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How to set up the Apple Watch in 16 steps

Including one absolutely necessary cat video

So! You have successfully purchased an Apple Watch, or you’re interested in how the setup process works. Either way, you are to be congratulated for your initiative and willingness to take a risk on a brand new platform, one that lives on your wrist and makes your wrist part of how you live. Also, it has a really great Mickey Mouse watch face.

We’re here to help. This article explains the major steps you will need to go through to set up and understand your new Apple Watch. It is virtually identical for all versions of the watch, from the least-expensive Sport on up to the Edition. Be warned that this workflow isn’t 100 percent comprehensive — these are the main things you’ll need to know to have a deep and fulfilling relationship with the new technology resting just above your hand.

  1. Step 1: grab a beverage and charge; this takes awhile

    Your Watch will come out of the box with some battery life, but it’s generally considered best practice to fully charge any piece of electronics when you first use it. Set your watch on the charger, and leave it there while you set it up for the first time.

    Also, grab a beverage, because this process really does take upwards of an hour or two to do it right — at least as much time as setting up a new phone takes. Sport owners are encouraged to drink a cuppa joe, regular Watch users may consider a latte, while Edition owners probably should let a glass of ‘96 Cheval Blanc breathe for a bit.

    If the Watch doesn’t power on as you set it on the charger, press the side button (not the digital crown) to turn it on.

  2. Step 2: Pair the Watch with your iPhone

    The Watch will show you a screen asking you to choose a language. Pick one that you understand, and then wait a moment for the Watch to configure itself with those letters and words. Next, you’ll see a screen asking you to open the Apple Watch app on your iPhone, which Apple has helpfully pre-installed with the last iPhone update. So do that, and then hit the prompt on the Apple Watch.

    The Watch will now show a pretty blue bubble of undulating dots, while the iPhone will open up the camera and direct you to center the viewfinder on the Watch. This is a process familiar to many: it’s essentially the same thing as scanning a QR code. Only this is the prettiest QR code in the history of technology.

    If the camera-based pairing isn’t working for any reason, you can tap the "i" button on the watch to bring up a six-digit code, which you can enter on your iPhone to pair the two devices together.

  3. Step 3: Choose your wrist preference, and press a bunch of buttons

    Next, you’ll need to choose your wrist preference, right or left. The Apple Watch works on either.

    After that, you’ll need to accept the Terms of Service, which you are obviously not going to read in full. Take a drink from your beverage of choice instead. You’ll also need to register your Apple Watch with Apple via your Apple ID during this process. Next, you will see a series of setup notices for Location Services, Siri, and Diagnostics. The Watch pulls the settings for each of these from your iPhone. So if you have Location turned on for your iPhone, it will be available to the Watch. Ditto for the rest.

  4. Step 4: Set up security, and choose your watch apps

    Now, Apple will ask you to set up a numeric passcode on your watch. Do that, and when it asks you if you’d like to unlock your watch with your phone, say yes. What all this means is that so long as your Watch is on your wrist, it will stay unlocked. If you take it off, you’ll need to enter the passcode to use it. When it’s on your wrist, unlocking your phone just once will also unlock the watch.

    The last option you’ll see offers to pre-install apps on your Watch as a comprehensive batch, instead of making you do it one by one. This is up to you, but having a bunch of apps on the Watch doesn’t seem to harm anything, so you may as well let it install them all.

    Right now, Watch apps are just little extensions of the apps that are already installed on your phone, so there’s a very good chance you have a bunch of them already! You will manage what is and isn’t installed on your watch in a later step via the iPhone’s Watch app.

  5. Step 5: Wait

    This next step takes a good while. The Watch needs to get a lot of information and apps. You’ll see a radial progress indicator around an Apple logo. Edition users: by now your wine has breathed long enough and you should feel free to partake. Don’t overdo it, though; that’s a mighty fine wine you’ve got there, and you should respect the time and effort that went into it.

    Note that after the progress indicator has finished, the Watch may still be syncing some data or apps over from your iPhone. It may be a little slower than you expect during the first minutes of use because of that.

