ReadWriteBody is an ongoing series in which ReadWrite covers networked fitness and the quantified self.
Apple’s new smartwatch, the simply named Apple Watch, aims to help everyone from couch potatoes to elite athletes get fitter. Can it really do it all?
Starting at $349, the new device—which will go on sale next year—is two to three times more expensive than most dedicated fitness trackers and GPS sport watches. There will certainly be cheaper ways to track exercise—including free apps that run on the iPhone and use its built-in sensors to detect movement.
The Apple Watch will come with two new built-in apps, the Fitness app and the Workout app. Breaking those functions into separate apps is smart. Where most simple fitness trackers like the Jawbone Up and Fitbit fail to capture activity is when you step foot inside a gym, since they’re really geared around measuring steps.
For people looking for basic motivation—the same market buying Fitbits and Ups—the Fitness app will cover their needs, measuring daily minutes of activity. It will also detect standing versus sitting, encouraging wearers to stand up once an hour.
The Workout app will cater to more sophisticated fitness aficionados, using what Apple CEO Tim Cook described as “custom sensors” to measure the “intensity” of exercise sessions by detecting heart rate.
It’s not clear whether the Apple Watch will capture true, detailed, real-time heart rate data, or whether it will approximate it, as other fitness watches have done. If it’s too much of an approximation, elite athletes may snub the Apple Watch for traditional devices like chest straps.
That’s an example of where Apple’s attempt to cover the entire fitness market may stretch too far.
What The Apple Watch Means For The Rest Of Us
Fitness-app developers and fitness-tracker makers will now have to cover more than just the basics.
When Apple first revealed HealthKit at its Worldwide Developers Conference in June, it offered scant details about its capabilities, which were actually pretty thin compared to some more-developed health and fitness APIs. Subsequent releases of beta versions of HealthKit showed improvement, particularly for exercise tracking.
HealthKit’s greatest strength and greatest flaw is its dependence on Apple hardware. Health information is siloed onto a user’s iPhone, and can’t even be stored to iCloud (except possibly in the form of a backup file for the whole device). The Apple Watch will, presumably, feed data into a HealthKit data store on the iPhone, too.
That makes it easier for Apple to control the sharing of information, since the device can ask the user for permissions every time a piece of health data is shared to a new app, but it limits the flexibility of what developers can create, particularly if they want to offer Web and Android versions of the same service.
And developers may find they lack much of an incentive to create fitness apps for the Apple Watch, given how much ground Apple has covered with its Fitness and Workout apps.
While we’re waiting for the iWatch, the iPhone 6 actually makes a perfectly fine fitness tracker. Like the 5S, it has a built-in motion-tracking chip that can measure steps and other activity. A newly added barometer means the device can track elevation as well as distance and speed.
See also: What You Can Do With The Apple Watch
Apple’s move to cover much of the fitness world itself could actually boost developer interest in Google Fit, the equivalent of HealthKit from Apple’s mobile archrival. While Google Fit is designed to work well with Android, it also can work with Web apps and even, with some software latticework, with iOS apps that run on the iPhone.
We’ve got several months before the Apple Watch hits the market. So it will be interesting to see how rivals and partners react. Fitness-tracking hardware and software will have to get much cheaper, or much more powerful, or both. Doing the same old fitness routine will no longer be an option.