Limited support for viewing web links on Apple Watch comes to watchOS 5, thanks to WebKit integration

watchOS 5 brings support for limited viewing of web content on your wrist, like a website link attached to a text, by optimizing it for the smaller Apple Watch screen.

You can tap website links in Mail and Messages to view web-formatted content optimized for your Apple Watch, with features like double-tapping to zoom in on the content and more.

TAKEAWAYS:

  • watchOS 5 integrates Apple’s WebKit web layout engine.
  • It uses Safari’s Reader Mode to display web pages.
  • Web content is supported in Messages and Mail.
  • There’s no Safari browser in watchOS 5 as of yet.

Follow along for the full tutorial.

Prerequisites

In order to browse the web on your wrist, you’ll need the following:

  • Apple Watch Series 2 or newer
  • watchOS 5 or newer
  • Messages or Mail configured on your watch

WebKit integration is limited to Apple Watch Series 3 and newer.

Viewing web links on your wrist requires Series 3 watch models

Series 2, Series 1 and Series 0 models are not supported. Attempting to open an attached link on an unsupported model yields an error message saying “This link isn’t viewable on Apple Watch but you can open it on your iPhone.”

Here’s a closer look at how WebKit integration works.

watchOS 5 integrates WebKit

Implementing support for WebKit in the watchOS 5 software is a monumental achievement.

The Cupertino technology giant obviously doesn’t feel like browsing the web on such a tiny screen would make sense—that’s why Apple Watch doesn’t ship with Safari. That said, we’re very pleased that as of the watchOS 5 software your watch can now render web content, albeit in a limited fashion.

WebKit in watchOS 5 uses Safari's Reader Mode to render web content on your wrist without ads and other distractions

Full browsing on Apple Watch may not make sense, granted.

But now, at least you can check out a restaurant menu or read a quick news article without pulling an iPhone out of your pocket. Also, feel free to email or message yourself links to stories that you might want to read later on the watch.

Here’s how to use this feature.

How to view web content on Apple Watch

If you get web content that you like to see right in the moment, do the following:

1) Press the Digital Crown to go to the Home screen.

2) Open Messages or Mail.

3) Tap a message in the list containing a website link.

4) Tap a weblink preview.

5) Interact with the web view using these gestures:

  • Scroll: Move your finger on the screen or turn the Digital Crown.
  • Zoom: Double-tap to zoom in, double-tap again to zoom out.
  • Follow hyperlinks: Tap a hyperlink to load the underlying webpage.
  • Enter text: Tap a text field to speak or spell out some text.
  • Back/Forward: Swipe left/right or press the display firmly with Force Touch.
  • Reader/Normal: Press the display firmly with Force Touch.
  • Reload: Press the display firmly with Force Touch.

6) When done, tap Close in the upper-left corner or swipe from the left edge of the display.

watchOS 5's WebKit engine renders the text and images, but not videos

The iDownloadBlog story on macOS Mojave’s Software Update, as seen on our Series 3

Viewing web content on your watch pre-formats it for the small screen by piping the URL through Safari’s Reader Mode. To switch to the normal view and access other hidden options, press the display firmly with Force Touch.

When viewing web content on your Apple Watch, use Force Touch for hidden navigation options

Pressing your web content firmly reveals hidden navigation options

Apple made the right choice by defaulting to Safari Reader. In case you haven’t yet tried Reader Mode in Safari, it strips articles of the annoying ads, navigation bars, custom stylesheets and other distractions, leaving you with pure text and images.

Embedded videos are currently unsupported by Apple Watch’s WebKit.

Searching the web with Google, on your wrist!

One of the best things about having the World Wide Web accessible via your wrist: being able to use Google search. Just send yourself the google.com link and open it on your watch.

Browsing the web with Google on watchOS 5

A mobile-optimized Google search page will show up. You can easily scribble or dictate your query, as well as select a desired item from your search results page.

Clearing website data

Like iPhone or Mac, the watch saves temporary Internet files to flash storage and caches data to speed up loading times when revisiting the same website in the future.

TUTORIAL: How to clear website data on Apple Watch

To clear your browsing history and cookies, tap Settings → General → Website Data → Clear Website Data, then confirm the operation by tapping Clear Data from the popup menu.

As you view web content on your Apple Watch, temporary Internet files are stored but you can delete them any time you want

Doing so will remove temporary Internet files from the watch, including website cookies, saved passwords and more, but won’t affect your AutoFill information.

Limitations

This is meant to be a convenience rather than a full-blown web browsing experience.

Websites takes some time to load on your watch because modern HTML5 technologies that web creators take advantage of require decent hardware for optimal performance.

In several instances we had to wait quite a bit until the URL loaded.

To view web content on Apple Watch, email yourself a link to the website you'd like to view via Mail or iMessage

Good thing Apple has limited the feature to Series 3 and newer. Not only do these watches pack in enough oomph to make browsing the web a passable experience, they include cellular connectivity for true wireless freedom.

Aside from the slow WebKit performance, viewing websites through your wrist will quickly drain your Apple Watch battery. There are other annoyances as well, including big ones like no Safari app and the little ones such as no URL entry field whatsoever.

The FOX News website shown on Apple Watch

And last but not least, don’t expect the watch to render all websites properly.

In our experience, webpages with complex layouts with embedded widgets and JavaScript code might get stuck, result in a blank page or refuse to load at all.

Still, it’s nice knowing that limited web content support is there should you ever need it.

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