Health and Fitness

The original Apple Watch definitely emphasized health and fitness as part of the experience, but I think Apple actually underestimated how significant its role would be. There are many fitness trackers on the market, and many sell for a fraction of the price of a smartwatch. A smartwatch is not a dedicated fitness tracker, but users expect that it will be as useful for tracking health and fitness statistics as a dedicated fitness tracker. Of course, there are limitations in areas like sleep tracking due to the battery life that a smartwatch can achieve, but in general, a smartwatch should aim to be as good as the best fitness tracker in addition to all the other functionality it provides.

watchOS 3 comes with some useful additions related to fitness tracking, with some tying in to hardware improvements made with Apple Watch Series 2. While I’ll be covering these, I also have some thoughts to share based on my own experience with health and fitness tracking on the Apple Watch and how that has impacted my daily life.

When the Apple Watch was first announced I wasn’t sure if it would appeal to me because I was not particularly interested in fitness, and it seemed like I’d be paying for a number of fitness-related features that I wouldn’t use. This was my impression for smartwatches in general, but the Apple Watch was more expensive than the Android Wear devices available at the time. I eventually did get the least expensive model of the original Apple Watch for below its typical price, which I was able to justify as necessary to familiarize myself with the OS and to examine smartwatches as a development platform. At that time, I was still really skeptical that any of the health and fitness features would benefit me.

As time went on, I found myself making greater use of the fitness abilities built into the Apple Watch. For example, I originally felt that the reminders to stand up each hour were just a nuisance, but they made me think about how I often spend long periods working at a computer without standing up or really moving at all. At this point I still don’t obey them every time, especially if I’m in the middle of something when I get the notification, but I put in a greater effort than I did when I first got the watch. Similarly, I began to focus more on meeting my other activity goals, and I started using the Workouts application to track my activity when jogging or cycling.

A tipping point for me came earlier this year when I realized that I weighed thirty pounds more than I did one year prior. At that point I realized that I needed to make some serious changes regarding my diet and how much exercise I was doing, and the Apple Watch played a big part in both of these. Due in no small part to drinking large amounts of soda, I was taking in somewhere around 3000 calories every day without even realizing it until I actually did the math. However, as someone who clearly had never really kept an eye on their diet, I had no idea what I should bring that amount down to in order to have an overall deficit.

Because the Apple Watch monitors your movement and your heart rate, if you provide the iOS Health application with your mass and height it can provide an idea of your resting and active energy, which gave me exactly the information I needed to set my calorie targets. The Health app also serves as a journal to keep track of my calorie intake, along with specific information about what macronutrients are contributing to it. Combined with the Apple Watch’s Activity goals, I had created a set of health and fitness rules that would put me on the right path to meet my goals. Right now I’m about 75% of the way toward my target body mass, and I can safely say that I don’t have the conviction to keep on track without these technologies constantly keeping me in check.

While this story may not be directly relevant to you, I wanted to share it because I’m confident that I’m not the only one who thought they wouldn’t care at all about the health and fitness features of Apple Watch but discovered that it actually had value for them. Even if you aren’t heavily interested in fitness, the Apple Watch’s activity goals are a fun and non-intrusive way of ensuring that you get enough exercise, particularly as the winter days get colder and staying inside all day becomes increasingly enticing. I suppose the point I’m trying to make is that you should keep an open mind, as you may care about these things more than you currently realize, especially once you have something there to remind you about them.

It's hard to meet your Activity goals when you wake up at 3pm on a cold and rainy Saturday

Now, as I mentioned before, watchOS 3 and Apple Watch Series 2 come with some improvements for fitness tracking. I’ve already touched on the new Activity watch faces which put your Activity rings right in your view when you look at your watch. Of course, there was always an Activity complication, but it was much more difficult to check the status for the three individual goals with a tiny complication than it is with a dedicated watch face. Something I didn’t show earlier is that the Activity Analog face actually comes in two styles. The first has the three rings styled as they normally are, with the Move ring encircling the Exercise ring and the Stand ring in the center, while the second places each ring as a subdial. I personally use the first arrangement, but the subdial face is a nice throwback to traditional watches.

Apple Watch Series 2’s improved waterproofing allows it to be submerged at a depth of 50 meters. The original Apple Watch was generally able to survive a short time in the pool or taking a shower, but Apple didn’t explicitly advertise it as anything but water-resistant. With the Apple Watch now being officially waterproof, Apple has been able to add new workouts for open water swimming and pool swimming. I tend to avoid jumping into water in the winter, so I haven’t had a chance to test these modes, but as far as water-resistance goes I never had an issue with the original Apple Watch so I’ve had nothing to fear with Apple Watch Series 2. I did want to go back to the point I made earlier about the bands, as I’ve really been avoiding getting the watch wet due to how unpleasant it is to wear the nylon band after it absorbs water. If you plan to bathe, shower, or swim with Apple Watch Series 2, choose the Sport band.

Another new capability enabled by hardware improvements in Series 2 is accurate position tracking done directly on the watch. The Apple S2 SiP has integrated GPS, which means that it’s not necessary to bring an iPhone along on workouts. When you combine this with the Apple Watch’s ability to store music locally and play to Bluetooth headphones, it really makes it possible to go out for a run with music using only the Apple Watch. I’ve personally done this a number of times using Bluetooth headphones, and with the AirPods now shipping I would imagine that more users will try this out.

