Apple may not allow Android users to use the Apple Watch, but luckily for iPhone users, Google isn’t quite so strict. Following a rocky start with Android Wear, Google unveiled Wear OS, a complete overhaul of its smartwatch operating system, offering enhanced support for iOS users alongside a range of other benefits.
So, yes, you can use a Wear OS smartwatch with an iPhone, as long as it’s an iPhone 5 or newer running iOS 9 or later, but it’s not the exact same experience as what you’d get using an Android smartphone. We outline how to use a Wear OS smartwatch with an iPhone right here, along with what you’ll get, and more importantly, what you won’t get.
Connecting a Wear OS smartwatch to an iPhone
The process of pairing and setting up a Wear OS-enabled smartwatch with an iPhone is surprisingly easy - you just need to download the Wear OS By Google app on the App Store. Once you’ve downloaded the app, simply power on the watch, enable Bluetooth on your iPhone (if it isn’t on already) and open the Wear OS app.
You’ll then be taken through the pairing process, which requires you to select your Watch from a list of nearby devices, and you’ll need to confirm a passcode on both to verify you’re connecting to the right watch. Unsurprisingly, with a Google product, you’ll also be asked to log into your Google account.
Once it’s connected, it’ll download and install any available Wear OS update, making sure the smartwatch is completely up-to-date before you use it.
Once the watch has been paired and any updates installed, you’ll be presented with a Wear tutorial, explaining the basics of using Wear OS, covering everything from gestures to notifications to using Google Assistant. Yes, you can actually use Google Assistant on an iPhone! Just don’t make Siri jealous…
The on-watch tutorial is admittedly a short one, but it’s important to pay attention - especially considering the navigation controls vary between Wear OS smartwatches.
Using a Wear OS smartwatch with an iPhone
Back when Wear OS was Android Wear, there was basic compatibility with iOS devices, but nothing more. Thankfully, the release of the rebranded Wear OS 2.0 back in 2017 changed everything, offering better integration with iPhones and improved standalone functionality too.
The biggest improvement was the introduction of the native Google Play Store, allowing iOS users to install and use a variety of Android apps just like Android users can. There are limitations to app availability, with select apps like Citymapper not available when paired with an iPhone, but there are plenty of apps available for iOS users. Due to the standalone nature of the Wear OS apps, there’s no need to have the accompanying app installed on your iPhone - all internet connectivity is handled via the Wear OS app.
That’s essentially the job of the Wear OS app on your iPhone - to act as the middle man between your smartwatch and the internet - meaning you can’t uninstall it once you’ve set the watch up. The app is of limited use, allowing you to change basic settings, view battery life, apply new watchfaces and various other features, but many of the settings in the app are also available on the watch.
Your Wear OS smartwatch can count your steps and provide basic activity monitoring via Google Fit, which comes preinstalled on most Android-based smartwatches. If you do decide to use Google Fit, it’s worth pointing out that you’ll need to download the Google Fit app on your iPhone to access your data - something Android users won’t have to do.
Another big feature, hinted at earlier, is the inclusion of Google Assistant on the smartwatch, allowing you to access Google’s virtual assistant on your wrist and Siri on your iPhone. It’s a handy hybrid, especially if you’ve got smart home kit that’s compatible with Google Assistant but not Siri, or if you’re heavily invested into the Google system of apps and services.
There’s even the option of using Google Pay on the smartwatch, giving iOS users an alternative to Apple Pay when paying for snacks at the shop or getting on the tube.
Like with the Apple Watch, you’ll get all your notifications through to your Wear OS watch - including third-party notifications from the likes of WhatsApp and Instagram - and just like with Apple’s option, dismissing them on the watch will also dismiss them from your iPhone notification centre. It was a big complaint from early Android Wear adopters who wanted to use their smartwatches with their iPhones, so it’s great to see such a big improvement in that department.
The limitations of using Wear OS with an iPhone
As you might expect, the iOS experience is a little more limited than compared to that of Android users, and this is apparent in several forms. The most noticeable is notifications: while the syncing of notifications between the watch and iPhone is a nice touch, there’s a lack of actions available - you can’t, for example, reply to a text using the Watch, nor can you mark incoming emails as read unless you’re using the Gmail app on the watch.
It’s a similar story with Google Assistant; while it can help with basic queries, it won’t be able to do things like mark tasks as done via the Reminders app on your iPhone, or initiate calls either. These are all locked to Siri, and that likely won’t be changing anytime soon.
And, as mentioned above, while you can access a great number of apps via Google Play on the smartwatch, you won’t get access to the entire library of Google Play apps - some require a companion app to function, and at present, third-party iOS apps can’t directly communicate with Wear OS apps. These are limitations of Apple rather than Wear OS, but it’s still worth noting.
That’s about all you need to know about using a Wear OS smartwatch with an iPhone. The only thing you need to decide now is which to get. If you’re stuck, we recommend taking a look at our selection of the best smartwatches for some inspiration.