If I Had To Use The New Compass on My Watch, I Might Have Never Got Home


If I Had To Use The New Compass on My Watch, I Might Have Never Got Home

Is it me or is it them?


My screenshot of my watch compass trying to fool me
My screenshot of my watch compass trying to fool me

My new Series 8 Apple Watch gave me a far different compass app from what I had on my Series 5. I do not understand it. I didn’t understand the Series 5 Compass app either, but this is worse.

I understand the basic use of a compass because my Dad and I joined the Cub Scouts when I was young. I joined as a Cub, and he as a Scoutmaster because the previous one had recently quit, and no one wanted the job.

I got a Cub Scout book, which I vaguely remember as being yellow and black and full of things I had to learn and do to advance in the Cub Scout hierarchy. I believe I got a compass too and, of course, a uniform, a yellow scarf, and I think a cap for my head. Neat!

After a few months, I became bored and uninterested in climbing the ranks. I quit. My Dad could not quit, which upset him greatly. I only learned that fact much later.

When I read about the features of the WatchOS Compass, I was at least mildly excited. It offered Bearings, Waypoints, and Backtracks. I vaguely recalled Bearings, and Backtracks seemed obvious, but Waypoints? No clue.

You can also see your incline, elevation, and coordinates, or so says Apple. It took me a while to notice them in the inner orange ring, but yes, there they are.


What are those lines that look like a partially unfolded wooden ruler? They represent the path my wife and I took through the Mall today. You get that by turning on Backtrack, which requires clicking on the feet at bottom right. You only see one foot in the photo because I had clicked it to start our walk.

Apple specifically says, “Note: Backtrack is for use in remote settings — away from familiar places like your home or workplace — and outside densely populated areas without Wi-Fi.” Using it in a mall may be a breach of their Terms of Service, but seriously, I’ve lost track of what entrance we used in a big mall, so maybe it’s not as silly as Apple thinks.

I used to walk in the woods often. I’d get lost more often than not. If I ever go again, I promise to use this.

When you hit the feet again, you can retrace your steps. A pulsing arrowhead shows you the way. When it stops pulsing, you are back where you started, but I didn’t notice any of that until the third time I tried it. Shouldn’t finding your way out of the wilderness be an occasion for something like the balloons or confetti we can add to a message? Sheesh, people could have died, but they found their way out, that should be celebrated!


I remembered this one. It was manual on my little boyhood compass, and it is the same here. Either twist your watch toward the bearing or use the Digital Crown, whichever hurts less. The idea is to set the bearing to point at something you can see in the distance, like a telephone pole or a Burger King. I suppose some people lost in the woods would like to get to a Burger King, don’t you? I would.

So as you start hacking through the underbrush or have to detour around a forty-acre lake, the bearing will show you which way you need to go after you become even more lost than you were. Simple!


I read Apple’s article on Waypoints. I read MacRumors post on it and a half dozen others. I couldn’t understand any of them. I needed a video!

This video is better than any of the written posts, but I was still confused. Do you see the red and blue dots in the black ring below?

My screenshot of waypoints on my compass app
My screenshot of waypoints on my compass app

Those are two Waypoints I set. The red one is where I’m sitting now, and the blue is our Postal Center, which is about a mile away as the crow flies, but closer to two miles following the roads that would get you there.

I tapped on the blue dot and got this screen.

The compass app showing where my Waypoint isThe compass app showing where my Waypoint is
The compass app showing where my Waypoint is

Those other articles make more sense now that I’ve watched the video. If I needed to hack my way through the woods to get to the Postal Center, this could get me there, tired, scratched all over, and sweaty, but there.

Hold on. That screen at the top of this post is what I’d usually see when I start up the app. How do you get to the other screens?

Use the digital crown. Scrolling it moves through different compass screens. I could not find a video that explains this well, but if you just try scrolling as far as you can in one direction and then the other, you should get the idea. This screen below might confuse you, but it lets you pull a Waypoint into view so you can select it.

Scrolling Waypoints into view
Scrolling Waypoints into view

Human Interface Guidelines, anyone?

I do think Apple has done a lousy job on the Human Interface side of things with Waypoints. The top left pie menu could bring up a Select Waypoint choice and avoid all this scrolling and precision tapping. It seems to me that Apple pays less and less attention to ease of use each year.

If some part of this still doesn’t make sense, let me know in the comments, and I’ll try to help. I wish I’d had someone to ask!


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