It’s been an interesting year for Apple Watch apps. In the spring it seemed as if the Watch had lost its sparkle, with many big-name apps either languishing or being pulled from the Watch altogether. The problem wasn’t that Apple Watch apps are a bad idea, though.
Far from it, as our selection here demonstrates. It was that sometimes, apps were designed to answer the wrong question: “could we make a Watch app?” but not “should we?”
Now, the Apple Watch is onto its fourth generation, and the aptly-named Apple Watch 4 is proving pretty popular - so that's why you're probably here checking out the new apps. In fact, it's one of the best smartwatch options out there, and now we're at the fourth generation it's becoming a particularly accomplished smart option for your wrist.
Jump to section
Our favourite apps, the apps that are still here after a bumpy year, both should and could have been made. They exist because they’re useful, or because they’re entertaining, or because they make your life that little bit better.
In this round-up you’ll find apps for podcasting and procrastinating, for getting fit and getting stuff done, for messing around and for sorting stuff out.
Before you get into our list remember to head into the Apple Watch main app on your iPhone - that's where you'll see a list of the apps already installed on your phone that can also be transferred to your Watch. If you see any you like the look of here, you'll need to download them to your iPhone first.
And make sure to check this article weekly, as we'll add a new app each week, highlighted below.
Apple Watch app of the week: Ecobee
Smart home technology and the Apple Watch go together like cheese and biscuits or winter and horrific energy bills. Being able to control your smart home without having to find your phone, iPad or remote is a great time-saver and particularly good when you don’t want to move.
We’ve seen good smart home apps from the likes of Philips’s Hue, and now Ecobee is getting in on the act. The latest iteration of its iPhone app adds Apple Watch functionality, and while there aren’t any complications for ultra-fast access, they’re apparently on the to-do list.
As you’d expect the app is designed solely for Ecobee hardware: it’s not cross-platform with support for other people’s smart home hardware, so you can’t use it to replace multiple apps from other providers.
The Watch app takes a familiar approach with large icons showing numerical information where appropriate, so for example if you set the heating to 72 degrees, you’ll see the number 72 in the heating temperature icon. You can adjust temperature, fan speeds and lighting from within the app, and if you’re out and about you can switch the thermostat from Home mode to away mode or just turn the lights off to frighten your family.
Best Apple Watch apps for fitness and running
There's no denying that the main thrust of the Apple Watch since the second model is for fitness: it's packing GPS, heart rate, water resistance and improved sensors to make the most of the fact people like to work out with this thing - it even connects to gym equipment.
This list of Apple Watch fitness, running, wellbeing and health apps are nearly all must-have - if you're going to do one thing with your new Watch, use it to become a healthier you in mind and body.
- Free / in-app purchases
Strava is one of the most popular running and cycling apps around, but it’s always required you to have your phone or a non-Apple smartwatch to track your travels and record your vital statistics. Not anymore.
If you have an Apple Watch 2, the Strava Apple Watch app can use its GPS to record your run without requiring you to strap a phone to anything. The interface isn’t as pretty as the iPhone app’s interface, but when you’re running or cycling that doesn’t matter: the information you need is presented cleanly enough and the app is simple and straightforward to use.
The main app is free and offers essential features including distance, pace, speed, elevation and burned calories, and there’s a premium service for $5.99/£5.99/AU$9.99 per month or $59.99/£54.99/AU$89.99 per year that offers more detailed post-exercise analysis, live performance feedback and personalized coaching - although not through the Watch.
However, if you’re someone who uses the premium features like Beacon on the main app, you might not find Strava on the Apple Watch to your liking compared to using it on the phone.
Nike Run Club
- Nike Run Club
The ongoing love-fest between Nike and Apple continues to bear fruit: the latest iteration of the Nike Run Club app introduces some welcome improvements.
It now integrates with Siri Suggestions, which means the app can now suggest good times for a run based on your previous runs (the feature is off by default so it won’t nag you if you don’t want it to), and there are new Apple Watch complications including one for the Infograph face that shows how far you’ve run this month.
