Apple unveils Family Setup to bring Apple Watch to those without an iPhone

Apple Watch Experience For Entire Family Hero
Apple Watch Experience For Entire Family Hero (Image credit: Apple)

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At its September event today, Apple announced Family Setup, a new feature in watchOS 7 that will bring many of the features of Apple Watch to those in the household who do not have an iPhone.

Apple today announced Family Setup in watchOS 7, bringing the communication, health, fitness, and safety features of Apple Watch to kids and older family members of the household who do not have an iPhone. For the first time, Apple Watch can be set up through a parent's iPhone, so kids can connect with family and friends through phone calls and Messages, stay motivated with personalized Activity goals, and express their creativity through custom Memoji.

Apple says that Family Setup is designed to bring the health and safety features of Apple Watch to those who many be without an iPhone in your household, like a child or older family member. Even without an iPhone, these family members will still be able to use features like messaging, Emergency SOS, Find My, and more.

Family Setup makes it possible for the entire family to benefit from the important health and safety features of Apple Watch, like Emergency SOS, while Maps, Siri, Alarms, and the App Store provide greater independence without needing an iPhone. In addition, parents will have peace of mind knowing they can reach their child and identify their location, and that all personal data stays securely encrypted. With watchOS 7, the whole family can also take advantage of optimized features that enhance the overall Apple Watch experience.

Jeff Williams, Apple's chief operating officer, says that Family Sharing was built to help families "keep in touch with loved ones, be more active, and stay safe."

"For family members who do not have an iPhone, Apple Watch offers a remarkable set of features that can help them keep in touch with loved ones, be more active, and stay safe ... With Family Setup, we're thrilled to extend these features to the entire family, so everyone can gain more independence and live a healthier life."

According to Apple, parents will have full control in approving what contacts their kids can add to their Apple Watch, ensuring that they are communicating with known friends and family.

With Family Setup, family members without iPhone can take advantage of the many features and apps on Apple Watch, from making and receiving phone and FaceTime audio calls, to sending and receiving messages and emails, and even connecting with other Apple Watch wearers over Walkie-Talkie. The new Memoji app on Apple Watch allows users to customize a Memoji that can be shared while messaging friends or displayed as a watch face. Parents have the ability to approve all contacts, so kids can safely use the communication features of Apple Watch.

Each person using an Apple Watch through Family Setup will have to have their own cellular plan, so check with your carrier to see how much adding an Apple Watch is. Apple is also rolling out a new service called Apple Cash Family that will allow parents to send their kids money to spend on their Apple Watch.

Kids and older family members of the household using Family Setup will have their own phone number through a separate cellular plan, and by using their own Apple ID, they can follow their schedule and family events using Calendar, learn to manage tasks with Reminders, view photo albums synced from a guardian's iPhone, and more. With the new Apple Cash Family, parents can securely send their kids money to spend on their watch using Apple Pay. Parents can choose to receive notifications when their kids pay, and view their child's purchases right in Wallet on their own iPhone.

Apple is also changing how Activity Rings are closed for kids on their Apple Watches. The watch will track Move minutes instead of burned calories, and the different exercises have also be optimized for kids.

The Activity rings experience has been optimized for kids to track Move minutes instead of calories burned and provide customizable goals for the Exercise and Stand rings. Outdoor Walk, Outdoor Run, and Outdoor Cycle workouts have been specifically tuned for kids, giving appropriate credit for Move minutes, exercise, distance, and other metrics, while coaching notifications are tailored to relevant reading levels and made more fun with emoji. Kids can also send and receive Activity Sharing invitations directly on Apple Watch, challenge friends with Activity Competitions, and see a new Awards page so milestones can be celebrated right on their wrist.

Apple Watch Series 6 School Time Watchface

Apple Watch Series 6 School Time Watchface (Image credit: Apple)

The new feature also introduces a new mode called Schooltime that will block certain apps and turn on Do Not Disturb when the child is supposed to be focused at school.

Family Setup brings a new mode called Schooltime, which will help ensure kids stay focused and attentive while learning at home or in the classroom. During Schooltime, a distinctive yellow circle is displayed on the watch face for teachers and parents to easily recognize, signifying that access to apps is restricted and Do Not Disturb is turned on. For convenience, parents can also set the schedule on their iPhone so Apple Watch automatically goes into Schooltime during certain hours, or turn it on from Control Center on the child's watch. To support responsible usage of the device, the Downtime feature of Screen Time extends to Apple Watch, with the child receiving a reminder five minutes before it begins.

Apple also notes features for older adults in the household like fall detection, the X-Large watch face, and the Health Checklist in the Health app.

watchOS 7 also offers optimized features for older adults, adding to the powerful set of health and safety tools currently available, including fall detection and irregular rhythm notification. The latest software makes Apple Watch even easier to use and set up, starting with a refreshed X-Large face that shows the time and a rich complication at a glance, as well as an onboarding and configuration process designed with connection and accessibility features in mind. Activity goals can be customized to help users stay motivated, while the new Health Checklist in the Health app on iPhone offers the ability to track whether health features like fall detection have been enabled in one centralized view.

Family Setup will launch with watchOS 7 tomorrow, September 16.

Joe Wituschek

Joe Wituschek is a Contributor at iMore. With over ten years in the technology industry, one of them being at Apple, Joe now covers the company for the website. In addition to covering breaking news, Joe also writes editorials and reviews for a range of products. He fell in love with Apple products when he got an iPod nano for Christmas almost twenty years ago. Despite being considered a "heavy" user, he has always preferred the consumer-focused products like the MacBook Air, iPad mini, and iPhone 13 mini. He will fight to the death to keep a mini iPhone in the lineup. In his free time, Joe enjoys video games, movies, photography, running, and basically everything outdoors.