The Apple Watch packs a lot of power into a small design. But for all of their speed and utility, performing certain tasks on one of them can still be painfully slow. Take updates, for example — they’re notoriously sluggish on Apple Watch. If you’re dreading how long your watchOS 8 update is going to take, you can tweak one setting to (hopefully) speed it way up.
Bluetooth vs. wifi on Apple Watch
Your Apple Watch communicates with your iPhone through two different types of connections, Bluetooth and wifi. Most of the time, the watch will attempt to communicate with your iPhone using Bluetooth. That’s because the connection puts less strain on your devices’ batteries, and since your Apple Watch and iPhone are usually within the 9.14 m radius of one another required for Bluetooth to work, it’s a no-brainer they’d favour the lower-power solution.
The problem is that information travels much more slowly via Bluetooth than over wifi. Normally, that isn’t a problem; you typically receive alerts and notifications on your Apple Watch from your iPhone in a timely manner. But those are tiny snippets of data. Trying to move large amounts of data from one device to another is another story. Like, if you were attempting to download a large watchOS update from your iPhone to your Apple Watch…
How to update WatchOS more quickly
The solution? Don’t use Bluetooth. Your Apple Watch can only communicate with your iPhone via Bluetooth if the connection is available. If it’s not, the devices switch over to wifi. So if you disable Bluetooth on your iPhone, the devices have no choice but to update using wifi, which can really speed up the entire process.
How to disable Bluetooth the right way on your iPhone
You might be tempted to disable Bluetooth on your iPhone from the Bluetooth button in Control Centre. While that should do the trick, this button doesn’t permanently disable Bluetooth anymore; instead, it only disables the connection until the following day, and it’s possible for new Bluetooth connections to be made in the interim. To turn off Bluetooth altogether, head to Settings > Bluetooth, then tap the slider next to “Bluetooth.”
Why disabling Bluetooth speeds up Apple Watch updates
With Bluetooth disabled, head to the Watch app on your iPhone, then go to General > Software Update. Your iPhone might yell at you for having Bluetooth disabled and ask you to enable it in order to download the update. Ignore it. Tap “Cancel” on the pop-up and see if the update begins to download anyway, via wifi. If it doesn’t, go ahead and enable Bluetooth again just to get the update started, then disable it again and return to this page to see if wifi takes over.
With any luck, this process will work and your update will travel much faster over wifi than past updates did over Bluetooth. In my own experience, I watched my download start at an ETA of 45 minutes, then rapidly drop down to just four minutes. To be clear, this method could speed up the time it takes to download the update to your watch. Once the update is ready to be installed, the time it takes to complete that process really comes down to your particular Apple Watch model. The Series 3, for example, is going to take longer to install an update than the Series 6, since the Series 6’s processor is just that much faster.
Unfortunately, as with many tech hacks, your mileage may vary. Take this Reddit thread, for example: While many commenters found this tip to be helpful, some complained that it did nothing for them. I encourage you to experiment. If you have yet to update to watchOS 8, it’s the perfect time to try it on, since the file size is large. However, if you’re already running this software, just wait for the next watchOS update to give it a go.
Alternatively, update on the Apple Watch itself
Starting with watchOS 6 or later, you can actually update directly from your Apple Watch itself, without the need to use your iPhone. Just make sure you’re connected to wifi, then head to Settings > General > Software Update on your watch. It’s not clear, though, whether that will actually be as fast as downloading the update via your iPhone and wifi together — and because you can’t downgrade your watchOS once you’ve updated it, it’s tricky to test various methods without an armful of Apple Watches handy. If you try this one, let us know in the comments how quickly it downloads for you.