There’s hardly a shortage of running apps in the App Store but Nike’s budget is a bit higher than most, so the app feels a lot more premium than many others. It tracks and stores all your runs thanks to your Watch’s built-in GPS, enables you to listen to audio guides as you run, offers a range of challenges to keep you motivated and has good social sharing features, so you can turn your friends into cheerleaders.
It’s very well designed and the Watch app doesn’t sacrifice substance for style: while visually it’s very attractive it also shows all the information you actually need as you’re pounding the pavements. It’s a really good running app.
Apple’s much-heralded ECG app has finally arrived. It’s available for free to Apple Watch users and should automatically appear in your list of available apps as part of the watchOS 5.1.2 update, but you’ll only get it in a select few territories: the US, the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Guam.
If you really, really want the app and you don’t live in any of those places you can get around it by changing the system region to one of the countries where it is available, although of course that will affect the other apps on your Watch too. For users in the UK it may be the only way to get the ECG app for the foreseeable future.
The app itself is simple and potentially life-saving. You simply put a finger on the Digital Crown, wait 30 seconds and the app analyzes the electrical impulses in your body; this enable it to detect some cases of atrial fibrillation. The emphasis here is on ‘some’: the app can generate false positive results, and it’s no substitute for a real doctor. However, by detecting issues that may otherwise go unnoticed it’s a useful thing for your Apple Watch to offer.
We’ve written about Cardiogram before: it’s a very valuable health tracker that enables you to see how your heart is working over time, and which enables you to look for spikes related to what you eat, how you exercise and whether you’re particularly stressed at work. All you need to do is wear your Apple Watch, which checks your heart rate every five minutes. Cardiogram then crunches that data to give you an insight into what your body’s doing.
What’s interesting about Cardiogram now isn’t the app itself, but the partnerships that are starting to emerge.
In the US, Amica Life and Greenhouse Health Insurance are offering life insurance for Cardiogram users with any version of the Apple Watch: simply use the Cardiogram app and you can be eligible for up to $1,000 (around £775/AU$1,400) in accidental death cover for 12 months, with the option to purchase up to $50,000 (roughly £39,000/AU$70,000) more from within the app. $1,000 isn’t a lot in the great scheme of things, especially in America, but it’s a lot for free.
You don’t have to share data either, the insurers bet that people who use Cardiogram are more likely to take steps to improve their health than people who don’t.
As with most health things, such partnerships are subject to regulatory approval, and the Cardiogram partnership is currently available in Wisconsin, Arizona, Indiana and Georgia. Expect more states and more partnerships soon.
This is a tale of two apps, depending on which version of Apple Watch you have. If yours is a first-generation model then it’s a useful but limited way to track your swimming stats: the first-gen watch shouldn’t be submerged, so you shouldn’t wear it while swimming.
However, if you have a second-generation Apple Watch (Apple calls it the Apple Watch Series 2) then you can take it into the pool - and that makes MySwimPro a much more useful application. You can log your workouts while you’re still in the water, and you can also follow the app’s workouts to set goals and monitor your heart rate during your swim.
Once you’ve dried off you can pick up the iPhone or iPad app, which syncs data from your Watch and enables you to see your progress in much more detail: miles swum, hours spent swimming, top times for specific distances and so on.
You can share your triumphs online, or you can just watch videos showing how other swimmers do particular types of workout. It’s probably overkill if you only do the odd couple of laps at the gym swimming pool, but if you’re serious about swimming it's worth wearing on your wrist.
Nike Training Club
Nike and Apple are best friends forever, so it’s not a huge surprise to see Nike unveil another Watch app. This one’s really good, too. Describing itself as “your ultimate personal trainer”, Nike Training Club has more than 180 workouts covering strength, endurance, mobility and yoga, and they’re all free. There are daily personalized picks based on your previous activity, flexible training plans to help you achieve your fitness goals, and tips from top trainers.
