How to Run with Music with Apple Watch

I once went away with some friends to a resort in Devon for a weekend.  On Saturday morning I went for a run while two of my mates played squash; I said I'd join them later.  After the run, I got a text asking if I was coming to the squash court because one of them had hit the wall. I was thinking metaphorical but turns out it was the actual wall and when I got there he had a nasty cut on his nose and a bit of a black eye.  Which is why I like safer solitary sports like running.

And one of the joys of running alone is listening to audio.  Music or voice (Spoiler: Apple Watch is great for one of these, but not so much for the other)

Especially when just running free and minimalist along the winding country roads of Devon with no worries.  So this post assumes you are running without iPhone, just running with Apple Watch, no iPhone along for the ride, pure Apple Watch, your iPhone is back at home on a charger, bye bye iPhone, hello Apple Watch.  It's the purest way.

 Who could resist this?

Who could resist this?

However if you do want to take iPhone along with you, you can use any app you want to play whatever audio you want, and can even use Apple Watch Now Playing screen (which is handily embedded in the Workout app) to control playback, and you'll probably get better battery life from Apple Watch on a long run.  Just saying.

How do I listen to Audio while running

Get your earphones sorted

Ok, first thing is to get some Bluetooth earphones and pair them to Apple Watch.  There is no way to plug a lead into Apple Watch, and you probably wouldn't want to.  

Of course, Apple Airpods are the natural companion, they sound great and for me at least, stay in my ears (which wasn't the case for Apple Earpods running with iPhone - not sure if it is the shape or the lead but Earpods constantly fell out for me).  

Sweaty Airpods

 AirPods in a lovely silicon case and a Tile to keep track of them

AirPods in a lovely silicon case and a Tile to keep track of them

I have had some issues with AirPods seemingly getting sweaty and then not charging in the case.  So I have pulled them out just before a run, only to find one of them is not charged.  I initially thought this was a hardware issue and Apple support did too, happily sending me a new AirPod and a new case, but I had similar issues with the new stuff.  I now give them a little wipe before putting them back in the case after a run, and it seems to have fixed it.  I sometimes take the charging case with me on a long run too - and so I got a nice waterproof one from Amazon.  This has the added benefit of having a keyring loop so I can attach a Tile to the case as well - in fact, I permanently keep the silicon case and Tile attached to the AirPods now - save's me running around the house in a panic trying to find them every other day.  

Airpod Battery life

Battery life is good for AirPods - it can be 5-6 hours, and then you can charge them all over again in the case 5 times, but lifetime is impacted if you have the volume up high (>90%) to cover the sound of traffic for example, where It can drop to 2-3 hours.  You can run with one in and one charging in the case though and then swap them over if needed, though it's a bit fiddly to do while running.  In reality, I have rarely run out of battery on even a long run, but I tend to take the case anyway - call me paranoid.

Airpod Alternatives

Apple AirPods are quite expensive, and there are rumours that a new version is coming in 2018 with better Siri support (hands-free) and an upgraded Apple-designed wireless chip for managing Bluetooth connections so if you don't have them now you may want to wait for v2 (and cheaper v1s on eBay)

Or you could look at other much cheaper Bluetooth earphones available from Amazon and other retailers.  I have had tried a few of these with Apple Watch - most sounded ok but I did have issues with drop-outs on the cheaper versions so try those out within the return period if you get them.  Previous to AirPods my favourite were Beats PowerBeats2 wireless which you can pick up quite reasonably on eBay now, though PowerBeats3 look nice too.

How do I Play Music while Running

These are the ways:

  1. Sync music to Apple Watch ahead of the run.  
  2. Stream music from Apple Music or the Radio app over Apple Watch Series 3 LTE while you are running.

Do I need an Apple Music Subscription?

For option 1 - syncing music to Apple Watch you don't need an Apple Music subscription, but you do need to have added your music to iTunes.  So to be clear you can get MP3 files from anywhere, including ripping them from a CD or downloading from other services or strange Russian websites (not recommended), then add them to your iTunes library using your PC/Mac and sync them to Apple Watch.

If you are an Apple Music subscriber then you get all 40+ million tracks available to you and certain mixes (such as the Favorites Mix or "Heavy Rotation")  are automatically synced to Apple Watch without you doing anything (though you can turn them off in the Apple Watch app on iPhone in Music settings if you want).  As with non Apple Music subscribers, you still need to add the music you want from Apple Music to your library, then you can sync them to Apple Watch.

For streaming or using the Radio app (option 2) then yes, you need an Apple Music subscription,  and an Apple Watch Series 3 LTE version with an active mobile data account, which makes sense.  But for that you get "40 million songs on your wrist" at any time which is nice.  Though don't expect batterly life to stand up more than 90 minutes of streaming.

