How to Use the Compass on Apple Watch

Apple Watch comes with the Compass app that can really be a nice feature, allowing you to navigate without carrying an extra piece of equipment. Apple Watch owners may want to know how to use the compass and also if there are any drawbacks to the Compass app. Before you rely on the compass, you may want to know if it is reliable and accurate.

In order to use the Compass app you must have an Apple Watch Series 5 or later or an Apple Watch SE.

How to use the Apple Watch Compass app

Open and use the Compass app

compass app on Apple Watch
  1. Open the Compass app: Press the Digital Crown to open the Home Screen. Sort through the bubbles and tap on the Compass icon.
  2. Use as you would a regular compass:
    • The white dash at the top of the dial indicates your current bearing (direction). Line this up with north to determine your north, east, west and south directions.

Make sure to give the Compass app permission to access your location. To check that Compass has permission:

  1. Open Settings, then tap on Privacy.
  2. Go to Location Services, then tap on Compass.
  3. Make sure “While Using the App” is selected.

Apple Watch Compass app features

  • In the top-left corner of the screen, you can see in which direction you are heading. This gives you the number of degrees, measured clockwise, from north.
  • Around the dial, you can see:
    • Elevation
    • Incline
    • Latitude and Longitude
  • Turn the Digital Crown to scroll down below the compass dial to see the information listed in a larger, easier-to-read font.

Magnetic vs true north

By default, the compass uses magnetic north, but you can change this to true north. This is great; you won’t need to know the declination (angle between true and magnetic north) at your particular location like you would if you used a classic compass.

  1. Open Settings. Press the Digital Crown, then find the Settings (gear image) icon.
  2. Scroll down and tap on Compass.
  3. Tap on the switch next to “Use True North.”

Set your bearing

set a bearing
  1. With the Compass open, scroll down and tap on Add Bearing.
  2. Turn the Digital Crown until the red reaches your desired bearing.
  3. Tap on Done.
  4. Now your (desired) bearing (in degrees) will appear under your current bearing at the top-left of the Compass screen. You will also see red appear on the dial to indicate your current bearing is off from your set bearing.

Add the Compass complication to your watch face

You can add a compass complication to your watch face. Not all faces will have this option; one watch face that has room for many complications is Infograph.

compass complication
  1. Open the Watch app on your iPhone.
  2. Tap on one of your watch faces under My Faces or find a new one from the Face Gallery.
  3. Choose one of the available complication locations, then look for Compass.

How well does the compass work?

Accuracy

The accuracy can be affected by:

  • Magnetic materials. Some bands that contain magnets: Apple’s Leather Link, Leather Loop, Milanese Loop and older Sport Loop (before 2019) bands all have some magnetic material.

For the most accurate results, align the crosshairs on the compass dial:

align crosshairs
  • You will see a circle in the middle of the crosshairs; center it on the dial’s center.
  • If the center of the compass dial is not in the center of the circle, tilt your arm to center the circle.
  • When the crosshairs are perfectly aligned, they will become a brighter white. This may only flash briefly as a perfect alignment is difficult to maintain.

To see the Compass’ current accuracy, look at the red cone surrounding the compass needle; a narrower cone means better accuracy.

Reliability

Obviously, your watch must be charged in order for you to use the Compass app. This is likely the biggest drawback to relying on your Apple Watch as your only compass.

  • You do not need a Wi-Fi or cellular connection to use the Compass app.
  • Your Apple Watch has built-in GPS.

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Dr. Stacey Butler is a tech writer at macReports covering news, how-tos, and user guides. She is a longtime Mac and iPhone user and holds a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. Here is her LinkedIn profile.

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