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Everything a GPS-only Apple Watch can do without an iPhone

Apple Watch
(Image credit: iMore)

An Apple Watch is a powerful device, but the starting price for every model is for the GPS-only versions. That means it needs to be connected to your iPhone in order to send messages, take calls, get notifications, etc. You may be wondering what can a GPS-only Apple Watch only do exactly. The answer may surprise you.  

Here's a giant list of what your best Apple Watch (opens in new tab) can do without being connected to your iPhone if it's GPS-only.

What can a GPS-only Apple Watch do?

TL;DR: Without your iPhone, a GPS-only Apple Watch can still do lots for you. Track workouts, track activity, tell time (including setting alarms, timers, and using the stopwatch), play music from a synced playlist, display photos from synced albums, make purchases with Apple Pay, check heart rate, use the Breathe app, and listen to podcasts stored on Apple Watch. If your iPhone is off or out of range, the Apple Watch can still connect to known Wi-Fi networks and do several other features.

Apple Watch GPS-only: No iPhone? No problem!

Sometimes you're away from your best iPhone, such as going to an event that doesn't allow cellular phones, forgetting it at home, or just wanting less to carry on a hike or run. Even then, your GPS-only Apple Watch can do many things, whether it's an Apple Watch SE or the Apple Watch Series 7. (opens in new tab)

Tell time

Apple Watch clock (Image credit: Stephen Warwick / iMore)

The first thing that it can definitely do without your iPhone around is to tell time. It's a watch, after all, and you'll still be able to tap on the screen or raise your wrist to see the time. If you happen to have an always-on display on your Apple Watch, well, it can use that too. That's not all either. You can even use the Alarm, Timer, and Stopwatch apps without any issues. 

Track activity and workouts

Watchos 9 Beta Heart Rate Zone During Workout

Apple Watch Series 6 Review (Image credit: Luke Filipowicz / iMore)

Since the Apple Watch is a great fitness tracker (opens in new tab), not having your iPhone around doesn't hinder its ability to log workouts and keep track of your steps, heart rate, calories, sit-to-stand ratio, blood oxygen levels, and everything else health-related. Are you running watchOS 9 (opens in new tab)? Your Apple Watch can show you those heart rate zones during your workout.

The Apple Watch can store this data for up to 30 days (though we recommend not risking losing this data and connecting to your iPhone ASAP) with its onboard storage. Once your iPhone is within Bluetooth or Wi-Fi range, this data syncs to your iPhone and is cleared out from the Apple Watch cache.

Note: For Series 0 and Series 1 owners, the Apple Watch will only store heartbeat, calories, and essential workout information since there is no onboard GPS. Series 2-6 owners get GPS with their workout data, and Series 3 and above also have a built-in altimeter, so elevation info is also stored.

Pay for things

(Image credit: iMore)

The Apple Watch is capable of Apple Pay (opens in new tab), so if you're out and about without your wallet or iPhone 13 (opens in new tab), you can still pay for things at businesses that accept Apple Pay. All your cards in Apple Wallet get a unique token on the Apple Watch, so you don't need your iPhone around to use them. Make sure you add your Apple Pay cards to your Apple Watch first. This also applies to gift cards, boarding passes, and other cards in your Apple Wallet.

Play some tunes

(Image credit: Future)

If you have some playlists in the Apple Music app that you want to take with you on the Watch, you can sync them to your Apple Watch (opens in new tab) through the Watch app. These tracks get downloaded onto your Apple Watch's onboard storage (when it's connected to power and placed near your iPhone), and these tracks are available to play on your Watch, even when your iPhone is out of range. If you have an Apple Watch with Cellular, you can stream tracks directly from Apple Music's catalog of over 40 million songs or even radio stations. This also applies to the Podcasts app, as you can listen to podcast episodes downloaded onto the Apple Watch.

Show off favorite photos

(Image credit: Luke Filipowicz / iMore )

Even though the Apple Watch got more screen with the Series 4 and later, it's still not the optimal way to view photos. But if you're sans iPhone, then the Apple Watch screen has to do, right? Fortunately, you can sync one album from your iPhone with up to 500 photos, so you can take your favorite pictures with you to show off to others.

