For a tiny device, the Apple Watch has a lot you can do with buttons, gestures, and taps.
In some ways, the iPhone X takes after the Apple Watch’s design: Both have no home button, both are all screen, and both have a surprising amount of functionality for having relatively few physical buttons.
The Apple Watch, like the iPhone X, has a side button, which you use to turn it on and off along with a variety of other tricks and tasks. But it also has an interface uniquely Apple Watch: The Digital Crown.
Combine that with the multitouch screen’s pressure-sensitive Force Touch capabilities (an early cousin of the iPhone’s 3D Touch interface), and you’ve got a bunch of tools to control a powerful little wrist computer.
The Side Button
The only traditional button on the watch, the side button not only powers and turns off the watch, but controls the Dock and emergency features.
Press and hold to power on (on off)
If your Apple Watch is off, you can press and hold the side button to power on your smartwatch.
When your watch is on, you can press and hold the side button to access the power screen, then slide the Power Off slider to turn the watch off.
Press and hold to disable Power Reserve mode
When your watch drops below a certain amount of available power, it automatically switches into Power Reserve mode. This mode only displays the time, and you can’t restore your watch to full functionality until you connect it to a charger once more.
That said, watchOS does offer a preemptive Power Reserve mode, which you can use if you know you’ll need your watch later but you don’t want to shut it off completely.
If you put your watch into Power Reserve mode manually, you can restore it to full functionality by pressing and holding the side button.
Press and hold to access Medical ID or SOS
The Apple Watch’s Medical ID and SOS features are hidden behind the power screen, which you access by pressing and holding the side button. Swipe either Medical ID or SOS to activate either feature.
Warning: Swiping SOS will place a call to the local authorities and is only meant to be used in an emergency.
If enabled in the Watch app via your iPhone, you can continue pressing and holding on the side button to automatically activate SOS and call the local authorities.
Press once to open the Dock
watchOS allows you to store frequently-used apps in its Dock, which you can access from any interface by pressing the side button a single time. (To return to your previous screen, simply press the side button another time.)
Press twice to activate Apple Pay
Note: You have to set up Apple Pay, add a passcode to your watch, and unlock it to use this feature.
If you use Apple Pay, you can use your Apple Watch to pay almost anywhere that offers a tap-to-pay terminal — whether or not you have your iPhone along for the ride. Your Apple Watch uses skin contact and an unlocked watch to authorize the purchase; just double-press the side button to bring up the Apple Pay interface, then tap your watch to the terminal.
The Digital Crown
Perhaps the most noticeable of the Apple Watch’s interaction options, the Digital Crown is a physical dial that you can spin to scroll, press once, or press and hold to activate a number of different features.
Scroll to wake up your watch
If you don’t want to raise your wrist, you can briefly press the Digital Crown to wake your watch’s display.
For a more subtle reveal, you can scroll up on the crown to slowly brighten the display from sleep: It’s a great way to quickly glance at the time or notifications when you’re in a dark place, or don’t want to bother companions.
Scroll to Time Travel
If you have most watch faces active, scrolling the Digital Crown up or down will activate watchOS’s Time Travel feature: This lets you virtually “travel” forward or backward in time to view upcoming appointments, how much you’ve exercised, how long it’ll take your electric car to charge, and all sorts of complication options.
On the Astronomy face, Time Travel moves the shadow on the Earth and its clouds as it passes around the Sun, even revealing city lights at nighttime.
Note: The globe’s location on the Astronomy face is based on your current time zone.
Switch to a different view in Astronomy, and the Digital Crown will control different time periods. Tap the Moon, and Time Travel will spin day by day to show you the moon’s various phases at different times in the month: New Moon, Waxing Crescent, First Quarter, Waxing Gibbous, Full Moon, Waning Gibbous, Last Quarter, and Waning Crescent.
Select the Solar System, and you’ll move day by day (or faster, if you spin the Crown more rapidly) along with the planets, watching them complete their rotations around the sun.
On wake, watchOS 4’s Kaleidoscope face is fairly tame: It’s only when you spin the Digital Crown when you create kaleidoscopic patterns.
The Siri watch face embodies watchOS’s Time Travel feature, offering cards of upcoming appointments and suggestions. On this face, you use the Digital Crown to spin through upcoming cards, between the All-Day, Recent, Up Next, and Tomorrow views.
On the Solar face, using Time Travel will move the position of the sun, taking you between Night, Dawn, Twilight, Day, Solar Noon, Sunset, Twilight, Dusk, Night, and Solar Midnight.
Scroll to view
In most apps, you can use up and down movements of the Digital Crown to scroll the content on the screen. (Like touch, scrolling is inverted: Scroll down to page up, and up to page down.) There are also a few interfaces where scrolling the Digital Crown moves horizontal content, like the watch picker.