  6. Step 6: Set up a watch face

    Congratulations! If you really wanted to, you could stop now and just see how you feel about the Apple Watch and its multivarious zones and interaction models. Our full review has the details on what happens in the watch face, apps, glances, and notifications. But if you want to have your Watch feel better, the truth is you’re really only a little less than halfway done.

    But you deserve a break, and we recommend you kick back and mess around with some watch faces. Here’s how:

    1. 1. If you’re not already on the watch face, press the digital crown until you are. You might need to press more than once, but don’t hold it down (that’s Siri), and don’t press too fast (double-clicking the Crown switches to your last-used app).
    2. 2. Now, Force Touch the watch face. A Force Touch is, as the name implies, pressing harder down on the glass than just tapping. You’ll know it’s working when the watch face shrinks.
    3. 3. Swipe left and right until you find the watch face you want.
    4. 4. If you’re happy with it as is, just tap the watch face to choose it.
    5. 5. If you’d like to customize it, tap the customize button at the bottom.
      • a. Now, you’ll see the watch face big, but with an outline and a few of dots at the top.
      • b. The basic interaction goes like this: the main screen lets you change the global settings for the watch face. That could be the color, or picking between a jellyfish and a flower, or choosing the scale on the chronograph. You can then swipe left or right to go to more settings screens.
      • c. On each of these screens, you change options by rolling the digital crown. We’ve found that using one finger to roll the crown is more comfortable than trying to twist it with two fingers. For some of the elements (they’re called "complications") on more-customizable faces, you might need to tap on an option before rolling the crown.
      • d. This sounds complicated, and it is — at first — but you’ll eventually "get" the interplay between screen taps, force touches, and rolling the digital crown.
  7. Step 7: Dive into your settings

    Like your iPhone, your Apple Watch has a huge array of settings to go through. You can adjust some of them on the Watch itself in its settings app, but it’s faster and easier to just do most of this on your iPhone — the settings sync over quickly.

    The settings are split into a few sections, with general stuff at the top and app-by-app settings underneath. There are a ton of settings! Just spend some time navigating around to see if there’s anything you’d like to change, but for most of these you can probably live with the defaults.

    We would recommend at least looking at Sounds & Haptics. That’s where you set how loudly your Watch beeps when you get a notification (suggestion: don’t let it beep at all). You can also set the strength of the haptics, which is how hard the watch taps you when you get an alert. Most of us have found that the max setting is best. And if you still can’t feel it, you can turn on "Prominent Haptics," which does exactly what it says: it makes your watch really vibrate a lot just before the regular tap when you get a notification.

  8. Step 8: Set up Apple Pay

    You can use Apple Pay on your Watch by double-clicking the main button, but it’s not set up with your card out of the box. To set it up, head on down to the app settings for Passbook & Apple Pay on your phone’s Apple Watch app.

    Here, you’ll find one of the many places where you have the option to "Mirror my iPhone," which means the cards you see on the phone also show up on your Watch. That doesn’t apply to credit cards, though. You’ll need to tap "Add Credit or Debit Card" to get one activated and approved for use from your Watch.

    When you want to pay, just double-click that button. The Watch will only let you pay after it’s been attached to your wrist and you’ve unlocked your iPhone with TouchID, so random people shouldn’t be able to pay for stuff with your Watch. (The Watch doesn’t know whose wrist it’s on, though: if someone else puts it on and you unlock your phone, they’ll be able to pay with your card. But why is someone else wearing your Watch?)

  9. Step 9: Set up Activity app

    Apple has a few systems built into the Apple Watch for tracking your health. There’s a Workout app and a heart rate monitor for exercise, but the one that you’ll probably like the most is the Activity app. It tracks your steps and general activity level with three daily meters: movement, exercise, and time spent standing. It can also pester you to stand up from time to time, which is helpful!

    But it doesn’t do all that until you’ve set up the Activity app. Some people may have good reason not to turn it on, but for most it’s a nice little way to make sure you’re not being too lazy. So to set it up, open the app up (Hooray, your first Watch app!) on the Watch. To do it, click the Digital Crown until you’re looking at your app grid, an array of circular icons set out in a honeycomb pattern. Pan around until you see the Activity app; it looks like three concentric circles. Once you do, you’ll also have the Activity app show up on your iPhone.

