Best Apple Watch Features for Walking

Best Apple Watch Features Walkers Love

Apple Watch App Screen
Apple Watch App Screen. Wendy Bumgardner ©

It took less than a day of renting an Apple Watch through to know I wanted one for my walking life.

It's not that I wasn't perfectly happy with my Fitbit Charge HR as a pedometer watch and all of the apps on my iPhone 6. I got a demo tour at the Apple store the day the Apple Watch debuted. But I had to first upgrade my phone as the Apple Watch requires at least an iPhone 5 and doesn't work with Android phones.

Until I wore it on my wrist through a typical walking day, I didn't realize how much it could do to improve my walking and fitness life. After a few days with the Apple Watch, I was putting more effort into reaching daily goals for active calorie burning, moderate-to-vigorous exercise minutes and eliminating long periods of sitting. I could still track how many steps per day I was achieving with the Apple Watch.

I loved many features that allowed me to keep my iPhone safely secured in my pocket or pack while I walked, while still using apps and staying connected to friends and social media.

Here are the features that make the Apple Watch a great walking companion.

Apple Watch Activity App

Apple Watch - Activity App
Apple Watch - Activity App. Apple Watch - Activity App

The Activity app on the Apple Watch automatically cues you to achieve three key fitness goals - moving, exercising and reducing long periods of sitting. It also tracks your total daily steps and distance.

Move: This is a goal to burn active calories, beyond resting calories. The default setting is 500 active calories. Roughly speaking, that's about what you burn by walking 10,000 steps per day. You can see your step count number as well.

Exercise: Moderate-to-vigorous exercise minutes are counted, with a default goal of 30 minutes per day. This matches the exercise recommendations to reduce health risks.

Stand: This goal helps you reduce the health risks of sitting too much. The default goal is to stand for at least one minute each hour, 12 hours of the day. The watch will give you an alert tap and message to remind you to get up if you've been sitting most of the hour. Once you stand for a minute, it congratulates you and marks the hour as achieved.

You can see your progress in the little target ring icon in several of the watch faces. View more details on the watch app and the iPhone app, including graphs and achievement badges.

I found this ridiculously motivating, it spurred me to find ways to complete each goal each day. I'm not alone, a survey found most Apple Watch users reported increasing their activity due to this app.

More: Apple Watch Activity App Gets You Up and Moving

Apple Watch Workout App

Apple Watch Workout App
Apple Watch Workout App. Wendy Bumgardner ©

The Apple Watch Workout app can track a variety of workouts, including Outdoor Walk and Indoor Walk. It uses the LED heart rate sensor on the back of the watch to gauge your exercise intensity and calories burned.

You can set a calorie goal, time goal or distance goal for walking and running workouts, or just track an open-ended workout. During the walking workouts you can see elapsed time, distance, pace, heart rate, active calories burned and time of day. You can pause the workout.

It gives you a tap at each mile. The Workout app will work in the background if you want to switch to another watch function. Getting tap at mile marks and when your goal is complete is a nice feature.

View the workout summary on the iPhone app to see active and resting calories burned, time, distance, average pace and average heart rate for the workout.

 It is a simplified workout app and I often prefer to use the Nike Running app or the Map My Run app instead.

Apple Watch Music Control - Podcasts and Audiobooks

Apple Watch Music - Podcast Control
Apple Watch Music - Podcast Control. Wendy Bumgardner ©

Music control can be found on many wearable fitness trackers, but the Apple Watch is the first one I found that can control audiobooks and podcasts well. When passing traffic or leaf blowers drown out the podcast I'm listening to, I want to back up a few seconds and review it. You can do that with a tap on the Apple Watch. You can easily adjust the volume.

This feature is the biggest factor in letting me keep my phone secure in my pocket or pack rather than having to juggle it while I'm walking.

Apple Watch Notifications and Messaging

Apple Watch Messaging
Apple Watch Messaging. Wendy Bumgardner ©

Ask an Apple Watch owner what they love most and the answer is likely to be Notifications. You can set which types of notifications you receive on the Apple Watch so you aren't getting alerts from every app on your phone.

You can make and reply to text messages using voice dictation, prepared responses or emojis. It is extremely convenient.

Apple Watch Contacts and Phone Calls

Apple Watch Contacts
Apple Watch Contacts. Wendy Bumgardner ©

You can take and make phone calls and listen to voicemail on your Apple Watch. You can initiate calls and messages to people on your Contacts list.