Zoom in the Photos app or on the apps list
In the Photos app, you can scroll the Digital Crown to zoom in or out on a photo. And if you have your apps organized in Grid View, you can scroll the Crown to zoom in and out of the app grid.
Scroll to end a workout lock
On the Apple Watch Series 2 or later, watchOS will automatically water-lock your smartwatch when you press Lock during a workout, which means you won’t be able to interact with the screen until you disable the lock. To do so, you simply scroll up on the Digital Crown until you fill the blue bubble on-screen and hear the watch’s speaker ping.
Press to go home
A single press of the Digital Crown will either bring you to your currently active watch face (if you’re in an app or non-watch face interface) or to your full apps list (if you’re starting on the watch face). If you’re in a Force Touch overlay, pressing the Digital Crown will also return you to the previous interface.
It’s like the iPhone’s home button, or iPhone X’s bottom swipe: Press the Digital Crown to get back to where you want to be.
Double-press to switch between interfaces
If you double press the Digital Crown in quick succession, you can skip the watch face entirely and switch between currently active apps or interfaces. If you have Music open, for example, then hop over to Weather from the Dock, you can double-press the Digital Crown to return to the Music app.
If you only have a single app open, a double-press will switch you between that app and your watch face.
Press-and-hold for Siri
Press and hold the Digital Crown, and you’ll trigger Siri, watchOS’s digital voice-driven assistant. (You can also bring up Siri by raising your wrist and saying “Hey Siri!”, if you’ve enabled it via the Watch app on your iPhone.)
Triple-press for Accessibility
If you’ve enabled the accessibility settings on watchOS, you can triple-click the Digital Crown to bring up accessibility options for VoiceOver or Zoom.
The Apple Watch may not be an old-school video game (unless you run the right app, that is), but you can still get some extra functionality out of it with button combos.
Take a screenshot
To take a screenshot on the Apple Watch, you need only press in on the Digital Crown with your thumb, then use the rest of your thumb to press lightly on the side button.
Pause a workout
*To pause a workout, press both the Digital Crown and the side button at the same time. To resume, press both buttons again.
Have an unresponsive app on your watch? You can always force quit apps or force restart your entire Apple Watch.
To force quit an app, press the side button until you see the power screen, then press and hold on the Digital Crown until you return to the watch face.
To force restart your Apple Watch, press and hold both the side button and Digital Crown until the screen goes dark and the Apple logo appears.
Even with all your Digital Crown and Side Button tricks, you’ll still interact often via multitouch gestures on the Apple Watch’s screen.
Tap to wake, select, and more
Tapping is second-nature to anyone who’s used a multitouch screen before, and it’s no different on the Apple Watch. Tap to enter apps, tap to switch interfaces, tap to select options, tap to play games, and so much more.
Swipe to move, scroll, and delete
Swiping is almost as common on a multitouch device as tapping: On the Apple Watch, you can swipe up or down in lieu of scrolling with the Digital Crown, swipe between options, or swipe up or sideways to delete cards.
Swipe up to view Control Center
From your active watch face, you can swipe up to view Control Center on the Apple Watch and access any of its controls.
How to use Control Center on the Apple Watch
Swipe down to view notifications
From your active watch face, you can swipe down from the top bezel to view your notifications on the Apple Watch.
Swipe on the app list
If you have your apps organized in Grid View, swiping can help you find an app you want to launch.
Swipe between watch faces
You can use an edge-to-edge swipe on your currently active watch face to move between your other saved watch faces. (I use this gesture all the time to switch between Modular faces with different active complications.)
Swipe up or sideways to delete
In both the watch face picker and the Dock, you use swipes to delete faces or quit apps you not longer want to see. In the watch face picker, you’ll need to swipe up, then swipe up again; in the dock, it’s a sideways swipe.
Drag to draw or scribble
In certain apps and interfaces, you can drag your finger along the screen to draw, move items, or use the Scribble text interface.
Press down to activate Force Touch
Force Touch is perhaps the most open “secret” of the Apple Watch interface: It exists so that developers can hide further contextual options for apps without cluttering the screen. You can use Force Touch by pressing down on the screen in a number of Apple and third-party apps to bring up additional features, or in the system to adjust settings.
Force Touch to switch between List and Grid view in the apps list
With the apps list open, you can press down on the screen to activate the List/Grid View organizational options.
Force Touch to create new watch faces
The easiest way to create and adjust your watch faces is on your iPhone in the Watch app, but you can also use Force Touch to create new watch faces on the fly. Press down on the screen on your current watch face to enter Edit mode, then swipe (or use the Digital Crown to scroll to the right until you see the New button.
Any secret Apple Watch buttons or gestures I’ve missed?
Let me know below!