Apple Watch Family Setup limitations explained

If you’re in the Apple ecosystem, one of the most useful accessories you may want you and your family to use is the Apple Watch. With this wearable tech on your wrists, you can track your health and fitness data, make phone calls, send messages, check how well you sleep or use apps without ever unlocking your iPhone. 

While most of the features on an Apple Watch are useful only when you pair it with an iPhone, people who don’t own an iPhone can also use an Apple Watch as long as someone in their family uses an iPhone to set it up. In this post, we’ll explain all the requirements and limitations of using Family Setup on an Apple Watch and what features your family member can utilize if their watch is paired to your iPhone. 

What is Family Setup for Apple Watch? Who is it for?

Apple introduced the Family Setup feature for the Apple Watch in 2020 as a means to set up Apple Watch for someone who doesn’t own an iPhone. The feature is designed to help a family member like your elderly parents or school-aged children use an Apple Watch by themselves without needing an iPhone to use alongside it. 

When an Apple Watch is configured using Family Setup, its user will be able to make phone calls, send messages, use fitness features, and share their location with others without needing to use an iPhone themselves. With Family Setup, the iPhone that was used to set up a watch can later be used to manage some of the watch’s features. 

Related: Turn off notifications on Apple Watch: Step-by-step guide

Family Setup compatible Watch models

Apple’s Family Setup can only be used when you’re setting up a compatible Apple Watch using your Apple ID account. These models include:

  • Watch Series 4 (GPS + Cellular)
  • Watch Series 5 (GPS + Cellular)
  • Watch SE (GPS + Cellular)
  • Watch Series 6 (GPS + Cellular)
  • Watch Series 7 (GPS + Cellular)
  • Watch SE (2nd generation) (GPS + Cellular)
  • Watch Series 8 (GPS + Cellular)
  • Watch Ultra (GPS + Cellular)
  • Watch Nike and Nike+ (GPS + Cellular) [Series 4 onwards]
  • Watch Hermès (GPS + Cellular) [Series 4 onwards]
  • Watch Edition (GPS + Cellular) [Series 5 onwards]

If you have a GPS-only variant of an Apple Watch, you won’t be able to configure it for someone else using Family Setup. 

Related: What are the Maximum Limits of Apple Watch Ultra for Rugged Usage?

Family Setup Device requirements

Now that you’re familiar with the Apple Watch models that support Family Setup, you need to make sure your devices meet certain requirements before they can be used with Family Setup. 

  • Your compatible Apple Watch is running on watchOS 7 or later. 
  • The Apple Watch is new or has been erased so that you can set it up for your family member. Check this Apple Support page to unpair and erase the Apple Watch and reset it as new. 
  • You have an iPhone 6s or newer to set up the watch for your family member. 
  • The compatible iPhone is running on iOS 14 or later. 
  • Bluetooth is enabled on your iPhone for the setup process. 
  • Your iPhone and Apple Watch are well within the normal Bluetooth range (about 33 feet or 10 meters). 
  • (Optional) A cellular plan is available to be used with the Apple Watch; the plan isn’t required during setup but is necessary for making phone calls and sending messages. 

If the Apple Watch or iPhone running on older software, make sure you update them to the latest versions before starting the Family Setup process. 

Family Setup account requirements

In addition to the device requirements stated above, Family Setup can only be used if you meet the following account criteria for pairing the Watch with your iPhone. 

  • An Apple ID for the child or person you’re setting up an Apple Watch for. You cannot use the same Apple ID as yours to set it up under Family Setup. 
  • Your iPhone is signed into a different Apple ID than the one you’re about to use on the Apple Watch. 
  • The Apple ID on the iPhone is enabled with Two-factor authentication; if not check this Apple Support page to enable this feature. 
  • You’re the organizer of a Family Sharing group where you plan to add the person who’ll use the Apple Watch. Check our dedicated guide to set up Family Sharing from your iPhone. 

Apple Watch features available with Family Setup

If you set up an Apple Watch using Family Setup from your iPhone, here is a list of features that can be used on the Apple Watch when it’s used by your family member:

  • Make phone calls and FaceTime audio calls to trusted contacts. 
  • Use Walkie-Talkie to communicate with other Apple Watch users. 
  • Send and receive texts with the Messages app. 
  • View selected photos from a paired iPhone. 
  • Use Apple Maps for navigation. 
  • View and access reminders and family Calendar. 
  • Listen to songs and podcasts on Apple Music via headphones. 
  • High and low heart rate notifications (for ages 13 and older)
  • Heart Rate Variability (HRV) (for ages 18 and older)
  • Walking Steadiness (for ages 18 and older)
  • Fall Detection (for ages 18 and older)
  • Use Workouts and Activity apps on the Watch to view Activity awards and participate with friends in Activity competitions. 
  • Move minutes will show as a fitness metric inside the Activity app (for ages under 13)
  • Active calories will show as a fitness metric inside the Activity app (for ages 13 and older)
  • Apple Cash Family is available to make purchases and transfer money in the Messages app in the US (for ages under 18)
  • Use Siri to ask questions and translate, if enabled on the paired iPhone.
  • Outdoor Walk, Outdoor Run, and Outdoor Cycle exercises can be used on Apple Watches set up for kids with child-specific coaching notifications and language. 
  • Apps and games can be downloaded onto Apple Watch directly if they’re available for the selected age group. 

On the iPhone that was used to set up your family member’s Apple Watch, you can control and manage the following settings:

  • Set up Screen time and restrictions. 
  • Set up and add a cellular plan to the Apple Watch. 
  • Check for new watchOS updates. 
  • Change language and region.
  • Turn on Emergency SOS and set up emergency contacts. 
  • Set up a Schooltime schedule for kids and lock down watch during school hours. 
  • Manage fitness and activity for children. 
  • Turn on the handwashing timer and manage restrictions.
  • Add, view, and edit health details and data. 
  • View heart data of managed Apple Watch. 
  • Add a family member’s account to Mail & Calendar.
  • Edit smart replies and choose dictation options for the Messages app. 
  • Choose a photo album to show up on the watch and select the number of pictures the watch can display. 
  • Set up Apple Cash and Express Transit cards on Wallet & Apple Pay. 
  • Choose trusted contacts on the Contacts app. 
  • Manage notification settings for Find My app. 
  • Change accessibility settings for Apple Watch. 
  • Turn Environmental Sound Measurements on or off and set a noise threshold. 

Apple Watch Family Setup limitations

When you set up an Apple Watch with Family Setup for someone in your family, some features cannot be used on the Apple Watch even if the device supports these features natively. These include:

  • Cannot measure or track respiratory rate.
  • Family Setup Watch won’t receive irregular heart rhythm notifications. 
  • Cannot be used to record ECG. 
  • Sleep and cycle tracking aren’t available on Family Setup Apple Watch.
  • The watch cannot be used to check Wrist Temperature and Blood Oxygen. 
  • The Medications app won’t be accessible on the Watch. 
  • Apple Pay cannot be used with a credit or debit card with Family Setup. 
  • Apple Watch with Family Setup doesn’t support Audiobooks, Remote, News, Home, and Shortcuts apps. 

If you plan on using any of these above features, the Apple Watch used by your family member should be paired with their own iPhone instead of Family Setup. 

That’s all you need to know about the requirements and limitations of the Apple Watch with Family Setup. 


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1 Comment

  1. We are unable to load apps other than the default apple apps on the watch without its own iPhone (states “requires iPhone” when tries to load in watch App Store”. Is this a Canada only problem, or do you know a fix?

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