Sales of smartwatches have been growing since 2015, the year the Apple Watch made its debut. In that one year, annual sales increased from 5 million to 19 million. Since then, the rate of growth has only accelerated. In 2019, 69.3 million smartwatches are expected to ship. By 2023, annual sales are forecasted to be 109.2 million. Though in 2015, Apple was the top seller, Samsung has always been a strong competitor and has gained market share in the last year with the launch of its Galaxy Watch. Other leading smartwatch makers are Fitbit, Fossil, Garmin, Huami, Huawei, Lenovo, LG, and Mobvoi.
Three key factors seem to be driving the smartwatch buying trend:
- Prices have come down
- Interest in health and fitness is up
- The functionality of smartwatches is starting to rival that of phones
Apps are the reason smartwatches are becoming must-have technology, much the way smartphones did a few years back. When Apple was about to launch the Apple Watch, the company issued a press release that touted the device’s 11 different watch face options. This year, Samsung announced there are more than 60,000 apps and watch face designs available for its smartwatches. Apple’s numbers today are undoubtedly similar.
What kinds of apps are available for smartwatches? Pretty much every kind you can imagine – from the most practical to the most frivolous. Major app categories include communication, health, and fitness, sleep, sports, payment, productivity, photography, travel/transportation, entertainment, news, tools, Internet of Things (IoT) If This Then That (IFTTT) and, of course, watch face design. Within these categories are sub-categories like social media, nutrition, exercise, games and many, many more.
As if the sheer number of available apps weren’t overwhelming enough, there are also several different smartwatch operating systems, each of which offers its own line of apps. Each watch operating system is compatible with specific phones. This matters because many smartwatch apps work with a smartphone app, with the phone app doing the heavy lifting and the watch app functioning mainly as a viewer or sensor.
There are three main smartwatch operating systems:
- watchOS – proprietary to Apple, and compatible with Apple iPhones
- Wear OS – previously known as Android Wear, compatible with Android phones and iPhones
- Tizen – compatible with Samsung phones
There are also three main apps “stores” where you will go to choose and download your smartwatch apps:
- The App Store – for Apple Watches
- Google Play – for watches running Wear OS
- Galaxy Store – for Samsung Galaxy Watches
Not every app is compatible with every smartwatch. However, the three app stores are fairly comparable and carry apps in all of the categories listed in this guide.
- Health and Fitness
- Nutrition & Weight Loss
- Mental Health
- Sports News
- If This Then That
- Watch Face Design
While we can’t ditch our phones just yet, the more we can use our smartwatches like phones, the better. Fortunately, there are watch apps that enable us to do one of our favorite phone-based activities: communicating.
Available in all 3 apps stores
With 200 million users worldwide, Telegram may be the most popular smartwatch messaging app available. Similar to WhatsApp, but cloud-based and more secure, it’s fast, free and ad-free. Messages are encrypted and can be set to self-destruct. It can be accessed from all your devices (smartwatch, smartphone, and computer), and your messages automatically sync across them. There is no limit to the size of messages you can send, and almost no limit to the size of groups you can create (groups can have up to 200,000 members). Messages can include files of any type, including photos and videos.
Available in all 3 apps stores
This free app lets you send and watch video messages up to 5 minutes long – in real-time or when it’s convenient – from your smartwatch. Video is what it’s best known for, but it’s really a multi-media messaging app. You can add filters to your videos, send photos, and reply to messages with text, emojis, and live voice recordings.
Health and Fitness
Apple, Google, and Samsung all offer sophisticated health apps: Apple Health, Google Fit, and Samsung Health. Each of these is actually a collection of health monitoring apps. Areas monitored include calories burned, steps taken, floors climbed, stress levels, heart rate, sleep quality, caffeine intake and water consumption. Apple Health also includes medication reminders and diabetes monitoring apps. Samsung Health includes a “Together” app that allows users to compare the information with others.