The app splits jobs between phone and Watch. The former is where you do the planning and tracking; the latter is what you wear while you’re actually working out. By necessity as well as design that means focusing only on the information you really need right now, such as your heart rate and how many reps you still have to do before you can undo all your efforts with some cake and beer.
The app is by no means unique in its combination of Watch and workout tracking, although it does have Nike’s immediately recognizable and individual visual style. But what’s significant about this app is that none of its many workouts are hidden behind in-app purchases or pricey subscriptions. Everything in the app is free.
- Free + in-app purchases
The main selling point of Gymaholic isn’t in its Watch app: it’s an augmented reality avatar of you, and its muscles glow to show you what muscles you’ve worked and what ones you need to work a little more.
It also boasts a virtual trainer to show you how you’re supposed to do each exercise without landing yourself in the ER. It has the usual progress tracking and stats, although the presence of your 3D avatar does make it feel rather like the character creator in an online RPG.
You get 3D models in the Watch app, but they’re so small they’re just getting in the way. The rest of the app is pretty straightforward fitness fare, showing you the different exercises in your workout, tracking the reps and telling you whether your heart is about to explode. It also provides written instructions on how to carry out specific exercises, so for example it describes how to lift weights when you’re doing an incline dumbbell press.
It’s worth noting that there are some in-app purchases, but they aren’t expensive and you don’t need a pricey membership to use the app. Plus, many of the available programmes, such as the 4-day programme and chest-focused programme, are completely free.
- Round Health
The longer we’ve had our Apple Watches, the more we’ve come to appreciate simplicity: while the App Store is full of apps that offer all kinds of features, the ones we actually use every day tend to do one thing very well. Round Health is that kind of app: it’s designed to make sure you take your medicine, and it does so with the minimum of fuss. You can also have it as a complication, so you know exactly what you need to take next.
Whether it’s vitamins or medication, most of us have had that “did I take it today?” thing. That’s no big deal if you’re just topping up your vitamin D in winter, but for people taking birth control or who have serious and/or chronic conditions it’s often very important to take certain medicine at certain times.
With Round Health you can set simple but persistent reminders that make sure you take what you need to take, and it supports more complex medical regimes involving multiple medications and schedules as well as tracking when you need to renew your prescription.
The term ‘life-changing’ is bandied around a lot to describe rather ordinary apps, but Round Health is a great way of helping you stay on top of your health.
- Free + in-app purchases
Like many health-related apps, Lifesum really wants you to take out a subscription: that’s $44.99/£34.99/AU$69.99 per year, though it sometimes runs a 30% off promotion. The core app is free, though. Its goal is to help you think about what you eat and what activity you do and to make positive changes to make yourself healthier.
On the iPhone, Lifesum enables you to count calories and track your meals, discover healthy recipes and track your progress towards your goals. It works with other apps too, so for example if you’ve got a Fitbit or use Runkeeper it can get data from them.
On the Watch it’s a much simpler affair, urging you to stay hydrated, showing your progress towards your resting, moving and stretching goals and doing everything through a kind of little Tamagotchi character.
It pulls data from the Apple Health app as well as the Lifesum app to ensure you get the widest possible picture of your intake and activity, and you can add data as well as view it: for example, you can take a note of what you’re eating via the Watch app and then enter more details on the iPhone later. Unusually there isn’t a Watch complication, but the app does tie in with the Watch’s notification system to keep you updated.
- Free + in-app purchases
If you’ve ever felt that life is just that bit too busy or stressful, Headspace could help. It’s based around mindfulness, which is all about getting you to feel calmer without too much effort. In fact, it’s the opposite of effort: mindfulness is about taking a break from the rush.
The Apple Watch app is part of a wider offering for iPhone and iPad: it acts as a reminder and a coach, urging you to pick an exercise and focus on it for the allotted time. It also has an SOS mode for when things feel too much and you need help instantly. But it’s the main app that does most of the work, with daily mindfulness exercises and sessions designed to help with everything from workplace stress to sleep problems.
