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How to make your Apple Watch tell the wrong time

Did you know you can force the Apple Watch to display the wrong time? You can. In fact, you can make it add up to 59 minutes to the actual time, and show that bogus data on the main display.

It’s either the most useless setting on the Apple Watch or the most useful, depending on your point of view. Here’s how to make your Apple Watch tell the wrong time.

How to set your Apple Watch time ahead

The Apple Watch's clock settings.
The Apple Watch’s clock settings.
Photo: Cult of Mac

To show the incorrect time on your Apple Watch, all you have to do is open up the Settings app on the watch, then tap on the Clock button. The top entry in the Clock setting section is Set Watch Face Display Time Ahead, and that’s exactly what it does. Tap it to see a clock face, and use the Digital Crown to crank the minutes forward. You cannot set the time offset backward — you can only add minutes. But you can go pretty far into the future, adding from one to 59 minutes to the actual time.

You can decrease the accuracy of your Apple Watch by up to 59 minutes.
You can decrease the accuracy of your Apple Watch by up to 59 minutes.
Photo: Cult of Mac

The best part of all this is that it’s all a scam, perpetrated for your benefit. The Apple Watch itself is never fooled by these shenanigans. Even if you set your watch almost an hour ahead, all alarms, and all other time-based features (activity tracking, etc.) will run on time. Set your Apple Watch 15 minutes ahead, and your 6 a.m. alarm will wake you up at 6 a.m., even while the watch shows 6:15.

Why would you want to set the wrong time?

Why on earth would you take a super-accurate timepiece and deliberately set it to show the wrong time? The most common reason I have gotten, after asking around, is that it stops you from being late. Setting the watch a few minutes fast tricks you into leaving early for appointments or to get to work. But why not just learn to leave on time?

For example, say you’re always 10 minutes late getting to the office, and say that you usually leave at 7:20 a.m. The answer isn’t to set your watch forward 10 minutes, and then keep leaving at “7:20 a.m.” The answer is to leave at 7:10 a.m.

The watch will ignore the fact that you set the time fast, so your alarms still ring on time. But if you set your Apple Watch time forward, what does “on time” even mean anymore? You have already uncoupled yourself from the consensus timeline, so your alarms are meaningless. If your morning wakeup alarm sounds at 6:30 a.m., and you glance at the watch and see 6:10, what does that mean? What about a calendar alert to go to a meeting? The alert sounds at 3 p.m., for example, and yet your watch shows 3:10 p.m., or even 3:59 p.m. if you set your watch ahead to the maximum-allowed offset.

How can this nonsense help anyone? You’re spending the whole day, every day, having to work out what the real time is, and never really knowing when you are. What a terrible habit to cultivate, when the fix is so simple — just learn not to leave too late.

Wear two watches?

Still, even this terrible habit is better than an even worse timekeeping sin — wearing two watches. When I was in school, we had what we then called a “dinner lady.” (She would now be called a “supervisory lunch operative.”) She wore two or three watches (it was too long ago for me to remember the exact number), all on the same wrist. She said the setup meant she could work out the “real” time. Three watches, 3x the accuracy, right?

But the actual result was that she never knew the real time. Or rather, she could never settle on one useable time. It added unnecessary confusion. Now, in her defense, this was a long time ago, and her mechanical watches may not have been very accurate. But why would you buy a tool to make a job easier — telling the time — and then deliberately sabotage it so that you have to think about it every time?

It’s like buying a tape measure that has been zoomed in or out 10%, so each inch or centimeter is now 1.1 inches or centimeters. It will ensure that you never under-measure anything, but you’ll have to think about it every single time. Or maybe it’ll prevent over-measuring? You see the problem?

Anyhow, if you want to make life harder for yourself, every minute of every day, instead of just learning that if you’re always late, then you should leave a little earlier — now you know how.

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