Health and fitness apps are the most popular smartwatch apps, so it isn’t surprising that there are a lot of them. Whether you’re passionate about watching what you eat, increasing your physical strength, or improving your mental health, you will find an array of interesting smartwatch apps to choose from.
Nutrition & Weight Loss
Available in all 3 apps stores
With all the diet and fitness apps out there, Lifesum seems to pop up on an awful lot of “Best Apps” lists. Maybe it’s because it offers personalized eating plans and recipes for all sorts of diets – paleo, no sugar, “beat cravings” and fasting, for example. The app provides calorie counts for any food and a “macro tracker” that analyzes the energy composition of what you eat. Interactive features like reminders and feedback help motivate you to stick to your nutrition/weight loss goals. The basic app is free. A premium subscription (3, 6 or 12 months) is also available. With Premium, you can sync your Lifesum app with fitness apps like Fitbit, Endomondo, Jawbone, Moves, Runkeeper and Nokia Health.
Available in all 3 apps stores
A favorite of by runners, cyclists, and swimmers, Strava tracks and analyzes your performance as you exercise, providing detailed metrics on every workout. It also functions as a social network for athletes, enabling app users to meet, form clubs and message each other. Photo sharing is another popular feature. One of the most interesting aspects of Strava is that it compiles GPS data from users, turns it into trail and route heat maps, showing the most popular paths in any given area. In keeping with its social network focus, Strava also allows app users to directly share route maps with each other.
SuperBetter has been the subject of multiple clinical trials and the results indicate using the app for 30 days improves mood, increases confidence and enhances the sense of being socially supported. Created by game designers, it uses the concept of gamification to build resilience and optimism. Users enter their “challenge” (feeling anxious or depressed, for example) and the app recommends “Power Ups,” which are actions to help them feel better. There’s more to the game, including “Quests” and “Bad Guys,” but the bottom line is that every time users do something healthy, not only do they feel better but they get to log it in the app and receive a reward. Through this process, users build resilience, which improves mental health.
The seven key principles of the SuperBetter game are:
- Challenge yourself.
- Collect and activate power-ups.
- Find and battle the bad guys.
- Seek out and complete quests.
- Recruit your allies.
- Adopt a secret identity.
- Go for an epic win.
Available from the App Store
AutoSleep app tracks the time you spend sleeping. If you wear your watch to bed, it will also track your sleep quality. The app sends your sleep data to Apple Health to be incorporated into your overall health profile.
Sleep as Android
Available on Google Play
This “sleep cycle smart alarm” app is full of features to help you sleep better, including nature sounds with binaural tones (which help you fall asleep quicker). It also wakes you up on time with CAPTCHA wake-up verification. The app also tracks and analyzes your sleep against six metrics to produce a sleep quality score. Integrating with Google Fit and Samsung Health, it sends your sleep data to those apps, enriching your overall health profile. Sleep as Android is also known to prevent jet lag and help cure snoring.
If there’s an app category that challenges health and fitness for the number one spot, it might be sports. There are sports news apps, scorekeeping, and match timing apps, and apps to help players improve their game. Sports with performance enhancement apps include skiing, archery, tennis, fishing, darts and especially golf.
The point of Golfshot is simple: to help the avid golfer win more games. The backbone of the app is GPS. It measures the course in real-time and provides continuously updated distances to the front, back and center of the green. It also notified the user of major hazards and targets on 40,000+ courses around the world. With this app, golfers can glance at their wrists to see 3D flyover images of each hole. If they want to keep their eye on the ball, the app provides hole information via voice. Users can also keep score and book tee times through Golfshot.
ESPN: Live Sports & Scores
Stream live games, watch highlights or check scores on your smartwatch. Over time, your feed will change based on your preferences. The app also has a Family Sharing feature, which lets up to 6 people use it at once on different devices.
