It can't do the running for you, but an Apple Watch is pretty good at motivating you to do it yourself. In the early days a lot of the motivation came from badges, but these days the social aspect has become more important.

In this article we explain how to share your Apple Watch Activity data, and thereby reap the motivational benefits of not wanting to embarrass yourself in front of a mate.

Why share Activity data?

In watchOS 3, Apple introduced the option to share your Activity data with a friend. In watchOS 5 the company went one step further by allowing you to challenge a friend to a 7-day competition with a special badge for whoever gets the most Activity points in that time. (And in watchOS 6, we hope it will introduce larger competitions for more than two people.)

These features are effective because they harness our own innate competitiveness, and offer both social reward (bragging rights when you win a competition or approval when you have a good day and your friend sees this) and social punishment (the shame of missing a goal in front of your friends). These are powerful tools.

How to share Activity data

Sharing is done on an invitational and two-way basis. One party sends the invite, the other accepts, and then data is shared in both directions (although one party can then choose to hide their data).

Open the Activity app on the paired iPhone and tap the Sharing icon at the bottom right. This is the screen where you'll see the progress of all your sharing friends, but the first time you come here it'll be pretty bare.

Tap the plus sign at the top right to open the Share Activity screen. Enter the email address or phone number of your friend in the To field (you'll see suggestions below, as well as autocompletes when you start typing), then tap Send. You can invite more than one person at once by entering multiple contact details.

How to share Apple Watch Activity data: Invitation

And now we play the waiting game. Once the invitation is accepted, you will see their Activity rings, together with their current progress towards today's Move target as a percentage, in the Sharing tab. You can tap an entry to see more information.

How to share Apple Watch Activity data: Sharing tab

(By default, friends will be sorted alphabetically. Tap 'Name' at the top left to see other sorting options.)

You will also, more conveniently, be able to view friends' Activity data from your Apple Watch. Open the Activity app and simply swipe across the screen from right to left. You'll switch to the sharing screen.

How to share Apple Watch Activity data: Sharing screen

What data is shared?

This is a two-way street, so you can easily see what data is being shared with your friends by tapping on a friend's listing in the Sharing tab and seeing what you can see.

The first thing to note is that it's not retrospective: you can only see data for the days since you started sharing.

You can see their daily progress in the three rings, as well as steps and distance travelled. You'll also see bare details of any workouts, but not route or timings or anything like that. (The actual notification you get when a friend does a workout is slightly more informative, offering distance, active calories and total calories.)

How to share Apple Watch Activity data: Workout notification

At the bottom of the screen you'll see any awards they've received today.

Finally, consider notifications. Whenever you complete a workout, or close a ring, your friends will all get a notification - something to take into account if for some reason you are embarrassed about the lateness of your jogging sessions. We tend to find, however, that the notifications are often extremely delayed anyway: we are often told that a colleague has finished a workout when they have been sitting motionless next to us for half an hour.

How to mute notifications

Some members of the Macworld team have been known to complain that the endless notifications of so-and-so completing this workout or closing that ring can grow tedious. Fortunately you can fine-tune the notifications you get (somewhat) so that they remain motivational, rather than annoying.

From the Sharing tab, tap on a friend, then scroll down to the bottom of the screen. You'll see an option to Mute Notifications (from this friend only). Tap again to unmute them.

How to share Apple Watch Activity data: Mute notifications

How to hide your activity

From the same menu at the bottom of a friend's entry, tap 'Hide my Activity' to stop sharing your data with that person. You will remain friends in the app, however, and you will keep receiving their data. You can tap the button again at any time to stop hiding.

How to stop sharing

Finally, and from the same menu, tap Remove Friend to stop sharing entirely.