IRL: The 10 Apple Watch apps I use every single day

Apple Watch apps news
Apple Watch apps news

The hour hand on my Apple Watch has rotated around its digital watch face twice a day more than 365 times, meaning we've blown past the one year anniversary of the smartwatch.

Make no mistake, this iPhone-compatible smartwatch is the most popular and one of the best smartwatch options available. But its most coveted day-to-day features remain elusive.

It turns out that Apple's fitness tracking, despite all of the company's hype, is hardly its greatest asset. Instead, I regularly found myself using other unsung native apps and its notifications.

More useful Apple Watch 2 features and watchOS 3 software are likely to launch in the next several months. But for now, here's what currently makes the "iWatch" relevant.

1. It's a hands-free notification hub

This is the best Apple Watch feature: It's a hands-free notifications hub for my text messages, emails and other apps. That's really what I and everyone else I talk to use it for everyday.

I find it most useful when I'm active, like when I'm traveling or at a busy convention. I don't always want to pull out my phone when I have a heavy backpack on, with a DSLR and pen in my hands.

Apple Watch news

Everytime I feel a smartphone vibration at a convention, it's either a press release I've probably already seen, or a techradar team logistics text message I need to see.

Within a second, I can glance at the first few letters of a specific message and know if I need to respond immediately. This really helps me sort the good from the bad messages without holding a phone.

It's not just for work-obsessed gadget geeks, either. I've also talked to new parents who use the Apple Watch when they have a sleeping infant baby on their laps.

One of the new moms I talked to sumarized it as: "Is that an important text from [my husband] or a friend asking for more newborn photos?" That just-out-of-reach iPhone on the table is a problem; the Apple Watch is their solution.

2. Timer for laundry and cooking

Apple Watch's built-in Timer app is now the quickest way I can count down to the end of tasks, specifically the 25 minutes it takes for my washing machine to run a full cycle.

Apple Watch news

It's easy to set the countdown clock through either Siri or a watch face complication (shortcut), and the decreasing time remains visible at the bottom, ticking away. I don't need my iPhone for this.

Cooking with the Timer app has the same benefit. I don't need to muddy up my iPhone with greasy hands between steps just to set a clock. This (expensive) 21st century egg timer handles the job.

What's great is I don't always run out the door with my phone to change the laundry. But what's (almost) always strapped to my wrist? My handy Apple Watch, and it never miss a beat.

3. Ordering food without waiting in line

With two taps of my Apple Watch, I can order and pre-pay for a burrito exactly the way I want it. Chipotle is one of a handful of restaurants that make this smartwatch a true convenience gadget.

Apple Watch news

Yes, I can do this with a phone app, too, but the process is slightly quicker with my Apple Watch and I can continue to run on a treadmill at the adjacent gym, making room for all of those burrito calories.

The most rewarding part is skipping that giant Chipotle line of hungry people who are all waiting to order a similar burrito. This is a highly recommended tech shortcut.

4. Checking the time in multiple time zones

It's often not enough to see only the current time where I'm standing - sometimes I want to know the time in another part of the world and have it right on the main watch face.

Apple Watch news

That's where Apple Watch's World Timer app and complication come in handy. Most of the watch faces are customizable with these widget-like shortcuts.

I can stick the Los Angeles time (my home clock) in one corner, while slotting the time in the UK (our main office) in another, all while trekking through at Barcelona for MWC 2016.

5. Maps provide *silent* turn by turn

I accidentally used Apple Maps recently and realized an unadvertised feature: the silent buzzing on my wrist with turn-by-turn driving alerts.

Follow me on this one.

Apple Watch news

There's no happy medium between Maps directions being shouted at you with turn-by-turn voice directions on and silent notifications on mute mode.

You've experienced this before. It's either interrupting your conversation with your passenger (there's that awkward moment where the other person doesn't know if they should stop talking or talk over the robot voice). Or you miss a turn if it's on silent because you're not painstakingly (and dangerously) paying attention to a silent phone screen.

Wearing an Apple Watch with Apple Maps loaded, I feel a vibration on my wrist three times with every shift in navigation. I know when to look up for that turn. "Oh, it's been 7 miles. Great!" Mostly importantly, the conversation between humans remains uninterrupted.

Matt Swider