The 10 gestures you need to know for the Apple Watch

Find apps, pay for things on the go and find your way around Apple's advanced new watch: here are the key ways to navigate on it.

Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
Expertise VR and AR | Gaming | Metaverse technologies | Wearable tech | Tablets Credentials
  • Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Scott Stein
4 min read

Watch this: How to navigate the Apple Watch in 10 helpful moves

The Apple Watch is a completely new product for Apple: not just because it's a smartwatch, but because nearly everything it does feels and works a little differently than the iPhone, iPad or Mac.

There's a touchscreen, but it doesn't have pinch-to-zoom: it's pressure-sensitive instead. There's a microphone, but you need to learn how to activate it. There's no home button on the front, but there's a Digital Crown on the side that's like a scroll wheel and home button rolled into one. There's a flat button that's like a power button, but it does other things, too.

After using an Apple Watch for a few weeks, here are the basic go-to gestures I've found make using the Apple Watch much easier. Watch the above video for all the techniques, and read the rundown below.

The digital crown and flat button next to it have very different key functions. Sarah Tew/CNET

Swipe down: Notifications

Apple's watch faces are the main thing you'll see when you look at your Apple Watch. Swipe down and you'll get a list of notifications, just like your iPhone. You can see calls you've missed, messages, app notifications and lots more. You can click on messages to open them, or swipe them all away.

Swipe up: Glances

Glances are Apple's way of offering quick little bits of information from many apps at once. Swipe up from the watch face, and a Glance will appear: battery life, music control, fitness or whatever you've enabled. Swipe left and right to see them all, and tap one to open the app for more. It's like a little dock for your favorite apps.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Click the crown: Your home button

There's no home button on the front of the Apple Watch, but that spinning, wheel-like Digital Crown on the side works like one. Push it in so it clicks and you go to a big grid of all the apps you have installed: they look like circles. Click the crown again to go back to your watch face. In any app, one click and you'll get back to the app grid. When in doubt, click the crown.

Press and hold the crown: Siri

Still feeling lost? Siri is here. Press and hold the digital crown, and Siri starts listening. Speak, then let go. You can open apps by voice command, or check weather, movie times, do math and all the other stuff Siri normally does, for the most part (some requests will tell you to use your iPhone instead).

Force press: Hidden menus and options

The Apple Watch has a pressure-sensitive touchscreen, which means you can not only swipe and tap, but press harder and have it suddenly respond to that press. Apple Watch apps don't use force-press actions consistently, but many apps will have menus and extra options hiding in plain sight; force press the screen, and you can see these extras pop up.

In the Music app, force press brings up Shuffle, wireless headphone connections and more. In Maps you can search for a location. On the watch faces, it allows customization. For extras, try force press anywhere -- you can always click the crown to leave if you get lost.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Click the flat button: Reach out to a friend

For quick access to your favorite friends and family, click the wide, flat button next to the digital crown. You can spin the wheel, pick someone and call or send messages from there.

Double click the flat button: Apple Pay

That flat button doubles as the key to Apple's easy onboard payments system. Double click and a little icon for your credit card shows up on-screen. Now bring it close to an Apple Pay-ready card terminal and it should work. No passwords or Touch ID are needed, as long as the watch is on your wrist.

Click and hold the flat button: Turn off watch, or power reserve

That flat button's basically the power button: press and hold, and you'll see three options pop up. You can turn off the watch completely (press and hold again to turn back on), lock the watch (it'll require your passcode to unlock) or go into "power reserve," a mode that shuts down everything except a basic clock display. (By the way, to get out of power reserve, you'll need to press and hold again to reboot the Apple Watch.)

Double click the Digital Crown: Go back to the last app

This is a big time saver. Let's say you're getting directions, but you suddenly get a text message. You want to get back to the map, but you don't want to dig back and look for the app in the app grid. Just double click and you'll get back there. Double click again and you'll go back to the other app. It's the closest thing to multitasking on the Apple Watch.

Cover the display with your hand: Silence watch

If you don't want to press any buttons, or you're someplace where you can't be bothered with calls or messages, put your hand over the watch and hold for a few seconds. The watch will be silenced, and the next time you lift your wrist you'll be back at the watch face again.