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Controlling your music is one of the top features of the Apple Watch. Since the release of the Apple Watch Series 3 in 2017, the device lets you stream music directly from your watch without needing an iPhone or iPod.
This is a game-changer for runners and fitness enthusiasts, as well as casual music listeners who don’t want to carry two devices for their music. But to use this, you’re going to need a music app.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the best music apps available for your Apple Watch.
1. Apple Music
The Apple Music app works well as a method for syncing your iPhone music library, and it’s likely the first app new Apple Watch owners will turn to. You can control your playback as well as accessing songs, albums, and playlists right from your wrist. If you have an Apple Watch model with cellular support and an Apple Music subscription ($10/month) you can stream directly from your watch.
Apple makes this incredibly easy. By default, your iPhone will automatically sync Apple’s weekly playlists: New Music, Chill Mix, and Favorites Mix. It will also upload Heavy Rotation, which is a collection of albums and playlists that you frequently play. You can manually add playlists and albums using the Watch app on your iPhone.
The app offers basic music controls to pause and skip forward or back, and you can use the digital crown to control the volume. Siri voice control is also available—just raise your wrist and ask Siri to play, pause, skip, or play the previous song. Be warned, however—if you ask Siri to play a particular song, album, or playlist, it will do so through your iPhone rather than your Apple Watch. This is the case unless you have the LTE model.
With the cellular apple watch, you can ask Siri to play any of the 50 million songs in the Apple Music library. The app also has some great complications that will show you the currently playing song with a glance at your wrist.
If you’re an Apple Music subscriber, the app does just about everything you could want it to. The Siri integration makes it a great option for hands-free music when you’re working out.
Download: Apple Music (Free, subscription available)
If you’re a Spotify Premium subscriber ($10/month) hoping that you can to leave your iPhone behind, you’re in for disappointment. Even with the LTE Apple Watch, you still can’t stream Spotify directly from the wearable.
That doesn’t take away from the positives of this service on your Apple Watch, however. With your iPhone nearby, the Spotify app is a handy way of controlling your music without needing to pull out your phone.
You’ll find recently played albums and playlists, as well as a link to your library which includes Spotify’s excellent Discover Weekly playlist. Further, you can play, pause, skip forward, and skip back with the app’s playback controls. The app also has support for adding songs to your favorites, as well as changing output devices.
There’s also information about the currently playing playlist or album, but it only shows the first two or three songs, so this isn’t very useful. The Apple Watch complications are also disappointing; even the largest doesn’t show your currently playing music.
If Spotify is your go-to music service on your iPhone, then the Spotify app for your Apple Watch should transfer some of the same useful features to your wrist. Haven’t subscribed yet? See why we think Spotify Premium is worth the cost.
Download: Spotify (Free, subscription available)
Pandora is another music alternative for Apple Watch owners in the US. You can play music on the go, even without your iPhone. Unlike Spotify, Pandora includes offline playback as an option. Recent content automatically uploads to your watch when your iPhone connects to the same network, too.
In order to take advantage of offline playback, you’ll need to sign up to one of the paid subscriptions. The Premium subscription ($1o/month) provides offline access to 10 of your most recent playlists, songs, or albums. Alternatively, the Plus subscription ($5/month) will only let you listen to your three most recent stations when offline.
The app shows currently playing songs, with a prominent play/pause icon and adjustable volume ring. Swiping right takes you to the selection screen, where you can choose the music you want to play. How many choices you have here will depend on the level of your subscription. If you’re a free user, you’ll only see the last song that played on your iPhone.
If you already have a Pandora subscription then this is a useful app that gives you access to offline content. But it lacks the deeper integration of the Apple Music app, and there’s no option to stream with the cellular Apple Watch. Thus, you’re limited to what you can listen to without your iPhone.
Download: Pandora (Free, subscription available)
Deezer is another subscription-based service for Apple Watch users to try. For Deezer Premium subscribers ($10/month), there are no limitations on how you can use the app. Free users have the same limitations as in the iPhone app—you can only play in Shuffle Mode and skip up to six tracks an hour.
Beware, however—there’s no option for downloading offline content with the Deezer app. There’s also no way to stream directly to your watch. You’ll need to have your iPhone on hand if you want to listen to music.
There are also currently no complications for the Deezer app. The only way that you can launch the app is via the mass of icons on the home screen. All the other apps in this list can be launched directly from your watch face, so this is something to consider if Deezer is your preferred service.
You have four options for choosing music—Flow, My Music, Favorite Tracks, and the most recently played song. Flow is Deezer’s personalized playlist based on your listening habits, which includes your favorites mixed with new music suggestions. My Music lets you select from recent songs and favorite tracks as well as playlists, albums, and podcasts. You also have the option to add to your favorites or remove a song from your Flow.
If you have a Deezer account then the app is a must-have. But without offline content and no option for direct streaming, you’ll need to keep your iPhone close by.
Download: Deezer (Free, subscription available)
If you prefer your music from radio stations rather than your own albums and playlists, TuneIn has you covered. You can listen to more than 100,000 radio stations from around the world, as well as podcasts. If you sign up for a Premium subscription ($10/month) you’ll also get access to live NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL games.
The TuneIn Pro Apple Watch app is really just a controller for the iPhone app. You can choose from a selection of your most recent station. From there, the app shows controls to play or pause your current station, as well as skip backward or forwards 30 seconds (which is great for podcasts). There’s no way of searching for additional stations through the app.
There are some complications available, but they’re not supported on every Apple Watch face. The largest complications will show the currently playing station, while the smallest provides a shortcut for the app.
Like some of the other apps on this list, TuneIn doesn’t work on your Apple Watch independently of your iPhone. If you want to stream music through your Apple Watch only, you’ll need to use the Apple Radio app.
Note that TuneIn Premium is an ongoing subscription to access premium content. TuneIn Pro is a one-time purchase that removes ad banners and lets you record content for offline listening.
Choosing the Right Music App for Your Apple Watch
A big part of deciding which music app you’ll use on your Apple Watch is your music subscription. If you’re already invested in Spotify, the wide music choice should prove satisfying on your watch too. You’ll find similar experiences with the Pandora, Deezer, and TuneIn apps.
If you’re subscribed to Apple Music, or if you want to stream your music without your iPhone nearby, then you should choose Apple Music. You can then start to create an Apple Music playlist to listen to your favorite artists.