watchOS 5 lets you join Wi-Fi networks directly from your Apple Watch

Apple Watch isn’t yet a fully standalone device, but Apple has been working towards reducing its dependency on iPhone since its inception, and joining Wi-Fi networks is a good example of that. In watchOS 5, you can manually connect to a nearby Wi-Fi network directly from your watch, even if the selected network is password-protected, and here’s how.

Highlights:

  • Older watchOS editions rely on Wi-Fi credentials stored on iPhone
  • watchOS 5 lets you join a Wi-Fi network directly from the watch itself
  • You can even join password-protect networks
  • Captive Wi-Fi networks found in public spots like hotels and airports are unsupported
  • Wi-Fi networks that require subscriptions or profiles are not supported

All Apple Watch models support 2.4GHz 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, but not the 5GHz standard.

Hands-on video

But first, watch our hands-on walkthrough video.

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About Apple Watch and Wi-Fi

Like older editions, watchOS 5 will prioritize known networks.

If you have previously joined a Wi-Fi network on your paired iPhone while the handset was connected to your Apple Watch with Bluetooth, watchOS 5 will continue to use those saved credentials when switching to a Wi-Fi connection.

watchOS 5 lets you manually join a Wi-Fi network from the watch itself

Don’t worry, any Wi-Fi networks your iPhone has previously joined are still shared with your watch. What watchOS 5 does is permit your Apple Watch to maintain its own list of know Wi-Fi SSIDs and saved passwords that doesn’t get shared with iPhone.

Here’s how to manually join Wi-Fi networks on Apple Watch.

How to manually join Wi-Fi networks on Apple Watch

To manually join a Wi-Fi network on the watch, do the following:

1) Open the Settings app on your Apple Watch with watchOS 5 or newer.

2) Select Wi-Fi from the list.

3) Wait a few seconds until your Apple Watch has finished scanning nearby Wi-Fi networks, then tap one from the list and dismiss the explainer screen by tapping OK.

4) If the selected wireless network is password-protected, you’ll be prompted to type in the Wi-Fi password into your watch using the incredibly handy Scribble feature.

5) Tap Join in the upper-right corner to join the network or Cancel to abort the operation.

watchOS 5 lets you manually join a Wi-Fi network in Settings

As soon as the watch joins the selected network, the Wi-Fi icon in Control Center gets tinted blue.

TUTORIAL: How to fully disable Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on iPhone and iPad

You can, of course, re-enable new wireless network connections at any time by toggling on Wi-Fi from Control Center or joining a Wi-Fi network manually in Settings.

How Wi-Fi toggle works

Much like iOS 11, the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth toggles in the watchOS Control Center don’t really shut down the wireless radios. Toggling Wi-Fi off from Control Center dims the icon and disconnects the device from any networks that you’re connected to, but keeps the radios on to support Continuity features such as AirPlay, Handoff, Location Services and Instant Hotspot.

Wi-Fi toggle shown turned off in the Apple Watch Control Center on watchOS 5

Toggling Wi-Fi off in Control Center disconnects you from known networks 

After you manually disconnect from a Wi-Fi network or toggle Wi-Fi off in Control Center, your Apple Watch won’t re-join it until you do one of the following things:

  • Turn on Wi-Fi in Control Center
  • Walk or drive to a new location
  • It’s 5:00 am local time
  • The device gets restarted

Apple says this change allows for a better user experience because people will stop wondering why AirDrop stopped working after disabling Wi-Fi from Control Center (the EFF disagrees).

Disconnecting from not only Wi-Fi networks, but apps and Continuity services like AirDrop and AirPlay requires toggling Wi-Fi off in the Settings app

To fully disable the Wi-Fi radio and Continuity services, disable Wi-Fi via Settings

In order to permanently turn Wi-Fi off for all services and apps, as well as shut down the radios inside your Apple Watch completely to converse power, you must venture into Settings → Wi-Fi on the watch, then slide the Wi-Fi toggle to the OFF position.

The Control Center on Apple Watch shown with Wi-Fi toggle off

The watch is disconnected from a network, but Wi-Fi is still available for Continuity services

The watch will only attempt to join a Wi-Fi network when not in proximity of iPhone, according to Apple’s description of the feature. When your iPhone is not nearby, watchOS switches to its own list of saved Wi-Fi credentials to join a nearby wireless network on its own.

Owners of cellular-enabled watches such as the Apple Watch Series 3 (GPS+Cellular) models will find this new feature in the watchOS 5 software very, very useful—finally, you can join a Wi-Fi network without having to join it on your paired iPhone first.

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