It’s very well done but one thing that might raise your stress levels is the cost: while the app is free to try it really needs a subscription to unlock its most useful features, and that subscription is $12.99/£9.99/AU$19.99 per month or $94.99/£74.99/AU$149.99 per year. That’s an auto-renewing subscription too, so you need to disable that in iTunes if you don’t want it to recur automatically.
Medical apps don’t just exist to persuade you that your mild headache is terminal brain cancer. They can help keep you healthy too. While WebMD does indeed let you compare your symptoms with various illnesses and conditions to scare yourself silly, that’s not the most interesting thing about it or its Watch companion app.
WebMD enables you to detail your medication schedules, with dosage information and the option to be reminded of what you need to take and when you need to take it. This can be in the form of a notification, or you can have it as a Watch face Complication so it’s right there in the middle of the display.
It can also remind you of any prerequisites, such as whether you need to take your medicine with food or on an empty stomach. It’s the sort of simple but very useful thing the Apple Watch does well.
Over on the main iPhone app there’s plenty more to discover. You can read up on the side effects and precautions of specific pills or patches, find out if you need to go hiding from the flu or just catch up on the latest health and wellbeing news from various credible sources.
How’s your heart? If you don’t know the answer, this app can shed some light. It might even save your life, as it did for James Green: the app alerted him about an unusual spike in his heart rate, and it turned out to be a pulmonary embolism. If it weren’t for the alert, Green might well have died.
You don’t really need more of a sales pitch to justify spending three dollars on staying alive, but HeartWatch isn’t a one-trick app. It pulls information from the Watch’s heart rate sensor to track what it’s doing when you wake, when you sleep, when you work out and when you just go about your day.
The reason for the different types of activity is simple: you don’t want your app warning you about elevated heart rate if you’re doing something designed to elevate your heart rate, an issue that used to drive us daft when exercising with our Apple Watch set to the defaults.
It won’t work without the Health app installed - that’s the route by which it gets its data - but you can also import data from other health apps if you use other kinds of connected health monitors.
One Drop Diabetes Management
We’re increasingly intrigued about HealthKit, Apple’s framework for health monitoring apps: we’ve already seen apps that can warn of rare but potentially lethal heart conditions, and now we’re seeing a whole host of specialist apps that can integrate with specific monitoring hardware to help with particular conditions. As the name suggests, this one’s for people with diabetes.
One Drop makes Chrome, a Bluetooth blood glucose meter that’s sold as a package with testing strips. If you have the meter the app gets information from each test, but if you don’t it’s still a useful app to help monitor your diabetes.
The app enables you to log your activity, your food intake and your medication and to share that information with HealthKit and the Health app (if that’s what you want to do). As ever the main iPhone app is where all the detail is, with the Watch app taking care of quick data recording and progress notifications.
The iPhone app builds on the basics with a database of foods’ nutritional information, historical data, insulin pump data and the ability to schedule reminders for your medication.
If your idea of good exercise involves going far from the madding crowds, you’ll like WorkOutDoors. It’s a workout app that’s based around vector maps that you can easily rotate and zoom, tracking your location and your progress.
It uses the Watch’s GPS (if you have a GPS-enabled Watch) so there’s no need to take your phone on a hike, cycle or snowboard run, and features such as breadcrumb tracking, custom points of interest and customizable stats displays enable you to make the app truly your own.
In a nice touch you can export your workouts from the iPhone app in GPX format, which can be imported into many other workout apps and sites.
It’s very, very well thought out. For example, something as simple as the stats display is available in a variety of sizes to suit different kinds of activity (not to mention different levels of eyesight).
It makes good use of color-coding to make routes crystal clear, waypoints can provide extra information such as directions, and the map automatically rotates as you move so you’re always sure of the right direction. It’s a brilliant app for pretty much any outdoor activity.
