How to use the Apple Watch Compass app

The little used app got a lot more features in watchOS 9

WatchOS 9 brought several new additions to the Compass app, including the new ‘Backtrack’ feature. Here’s how to get the most out of it.

First, the compass face is easier to read, with oversized numbers and directions in the centre of the app. Compared to the older version, it’s easier to glance down and get a quick reading from your wrist.

Beyond the new look, tapping on the ‘feet icon’ in the bottom right of the screen starts backtrack mode. This drops a pin where you are and shows you a route back to that location when you walk away. This can be really helpful for people who like to explore the woods without sticking to a trail. Once ready to return from your hike, tap the pause button and choose the ‘Retrace steps’ option. This is more useful than just following the line in backtrack mode since it makes the navigation dot and line on-screen move more like turn-by-turn navigation in Apple or Google Maps.

It’s also worth noting that you can turn the Digital Crown to zoom in and out of the centre of the compass to show a map.

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The icon in the bottom left of the screen allows you to drop pins to label places. This option lets you name the place and selelct the colour and icon for the label you’re dropping on the map. You can add these labels to some of the watch faces with Complications, but unfortunately, they don’t pop up in Apple Maps. Because of this, the only way to manage them is in your Compass app, which isn’t easy. Regardless, it can be a helpful feature in a pinch or on a few weekend hikes.

The final button expands the data you get from the compass by showing your elevation, incline, longitude and latitude. Further, you can set a bearing here if you’re trying to use the compass to navigate somewhere. You should also know that the compass is set to magnetic North by default, and you’ll need to change it to true North to open the Settings app on the Apple Watch.

To use the most up-to-date version of the Compass app, you’ll need an Apple Watch Series 6 or later, Apple Watch SE (1st-gen) and later, or the Apple Watch Ultra. You also need to be on watchOS 9. Older Apple Watch models can still access a basic Compass app, but it doesn’t have the Backtrack or ‘Waypoint’ features.

You can learn more about the Apple Watch Compass app from Apple’s Support page.

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