Apple Watch keeps going to the compass screen? How to fix it

Apple Watch Keeps Going to Compass How to fix

Several readers have asked why their Apple Watch keeps going to compass mode after a brief period of inactivity (usually 10-20 seconds) instead of their chosen watch face.

That Compass may also show a footsteps icon at the bottom right of the screen to indicate that it’s using the Compass Waypoints and Backtrack features that retrace your route and help you follow your previous route and steps if you are lost. Backtrack feature on Apple Watch Compass

This problem happens irrespective of the Apple Watch model. Users running watchOS 9 on their Apple Watch Series 8, Series 7, or the new Apple Watch Ultra have seen this issue.

This issue is not a software bug associated with watchOS 9 but is more of a Settings app configuration. Also, you can always return to your watch face by pressing the Digital Crown.

Related reading:

Seeing the Compass App screen instead of your watch face?

As an Apple Watch user, you have the choice of what screen/app your device returns to after a brief period of inactivity. Ideally, most users want to return to the clock watch face when their device is inactive.

This is controlled via the Return to Clock setting on your Apple Watch. Here’s how you can manage this setting on your Apple Watch.

Open the Settings app on your Apple Watch. Under Return to Clock, choose when you want your Apple Watch to return to the clock face.

  1. Open the Settings app on your Apple Watch.Settings App on Apple Watch Ultra
  2. Tap on General.
  3. Next, scroll down and choose Return to Clock.Return to Clock Face Setting on Apple Watch
  4. Choose Always or After two minutes here. DO NOT select After 1 hour.
  5. Scroll down to the section under APPS.
  6. Tap on Compass.Stop Apple Watch from going to compass automatically
  7. Turn off Return to App under WHEN IN SESSION here.

This should take care of the issue. 

Essentially, when you are setting up the ‘Return to Clock’ setting, you have the choice of selecting an app that your Apple Watch reverts to after a brief period of inactivity.

Think of it as a screensaver for your Apple Watch. This could be any app that is available under the Return to App section in your watch’s settings.

All you have to do is to disable the setting under When in Session and choose ‘Always’ in the main setting, as explained in the steps above.

You can return to the clock face at any time by ending the active session of the app.

Final thoughts

We hope that this short article on the ‘Return to Clock’ settings helped you exit out of the compass mode on your Apple Watch.

Please let us know if you have any questions or concerns.

I am a technologist with years of experience with Apple and wearOS products and have a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science. In my day job, I advise fortune 500 companies with their digital transformation strategies and also consult with numerous digital health startups in an advisory capacity. I'm VERY interested in exploring the digital health&fitness-tech evolution and keep a close eye on patents, FDA approvals, strategic partnerships and developments happening in the wearables and digital health sector. When I'm not writing or presenting, I run with my Apple Watch or Fossil Gen 5 LTE and keep a close eye on my HRV and other recovery metrics.


  1. Thank you!! This was driving me crazy!! I have had Apple watches forever but my Ultra started doing this 2 weeks ago and couldn’t figure it out.


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