The trick to living better isn’t to damn near kill yourself on a treadmill and then give up after a few weeks. It’s to make smaller, lasting changes to your life, changes that you can and will actually stick to. And that’s what Streaks offers.
Whether you’re trying to eat more healthily, exercise more or break a smoking habit, Streaks enables you to track positive and negative habits. It offers a range of reporting tools so you can see exactly how well you’re doing, and you can track up to 12 different tasks at once.
They needn’t be exercise or eating tasks: you can remind yourself to walk the dog, study, take vitamins or practice a musical instrument. It’s good to see wheelchair users included in the default tasks list too.
Where Streaks really shines is in its integration with the Health app, which enables it to pull data to use for monitoring suitable targets you’ve set. That reduces a lot of the form-filling of similar apps, and it’s particularly effective if you’re trying to work on good healthy habits or eliminate unhealthy ones, or both.
There’s a Complication too, so that you don’t forget your goals, and the whole thing is customizable so that you can get it just-so.
Elevate Dash - Brain Training and Games
We’re not convinced by the supposed science of brain training - it’s a sector that makes bold claims based on very flimsy evidence - but there’s no doubt that spending time learning or practicing useful things is better for you than mindlessly swiping through trivia on Twitter.
Elevate claims that its brain training app will “improve critical cognitive skills that are proven to boost productivity, earning power, and self-confidence”, and it does so by setting little tasks for you: choosing the correct meaning of words, calculating percentages and so on.
Correct answers earn points, and you can track your progress on the main iPhone/iPad app as well as on your Watch. The Watch’s small screen means the games you get are very simple ones, but that works well when you’re on the move.
The app is free and lets you play 4 mini-games. If you want to access the full selection of 40+ Elevate games you’ll need your iPhone or iPad and a subscription to the premium membership package, which is $4.99/£3.99/AU$7.99 per month or $44.99/£34.99/AU$69.99 per year.
If you could do with a boost to specific skills - working out restaurant tips, perhaps, or improving your vocabulary - then you might feel that’s well worth the money.
Peak - Brain Training
- Peak - Brain Training
- Free + IAPs
From a team of developers, psychologists and neuroscientists, Peak is a great app for keeping your brain active. The Watch version offers three games, ideal for the smaller screen. Some of these seem simple at first, but they quickly become more challenging.
There are workouts to test memory, focus and problem solving – all of them fun, engaging, and the ideal to while away the daily commute.
Runtastic Six Pack Abs Workout
- Runtastic Six Pack Abs Workout
- Free + IAPs
If you've been meaning to get that six-pack tummy but just don't have time to go to the gym, this iPhone app has high-quality videos of avatars performing crunches, situps, stretches and core twists that you can do in your own time on your bedroom floor, say.
Initial workouts with Runtastic are free, more come as in-app purchases. And if squinting at your precariously perched iPhone isn't doing it for you, the Watch app means you can see an animation on your watch, with vibrations on your wrist to start and end a set. It's easy to use and works well. Now you'll have to find another excuse not to work out.
- Free + IAPs
Information is power and if you're trying to lose weight, calorie tracking is a good way to stay focused. MyFitnessPal works out a daily calorie allowance based on how much weight you want to shed. Eat a meal and your allowance is spent, take exercise and you earn credit.
The Watch gives you a running total of remaining calories and how that breaks down into protein, carbohydrates and more. It can integrate with your steps total so you don't have to add those manually. It's simple but convenient and helpful.
Walkmeter GPS Pedometer
- Free + $9.99/£9.99/AU$14.99 IAP
If walking's your thing, Walkmeter helps track your every step, showing your perambulations on a map and generating detailed graphs. The Watch app has clear data reporting and you can start and stop a walk from your wrist using the Watch's Force Touch actions.
Apple's own Workout app does a lot, but this app has more detail and the mapping detail on the iPhone is great. The app is free but for full Watch performance you need to upgrade to the Elite version for $9.99/£9.99/AU$14.99. There's a lot here, including training plans and announcements as you hit targets or distances.