Apple Watch GPS-only: Get on Wi-Fi to do even more things

That's correct. If your iPhone is just too far away, your Apple Watch GPS-only can still connect to known Wi-Fi networks, as long as you've been there before with your iPhone. The only exception to this is when the Wi-Fi network or hotspot requires a secondary authorization before you connect since there's no way to interact with these screens or input passwords on an Apple Watch.

But standard home Wi-Fi networks, for example, should be fine, as long as you've connected to it before with your iPhone. This feature isn't always 100% reliable, but if it does work, you'll see the Wi-Fi symbol highlighted in blue in the Control Center for your Apple Watch.

When your Apple Watch connects via Wi-Fi, it can do a few more cool things.

Use Siri

(Image credit: iMore)

Since you always need a data connection to use Siri, the feature is available if your Apple Watch GPS-only is just on Wi-Fi. You can use Siri on Apple Watch to get directions, send iMessages, and more.

Messages and calls

If the Apple Watch GPS-only has a Wi-Fi connection, you're able to send and receive iMessages and SMS, along with making and taking phone calls.

Check the weather and stocks

(Image credit: iMore)

Worried about the weather? With a Wi-Fi connection only, your Apple Watch GPS-only should have no issue with getting the current temperature for you, along with the forecast. And if you're into the stock market, you can check how your favorite companies are doing in the Stocks app.

Control your Smart HomeKit accessories

(Image credit: Christopher Close / iMore)

For those who are invested in the HomeKit ecosystem and have several different HomeKit enabled devices at home, you can control them all right from your Apple Watch sans iPhone, as long as you're on the Wi-Fi connection. Just launch the Home app on your GPS-only Apple Watch and turn it off or on what you need.

Use standalone apps with Wi-Fi

Many Apple Watch apps are fully functional on the watch without your iPhone. And if they require an Internet connection to work, well, they should have no issue if it's just on Wi-Fi and not tethered to your iPhone.

Set reminders and never forget a thing again

"Hey Siri, remind me to pick up some milk."

As long as your GPS-only Apple Watch is on Wi-Fi, you should be able to tell Siri to remind you to do things that you may otherwise forget. You may not have your iPhone with you all the time, but if you have Wi-Fi, then it'll help you remember those small things before they slip by.

Listen to podcasts, radio, and stream music

If you don't have your iPhone, then you'll only be able to listen to podcasts and music playlists that you previously synced onto your Apple Watch. But if you have a Wi-Fi connection, then it will be able to stream podcast episodes and music that aren't available locally on your Apple Watch. Radio stations are also available.

Chat with friends with Walkie-Talkie

Apple added a Walkie-Talkie feature in watchOS 5, so you can instantly send voice recordings to friends who also have it enabled. As long as you're on a Wi-Fi connection on the Apple Watch, just push the button to talk, then release to listen for their reply.

Apple Watch GPS-only: Wow, it is pretty capable without the iPhone

That's right! The GPS-only Apple Watch can still do plenty of things even while it's away from your iPhone, so it's nice that it doesn't always need the iPhone around to get functionality out of it. And while you can get the Apple Watch connected to Wi-Fi, this only works if your iPhone was previously linked to that network. But if you have a Cellular Apple Watch, it can pretty much do everything without your iPhone since it has its own data connection. Plus, with the Apple Watch Series 8 (opens in new tab) coming soon, there's is no telling what new features await a GPS-only Apple Watch.

Christine Chan
Senior Editor

Christine Romero-Chan has been writing about technology, specifically Apple, for over a decade at a variety of websites. She is currently the iMore lead on all things iPhone, and has been using Apple’s smartphone since the original iPhone back in 2007. While her main speciality is the iPhone, she also covers Apple Watch, iPad, and Mac when needed.

When she isn’t writing about Apple, Christine can often be found at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, as she is a passholder and obsessed with all things Disney, especially Star Wars. Christine also enjoys coffee, food, photography, mechanical keyboards, and spending as much time with her new daughter as possible.