    Tap through all the details on the watch screen. If you want, some watch faces can let you add your activity meter as a complication.

    Lastly, if you want you can enter in your body info into the Health section of the preferences app, if that’s something you want to track.

  10. Step 10: Take a break to watch this cat video

    There are a few more steps left, and they’re all going to require you to make some tough decisions, so you will want to build up a reserve of gumption. Plus, you’ve done a lot already! You’ve earned it!

  11. Step 11: Customize your notifications

    Better? Good, now it’s time to go back to the Apple Watch app on your iPhone and drill into notifications. By default, everything that notifies you on your iPhone will also notify you on your Watch. But if you’re anything like me (or most people), you probably haven’t done much clean-up of what gets to notify you on your phone. That "Your Turn" notification from Words with Friends might not be that bothersome on your phone, but on your Watch is can be super annoying.

    So go through that section of the Watch app and turn off anything you don’t want to see on your wrist. It’ll still be on your phone. Apple Apps that have Watch-specific settings are at the top, mirroring options underneath. You can also choose whether you’d like a red dot as a missed notifications indicator.

    Read more: How to save your iPhone and Apple Watch from notification hell

  12. Step 12: Set up some music and Bluetooth headphones

    The Apple Watch can work without your iPhone right there for a few things, including playing music for your workout. But to do it, you’ll have to head into iTunes or the Music app on your phone to sync some music over to the Watch (sorry, Spotify users). Set up a playlist, then find the settings for Music in the Watch app on your iPhone, and that’s where you pick your playlist. You’re doing this now because it takes a little while for the music to sync, and it needs to be sitting on the charger for it to happen.

    Obviously, the Watch doesn’t have a headphone jack, so you’ll need a set of Bluetooth headphones to listen to music without your iPhone present. If you’ve got ‘em, go into the Watch’s settings and pair your Bluetooth headphones there.

  13. Step 13: Choose and organize your Glances

    Glances, you might recall, are the small info screens you access by swiping up from the watch face. There are a lot of them, and having to swipe through stuff you absolutely don’t care about to access stuff that you do care about is annoying. The best way to do that is from the Glances setting in the app. It works basically the same way as the organization page for Notification Center. You can reorder glances or hit the minus button to take them off your watch.

    By the way, you can also toggle Glances inside each app’s main settings page. Scroll down on the main screen of the Watch app, where all the installed apps are listed. If you tap on each one, you’ll find another notification option here and also, with many of them, the option to toggle a "Glance."

  14. Step 14: Organize your apps and set preferences

    Apps on the Apple Watch are organized in a honeycomb pattern. The Watch is the "main" app, and it will always be at the center. You can roll the Digital Crown to zoom in to sections of your grid, or pan around to tap the one you want. But chances are there are only a few apps you will want to use all the time, so you might as well place them near the center. To do it, go into the App Layout of the Watch app on your iPhone and drag them around with a long-press.

    You can also head back to the main screen and poke around the individual settings for the main Apple apps. One app that would be good to tweak: Mail. That’s where you decide which mail alerts will come to your wrist.

    Almost done!

  15. Step 15: Set up your Contacts

    The penultimate step! By now, your contacts should all be synced over to the phone. You can access your favorites by pressing the button on the side of the Watch, then use the digital crown to scroll through them. By default, the Watch puts the people you’ve already marked as favorites here. But if you’d like a different set of folks on your Watch, you can change that in the iPhone’s Watch app.

  16. Step 16: Get up offa that thing

    That’s it! There still might be some data syncing over to the Apple Watch, so don’t panic if it feels a little laggy at first. It does get better once the sync is complete, but as we mentioned in our review, it will always have some load times for apps and glances.

    There’s still more you could do, if you wanted. Apple has a whole section for Watch apps if you want to poke around in its store. You can find Apple’s favorites in the Featured tab of the Watch App on your iPhone — and here are our favorite Watch apps. If you know somebody with an Apple Watch, you can send them heartbeats and drawings. Say "Hey Siri" at it to do Siri things. Mess around with a few watch faces again.

    But really, you’ve been sitting for a while, and at some point the Apple Watch is going to tell you that it would be a good idea to stand up. You may as well; that Activity Meter isn’t going to fill itself. Congrats on your new watch!