List and Notetaking Apps
Bring! Grocery Shopping List
People love this app! Though a shopping list might not sound exciting, this one really is. With its catalog of items, helpful icons, and logical design, it manages to make the task of creating a shopping list easier. The fact that it works with OK Google and Siri to accept and incorporate voice additions to lists is a bonus, as is the app’s ability to store and organize store loyalty cards. You can also “invite” people to your lists or share lists with others. Fun graphics, the ability to personalize the interface, and a constant stream of high-quality content from recipe sites and food blogs top it all off.
Google Keep is so much more than a notepad. It allows you to use your smartwatch’s “OK Google” feature and internal microphone to speak your notes, then transcribes them for you. Better yet, the app organizes your notes in a way that makes them useful to you later. Add a reminder to each note, telling you when and where to refer to it, and the app will remind you when you reach that time and place. The app also allows you to:
- Add photos or drawings to notes
- Color-code, label, and search for notes
- Add collaborators to lists
Available in the App Store
On your Apple Watch, and in concert with the camera on your iPhone, Camera Plus functions like a high-powered remote control. Using the app and your watch, you can take photos and record videos, choose to use the front or back camera, choose to use flash or not, set a countdown timer, see a live preview on your watch while capturing images, and see pictures on your watch immediately after capturing them.
Available on the Galaxy Store and Google Play
Rather than replacing the camera on our phone, Camera One lets us use our smartwatch to get more out of it. The app basically turns your watch into a remote control for your camera. Use your phone’s camera to take a picture, record video, adjust lighting, zoom in or out, and set a timer — all without touching the phone. In fact, the phone’s screen doesn’t even need to be on. After you capture a photo or video, view and edit it on your smartwatch.
Like all apps, these could go under “Productivity” simply because they make life easier and save us time. Getting from place to place is time-consuming and tedious, so apps that make the process easier are appreciated. Fortunately, there are map, GPS and ridesharing smartwatch apps.
Citymapper calls itself “the ultimate urban transit app.” If you’re in New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Chicago, Washington D.C. – Baltimore, Los Angeles, Boston or Seattle, this app gives you everything you need to get from Point A to Point B — as quickly and as painlessly as possible. Here’s how it works: You tell the app where you want to go, it shows you your transportation options and the fastest way to get there. Check nearby departure times. Plan your route on the app, using any combination of subway, bus, walking, car sharing, bike sharing, ferry, and train. Sit back and wait for the app to ping you when it’s time to leave. On your way to your destination, the Citymapper app will show you step-by-step directions on your watch. It will even tell you when there’s a delay or a disruption to a subway, bus, train or ferry line along your route.
Available in all 3 apps stores
In more than 500 cities around the world, Uber provides car rides, anywhere you want to go, on demand. With the Uber app on your smartwatch, simply tap to request a ride. The app will immediately identify your location, pair you with the nearest Uber driver, and let you know when the driver will arrive. The app will even show you the driver’s photograph and details about their vehicle, so you will recognize them as soon as they pull up. Pay using any variety of methods, including the Uber App, Apple Pay, and PayPal. After you reach your destination, use the Uber app to rate your driver and overall experience.
Spotify is a music streaming service accessible on Apple, Wear OS and Samsung watch. It is available in both free and premium forms. With the free version, you must endure ads and have a more limited selection of available music. Spotify lets you:
- Browse for songs, albums, and artists by name
- Experience podcasts and videos as well as music
- Create playlists
- Share music with others
- Play music in “shuffle” mode
To enjoy Spotify on your smartwatch, all you need is a pair of Bluetooth headphones.
The most popular game app of 2019, Infinity Loop is a puzzle game — but not the kind that will stress you out. On the contrary, to excel in this game, you must relax and clear your mind. Only then, will it all come together – which is the object of the game!
Available in the Apple Store
Outcast is a stand-alone app, which means you don’t need a phone to make it work. (This is still somewhat rare in the world of smartwatch apps.) With this app, you can browse, download and listen to podcasts with nothing but your watch. This lets you create playlists, and export and import lists of podcasts in OPML format.