- CARROT Fit
You may know CARROT from its weather app, which combines Dark Sky-style weather forecasting with sarcasm and lies. But CARROT wants to make you unhappy in many other ways - and what’s better for a sadistic AI than being in control of a fitness app?
Enter CARROT Fit, which takes a somewhat unusual approach to motivating you to get healthier and lose weight.
CARROT promises to “get you fit - or else”. To achieve that it offers a dozen punishing exercises (more are available via in-app purchases) accompanied by threats, ridicule, bribes and the occasional compliment.
It’s rude, crude and much more entertaining than trying to complete the rings on Apple’s own activity tracker, and we’re pretty sure it’s the only fitness app that rewards progress with cat facts. But there’s a proper fitness tracker in here too: it’ll track your steps and weight loss, remember your workouts and add data to Apple’s health app.
Most of the personality is in the main iPhone app, but the Watch alerts include such cheery prospects as “seven minutes in hell”. If you find getting fit or losing weight a little bit tedious, CARROT might be the, ahem, carrot that you need to get motivated.
- Lose It!
- Free / in-app purchases
If your Watch strap is feeling a little more snug than it used to, this app may be the answer: it’s designed to help you achieve your weight loss goals “without the unsustainable gimmicks, fad diets, restrictive foods, on-site meetings, or large price tags of other weight-loss companies.”
It tracks the calories you’ve consumed and the goals you’ve set, focuses on nutrition as well as overall calorie intake, works happily with other fitness apps and trackers and provides an online peer group where everybody encourages each other to achieve their ideal weight.
It also enables you to set exercise goals and focus on general wellness, so it’s not just about losing weight.
The Apple Watch app doesn’t replace the phone app completely - for example, you’ll need your phone handy if you want to use the barcode scanner to automatically record what you’re eating, and the team-based features such as group challenges are phone-based - but it’s a great way to focus on your goals, monitor your progress and keep your motivation no matter how sorely tempted you may be.
The program is $39.99/£29.99/AU$62.99 per year but you can explore the app for free without signing up.
- Mount Burnmore
- Free / in-app purchases
Fitness fanatics look away now: for those that find exercise really boring, and their get up and go often gets up and goes while they stay sedentary. Mount Burnmore could be the answer to that lethargy: it turns fitness into a game.
The concept is quite clever. Mount Burnmore depends on “active energy”, which it pulls from the Health app: the more calories you’ve burned, the more active energy you have in the game.
When you have sufficient energy you can attempt to solve the game’s puzzles, which involve finding routes around the titular mountain, collecting in-game items and smashing things with a pickaxe.
There’s a Complication that enables you to see your progress without launching the full game, and the app makes good use of the Digital Crown to help you navigate around larger levels later in the game. There are also leaderboards to compare with other players and in-game challenges to win freebies.
It’s bright, breezy and a bit brash, and we suspect it’s best suited to older children rather than grown-ups - although if you do give this one to the kids you might want to disable in-app purchases, as they can be used to buy in-game items.
Mindfulness, the art of focusing on being present and aware in the world instead of being constantly distracted by things and thoughts that don’t matter, isn’t something you’d associate with the Apple Watch. If you aren’t careful with your notification settings your Watch pings away merrily all day, interrupting countless trains of thought.
But the Happier app hopes to use the Watch to make you feel better, not more harassed.
The app itself is free, but it’s designed as a gateway to paid-for mindfulness courses. If you don’t go for them you can still take advantage of the app, though. You can tell the app how you’re feeling - we suspect “meh” is the most-used option - and it then responds with uplifting quotes to help you feel a bit more optimistic.
It can pop up to remind you to take a meditation break, and you can dictate a positive thought to a private journal or to the Happier community. That’s not as daft as it sounds: there’s some evidence that keeping a journal of positive things can boost your mood over time.
Just be careful what and how you share: one iTunes reviewer says that they were able to locate their private journal with Google.