing with its thesaurus.
The main LookUp app has extensive definitions, the aforementioned thesaurus and the ability to create collections of favorite words, and it also comes in a user-friendly Watch form so you can improve your vocabulary when your phone isn’t handy.
As you’d expect from a word-of-the-day app, every day you get a word – but it’s what happens afterwards that makes LookUp good. If you tap on the word on your wrist you get not just a definition but also example sentences, details of where the word came from and even the Wikipedia entry where appropriate.
The app also supports Handoff, so you can move to your phone if you want to look into more detailed information or access the thesaurus.
The natural home for LookUp is in the Siri watch face, but it also comes with complications you can use to call the app up whenever you feel like boosting your vocabulary. The app has also been tweaked to improve its performance, making it noticeably faster than before.
- Daily Dictionary
- Free (in-app purchases)
Daily Dictionary is a great example of the kind of apps that really work on your wrist: rather than blast you with notifications or try to cram tons of things into that relatively tiny screen, it delivers a little nugget of information that you might otherwise miss.
That nugget, of course, is a word. Every day, Daily Dictionary comes up with a new word. That can appear in your Apple Watch face’s complication, or as a push notification, or you can call the app directly. The complication is well designed, as it also includes today’s date, so you don’t need to have as separate date complication, enabling you to use your limited complication space for something else.
The word selection is practical rather than esoteric. The aim is to provide you with words you’ll actually use, so there’s no jargon or scientific terms you’re unlikely to use in your everyday conversations or writing. And the app enables you to see recent updates to catch up on any words you might have missed.
The core app is free, although a small purchase of just £2.99/$2.99/AU$4.49 a year unlocks the ability to customize the Apple Watch display.
- Rosetta Stone
- Free (in-app purchases)
Rosetta Stone is one of the big brands in language learning, and its various apps have won shelves full of awards for its combination of effective teaching and user-friendly app design. The Apple Watch counterpart to its main iPhone app is a good example of how the Watch can be used to supplement more fully featured apps: it’s tailored to the kinds of environments where the Apple Watch is the perfect device for a quick practice.
Rosetta Stone is all about real-life situations: ordering in restaurants, choosing things in shops, saying hello to people and so on. The Watch is ideally placed to practice that, and it’s set out with sensible categories and simple and fast navigation to get you to the bit you need, with audio examples of how to do it.
The main thing to watch out for here is the price: while the app itself is free, it’s useless without a language subscription. There are 24 languages to choose from and they start at $109.99/£93.99/AU$159.99 per year per language, with bundles for languages such as Spanish and French offering 5 levels for $199.99/£199.99/AU$319.99. Think of the app as a demo for the Rosetta Stone service rather than a stand-alone app.