I love being able to do this without getting my phone out of my pack. At home, I often leave my phone in my purse rather than carrying it around the house with me. While other fitness trackers can notify you of calls and texts, I haven't used one before that lets you make and answer calls.

Apple Watch Map and Directions

Apple Watch Map
Apple Watch Map. Wendy Bumgardner ©

The Map display is nice, but unfortunately the text is too small for my aging eyes even when I put on my reading glasses. But the directions and navigation function make up for that weakness.

Enter a destination and it will give you turn by turn instructions, including how many feet until the next turn. It gives you tap to let you know to be ready for a turn. Directions and navigation are provided for walking and for vehicles.

If you're lost, you can always pop it open or ask Siri, "Where am I?" to get an address

Apple Watch Heart Rate

Apple Watch Heart Rate
Apple Watch Heart Rate. Wendy Bumgardner ©

The LED heart rate sensors on the back of the Apple Watch read your heart rate on demand. It also senses it regularly throughout the day so you can see what it was several minutes previously.

When using the Workout app, it reads your heart rate continuously and you can see it in the display. At the end of the workout, you can see the average heart rate for it, but you don't see a graph of your heart rate or maximum, minimum and time in zone.

Unfortunately, the other fitness apps cannot access the heart rate data until the Fall, 2015 operating system update.

It is frustrating that the heart rate app does not give you any heart rate zone indicators or percentage of maximum heart rate. You have to know what your beats per minute equate to and mentally keep track of your own heart rate target zone.

The sensors don't work as well on dark or tattooed skin. It won't replace your dedicated heart rate monitor chest strap if you need more accuracy and heart rate zone indications and alerts.

Apple Watch Siri

Apple Watch Siri
Apple Watch Siri. Wendy Bumgardner ©

You can activate Siri by pressing the button or you say, "Hey, Siri." I love using Siri to quickly activate directions to a walking destination, find out when a store or restaurant will be open, send a message or make a call. I don't have to get my phone out of its secure pocket.

Apple Watch Timer and Stopwatch

Apple Watch Stopwatch and Laps
Apple Watch Stopwatch and Laps. Wendy Bumgardner ©

If you like to time laps or intervals, you'll enjoy the Timer and Stopwatch features on the Apple Watch. I found them very easy to use.

You can only set a single interval timing and you have to press Start each time you want to use it. If you want more complicated intervals such as 3 min/1 minute, you'll need to find another app.

Truth be told, I mostly love the timer for use in cooking. I can set it when I put something in the oven and then busy myself elsewhere in the house. The Apple Watch then alerts me when it's time to take out the chicken or risk a smoky oven.

Apple Watch Schedule

Apple Watch Schedule
Apple Watch Schedule. Wendy Bumgardner ©

I rarely added events to my iPhone calendar until I put on the Apple Watch. Having them front and center on the Modular watch face was very convenient. When you tap an event to drill down, you can press on an address to start navigation and directions.

Unfortunately, you can't add or update events from the Apple Watch itself. You have to use the phone app.

Apple Pay and Passbook on Apple Watch

Apple Watch Passbook and Apple Pay
Apple Watch Passbook and Apple Pay. Wendy Bumgardner

The plan is that you can leave your cards and cash at home and use Apple Pay when you are out walking and need a latte. I didn't try this feature yet, in part because I just use Starbucks for a restroom stop and brew my own coffee at home. But I will probably soon link up Apple Pay so I can enjoy this feature. It is nice to have Passbook handy on the watch when you want to use a coupon, are traveling or going to events.

Apple Watch Weather

Apple Watch Weather App
Apple Watch Weather App. Wendy Bumgardner ©

The Weather app is good, but the Dark Sky app is great. The Weather app shows hourly conditions (sunny, cloudy, etc.), temperatures, and the chance of rain.  It also shows a quick 10-day forecast of conditions, high and low temperatures. That can help you decide when to go on a walk.

The Dark Sky app has more details such as wind, visibility, humidity, dew point, pressure, UV index. It also can send you notifications when rain is going to start. I use the Dark Sky app on my iPhone to determine what weather to expect for my walk.

Apple Watch Camera Remote

Apple Watch Camera Remote
Apple Watch Camera Remote. Wendy Bumgardner ©

Whether you want to snap selfies or scenery, it's great to have access to a camera remote for your iPhone. I loved finding this feature on the Apple Watch. You can set it for a 3-second delay or take a photo instantly. You can review the photos you have taken.

I take a lot of photos while walking and a remote eliminates vibration if I am using a stand and allows me to use the good camera rather than the front-facing camera when I want to be in the shot.