Can I use Spotify, Pandora, Google Play Music, Amazon Music etc on Apple Watch?

No unfortunately you can't use anything other than Apple Music, or music from your library in iTunes on Apple Watch.  Unless of course you take your iPhone with you in which case you can use them all.

How do I Sync My Music to Apple Watch?

You can add any albums and playlists you want to your Apple Watch by syncing them. 

  1. Put your Apple Watch on its charger (the music won't sync unless Apple Watch is on a charger)
  2. Open the Apple Watch app on iPhone, then tap the My Watch tab
  3. Tap Music >  Add Music then select the music you want to sync.

It can take a while to sync music across because Bluetooth isn't the fastest thing, so don't do this 5 minutes before your run, instead do it overnight.  

Synced music on your Apple Watch is the most power efficient way of playing music but you do need some forethought unless you are happy with just the automatically added playlists.  In reality I have added a few playlists and albums that I like and occasionally go in and add more, then forget about it.  Things like "The A-List Blues" or "New Music" playlists are a dynamic ones from Apple so they change every week automatically, and when I am out running I get to hear new music without having to do anything - cool.

You can remove any of the synced music easily by swiping left on them in the Apple Watch app on iPhone.

How much music can I store on Apple Watch?

With Apple Watch Series 3 LTE you have 16gb or total storage for everything, and with the non LTE version you have 8gb.  I have copied hundreds of photos, and have 60+apps installed and over 200 songs and still have 6.5gb free on the LTE model.  I think it's plenty.

How do I Stream Music or play Radio on Apple Watch?

If you have an Apple Watch Series 3 with LTE, together with an Apple Music subscription then you can stream music directly from your watch, or play any Radio channel live directly from the watch. Battery life takes a hit for this though, so don't expect more than 90 minutes or so of constant streaming.

Yes but how do I actually play the music?!

Oh sorry - you can either set a Workout Playlist in the settings for Workout in the Watch app on iPhone, and this will play automatically when you start the workout, or you can open the Music or Radio apps on the watch directly to play them, and then control them using the Now Playing screen which is also conveniently included in the Workout app (and many other apps).

Or you can use Siri via Airpods or the Watch directly, and ask her to play something for you.  In my original Everything you need to know about running with Apple Watch post I was quite critical of using Siri, but I have to say in recent months it seems to have improved a little, and I find myself using Siri more often to control playback of music while running than before.  The hope is that the new v2 Airpods coming out this year will improve things further.

While on Airpods and using them to control things (which I sort of was), I have also recently enjoyed the ability to take urgent calls on my watch and communicate through Airpods.  As long as I am in an fairly aerobic state and can actually talk I've had what I percieved to be reasonably coherent conversations while running which has been really useful.

How do I Listen to a Podcast or Audiobook while running?

This is a lot trickier than music.  Currently Apple have decided (for whatever reason) to not allow podcasts or audiobooks to be synced to Apple Watch.  

Ok So What's the Story with Podcasts?

A few apps have tried to cirumvent the restrictions set by Apple and have created their own methods for syncing and playing podcasts; the ones I have tried are Workout++ and Outcast.  Unfortunately neither has really gelled for me because they require me to manage podcasts outside of the way I normally do (through the Apple Podcast app) and that means it doesn't happen, and even if I try to do it manually it takes an awfully long time and I lose things like the sync position if I want to continue listening to the podcast on my Mac or iPhone later.

This isn't the developers fault, it is the way Apple have implemented music playback on Apple Watch.  I am really hoping that there is an announcement at WWDC 2018 in June that fixes this one and for all, and means I can add podcasts to the list of of things I want synced to Apple Watch along with my music playlists and albumns.  Fingers Crossed.

But as it stands now, if I want to listen to a podcast on a run, I'll take my iPhone with me and play it from there to my Airpods (though I can control playback on Apple Watch or course)

And Audiobooks?

Playing Audiobooks on Apple Watch is worse than Podcasts.  I use Audible, but they don't have an Apple Watch app, and even if I used iTunes audiobooks there would be no way to sync them to Apple Watch.  I haven't seen any third party apps that try to fix this either, and if they did they would suffer the same problem as third party podcast synchronisation.

So if I want to listen to an Audiobook on Audible while on a long run I'll take my iPhone with me too.

By the way if you have an iPhone X I found I was making a lot of pocket calls when running with it - not sure if this is because of the screen turns on with just a touch, but I solved it with this cheap neoprene case which works rather well.

Conclusion

For music playback to Bluetooth earphones on a run, Apple Watch is excellent, as long as you are happy to store your music in iTunes, or subscribe to Apple Music or both.  

For podcasts and audiobooks not so much and it means you essentially need to take iPhone with you to do this well.

Any questions let me know in comments!

Cheers

Ian