Apple Watch Family Setup: Everything you need to know

Apple Watch Family Setup: Everything you need to know
Apple Watch Family Setup: Everything you need to know (Image credit: Apple)

During its September 15 event, Apple announced a new Apple Watch feature: Family Setup. This is a capability in watchOS 7 and iOS 14 that allows you to set up Apple Watches for family members who don't have their own iPhones. Family Setup focuses on children and older adults and is billed as a way to make sure your family member is safe, while still affording them the independence they need without them needing to own an iPhone.

Here's what you need to know about Family Setup.

Just what's the big deal with Family Setup?

Here's a scenario: you have a younger child. You don't think they're old enough for their own iPhone, but you want to be able to quickly get in touch with them and let them do things like text you or their friends, make phone calls, listen to music, and more.

The Apple Watch is the perfect device for this scenario, but previously you'd need to get them an iPhone anyway just to set them up with their own account on the watch. Now, with Family Setup, your child doesn't need their own iPhone. Instead, you get them an Apple Watch and set it up in the Watch app on your iPhone as a Family Apple Watch.

After you've set up your child's Apple Watch, they can use it as an independent device, though you can manage certain aspects of their experience.

Can you manage allowed contacts for an Apple Watch under Family Setup?

Yes. You can manage contacts for watches connected with Family Setup. Family Setup is essentially an Apple Watch-only multi-device management (MDM) setup, so you have some pretty broad powers over your family member's watch. You can manage contacts for Apple's built-in communications apps, Phone and Messages.

Can I keep an eye on my child's location with Family Setup?

To a certain extent. For instance, family members can share their locations with one another using the Find My app, letting you get an up-to-date picture of where your family is.

But if you just need to know that, say, your child is going where they're supposed to, you can also set up location notifications. These notifications will tell you if a family member has arrived at a pre-determined location, like school or home. You can also set up these notification to alert you if a family member isn't where they're expected to be.

Is there a way to keep my child focused on schoolwork instead of their Apple Watch?

Family Setup includes the ability for parents to activate Schooltime mode. This is a special mode that limits Apple Watch features and activates a special watch face meant to keep kids focused on their work.

What can family members do with their Apple Watch in Family Setup?

As a family member whose Apple Watch is under Family Setup, there's actually a lot you can do. You can listen to music through Apple Music, download apps from the App Store (subject to family restrictions, of course), make calls, and send messages to approved contacts.

There's also a new Memoji app for Apple Watch that's great for Family Setup. With the Memoji app, you can create a Memoji right on your Apple Watch. You can send it in Messages as a Memoji or a sticker, or you can add it to the new Memoji watch face.

Are there any changes to fitness tracking with Family Setup?

As a family member using an Apple Watch with Family Setup, you can set your own fitness goals, perform your own workouts, and track your own rings. Your fitness data isn't part of your parent's (or, for older adults, your child's) data.

A kid or older adult using an Apple Watch with Family Setup can set their own fitness goals and perform workouts better suited to them. Activities are better optimized for kids, and metrics like distance and pace will be tracked more accurately in different activities.

Family members can also set their own activity ring goals, moving stand and exercise minutes up or down based on ability. For kids, the outer ring is also changed from tracking calories burned to activity time, because kids don't need to be stressing about calories.

Can you send Apple Cash to an Apple Watch on Family Setup?

Yes, you can. Apple has introduced Apple Cash Family, which lets you send money to family members that use Apple Watches on Family Setup. It works just like Apple Cash already does: you select a contact in Messages, choose Apple Cash, select an amount, and send it. You can manage Apple Cash Family using parental control settings.

Are there any features directed at older adults in Family Setup?

There don't seem to be any features explicitly aimed at older adults with Family Setup, but Apple definitely means for them to benefit from it.

Here's another scenario: you help take care of a parent with medical issues. For whatever reason, an iPhone doesn't make sense for them, but an Apple Watch really does. Features like fall detection, large type, and Emergency SOS would be great for both your peace of mind and theirs.

Now, you can just get them an Apple Watch and set it up with Family Setup, giving them the benefits of the watch without the unnecessary baggage of their own iPhone. And because you don't want to infantilize your parent, maybe leave the restrictions alone for their watch, okay?

What are the Apple Watches with which Family Setup works?

Family Setup is compatible with the Apple Watch Series 4 and later, that means, you need one of these to use it:

  • Apple Watch Series 4
  • Apple Watch Series 5
  • Apple Watch SE
  • Apple Watch Series 6

Importantly, you need an Apple Watch with cellular connectivity to use Family Setup.

When can I start using Family Setup?

Family Setup requires watchOS 7 and iOS 14. Importantly, you can't get watchOS 7 unless you first install iOS 14. You can get these software updates when they launch for everyone on Wednesday, September 16.

Joseph Keller

Joseph Keller is the former Editor in Chief of iMore. An Apple user for almost 20 years, he spends his time learning the ins and outs of iOS and macOS, always finding ways of getting the most out of his iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Mac.