Available on Google Play
Like Outcast, Wear Casts is a stand-alone podcast app, which means you can search for download and listen to podcasts with just your watch (no phone required)! The app allows you to create playlists, and download episodes both manually and automatically. It periodically syncs and notifies you when your favorite podcasts have new episodes. The app also allows you to import an OPML and searchable directory, and remembers where you paused last each time you return to listening.
If you can imagine a need, someone has probably developed an app to fill it. And today, there’s a good chance that app is available for your smartwatch. Smartwatch apps are known loosely as “tools” are those apps designed to fix one small problem or perform one simple function. They often replace bulkier items we had no choice but to use before apps existed. Examples are flashlights, compasses, maps, calculators, keyboards, translators, speedometers, transcribers and remote controls. There are Smartwatch apps that perform all of these functions and many more. And then there are the tools that never existed until someone built an app. These are the really fun ones to discover and add to your smartwatch. The apps listed below, all of which find your car for you when you can’t find it yourself, are examples of these kinds of tools.
Find My Parked Car
This app is handy when you want to be sure not to lose track of your car in large parking lots or structures. With the app on your watch, all you need to do after parking your vehicle is press the “Park” button to save your location. Later, when you need to find it, just open the app to view its exact location. Not only will the app show you an aerial view of your car, but it will give you step-by-step walking directions to get to it. The app also lets you take and save a picture of your location, set an alarm to remind you of time limits (e.g. if you’ve parked in a metered spot), share your parking location with others, write a note to yourself to help you remember where you parked, and turn on “Dark Mode” while parked.
Find My Car
Find My Car is Samsung’s app to help you locate your parked vehicle. It works in concert with Samsung’s “Car Mode,” which must also be downloaded from the Galaxy Store. The way it works is almost identical to how Apple’s Find My Parked Car app functions. It uses GPS to pinpoint the exact location of your vehicle and lest you augment that with your own voice memo and/or photograph.
Multiple Parked Car Findings Apps
Available on Google Play
Google Play offers several apps designed to help you keep track of your parked car. Two of them go by the same names as the Apple Watch and Samsung apps described above and get good reviews from users (4 stars or above).
If This Then That
According to Google Play, this belongs in the “Productivity” category. And we get that. But we think it deserves its own category because it’s special. It’s Next-Gen Productivity. If This Then That (IFTTT) is a free internet-based service that allows users to create chain reactions among apps and devices based on simple commands. It’s also a phrase that perfectly describes how this type of app operates.
This app is fun because it lets you become the programmer, or the app designer, without learning how to code. It’s also great for making your life more efficient. With this app, you can create “strings,” technically known as applets, between apps on your watch and phone. (More than 600 apps now work with IFTTT and that number will certainly continue to grow.) The applets are driven by triggers (if this happens, then that happens). For instance, you can create an applet that sends a copy of every photo you take to your best friend. More examples of things you can do with IFTTT include:
- Send a text to your roommate asking if they need anything whenever you happen to be near the grocery store
- Receive a message the minute there’s a new posting on OfferUp that matches a recent search
- Post all your social media posts to multiple platforms at once
- Back up important data on a regular basis
Available on Galaxy Store
This app is Samsung’s version of IFTTT. One reviewer says the app is a bit complex to configure but works great once it’s set up. A couple of additional caveats: it costs $1.99 and requires an IFTTT account (which is free).
Watch Face Design
Available in all 3 App Stores
One of the most fun parts of having a smartwatch is changing the face design whenever you want to. Hence, the abundance of smartwatch face design apps. But Facer is the leader of the pack. With over 100,000 free and premium designs, you are practically guaranteed to never run out of face design options you like. Facer also lets you create your own designs.
Gadget geek, watch lover, fitness fan, walker, long-time tech writer/blogger and family man.