The last new health-related feature that I know of in watchOS 3 is the Breathe application. As its name suggests, this application encourages you to take time to relax and focus on deep breathing. By default, the app will also prompt you every four hours to take time to breathe. The idea behind this is that it can help with managing stress. Based on my own research, opinions are somewhat mixed on whether this is effective, but I did come across some reputable studies that showed a possible relation between this type of exercise and reduced stress. However, I’ve turned it off, and Apple’s quoting of a known charlatan when explaining its purpose at the launch event has done absolutely nothing to give me confidence in its efficacy. To each their own, but Breathe is one Apple Watch feature that I’ve been going without.

Overall, both watchOS 3 and Apple Watch Series 2 bring noticeable improvements in the health and fitness tracking experience. watchOS 3 now allows you to have your fitness goals at the forefront of the UI, and Apple Watch Series 2 gives you true waterproofing and accurate route tracking without the need of an iPhone. Syncing music to the watch means you can listen to music on a run without having a phone moving around in your pocket or strapped to your arm, although until the watch gets cellular you won’t be able to escape needing the paired iPhone for everything. Even so, Apple is definitely trying to hit and exceed the standards of the best fitness trackers, which is essential in a good smartwatch.

watchOS 3.0: Rethinking Core Concepts watchOS Apps: UI Design
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  • ddriver - Tuesday, December 20, 2016 - link

    It has got to be the shortest lived fad so far.
  • name99 - Tuesday, December 20, 2016 - link

    And IMHO you have no idea what you are talking about. This is EXACTLY the same as the nonsense we heard when the iPhone came out: "why do I want a phone that can run a browser when my PC has a bigger screen? my feature phone already runs apps fine. and it's sooo expensive".

    If you haven't used an aWatch you don't have a right to comment on it, it's that simple.
    Brandon actually left out a huge number of use cases.
    - He left out Siri -- I frequently use this especially for reminders "when I get home, remind me to pick up the alcohol swabs", "add soy milk to list Costco", "how many grams is 3.5 ounces".

    - He left out notifications which again are really nice on the wrist.

    - I have five different watch faces: sleepytime which tracks my sleep and uses big red numbers so less sharp when I see it in the dark; everyday which is dense with info - time, date (tap to get today's calendar events), weather, activity rings (small) next alarm, time in one other time zone; workout --- big activity rings, heart rate, button to get to workout app, battery left; space and time which allows easy access to Maps, where my friends are (Find my Friends) , and HomeKit control; and Photos (random photos of adorable baby animals that make my smile every time I see them).
    I swipe between all of these every day.

    In the dock I have "Now Press Record" which records what it hears and stores it to the cloud --- ready in case I have an encounter with police or other bolshy authority. Next is the audio controller app. (Unfortunately the one BIG missing feature on aWatch today is decent handling of audiobooks as opposed to just music. Hopefully in WatchOS4 ...) Next the Nest Camera app. It doesn't do much (in particular it does NOT send you a snapshot of what the camera is seeing) but it DOES allow you very easily and quickly to validate that the camera is correctly armed when you expected it to be. Next Automatic (just gives direction to where you parked, but that's all you want on the wrist). Next Homekit which I, for now, primarily use to check out the temperature in my bedroom.

    Some other subtleties the article missed. In addition to replying to texts via voice, you can also write one letter at a time. This might sound dumb but is occasionally useful for a short reply that needs to be exact. (Like giving a price or a time.) And with WatchOS 3 and Series 2 the device FEELS delightful in a way that Series 0 did not because the performance just wasn't there.
    Oh and Apple Pay is really convenient (modulo the on-going stores too stupid or too cheap to support wireless payments).

    It's not all perfect. The one HUGE case that doesn't work well is if you want to go on an outdoor walk/run to somewhere you don't know, so you want both Maps and Workout to be active simultaneously. In this case both apps want to control the screen, there's no ideal way to flip between them and in one case their fighting landed up wedging my watch (that was with an older version of the OS so hopefully it's fixed now). There seems room for at least some special-case intelligence here to appreciate that this is a common situation and to handle it better.

    As for how well they are doing, like other commenters on the internet, I'm starting to see them more and more. For the first year I never saw one in the wild, now I see one at least once a week, on the wrists of people like cashiers or waiters.
  • negusp - Tuesday, December 20, 2016 - link

    But for $400? I made my argument against premium priced wearables.
  • fanofanand - Wednesday, December 21, 2016 - link

    "If you haven't used an aWatch you don't have a right to comment on it, it's that simple."

    Interesting logic. So nobody is allowed to have an opinion about anything they don't personally own or haven't experienced? I suggest you start out by telling all of the protesters who were never in a war that they don't have the right to an opinion. To all the folks protesting police for questionable behavior, if they haven't personally been shot then they have no right to an opinion. If you don't own a 2014 Ford Mustang, you have no right to have an opinion on it. To all the vegans who think meat is murder, if they've never had a steak they have no right to their opinion.

    Simple as that.
  • monopodman - Friday, December 23, 2016 - link

    A world would definitely be a better place with fewer opinions from people who have no idea. But yeah, that's just a dream.
  • MonkeyPaw - Tuesday, December 20, 2016 - link

    I bought a Series one for $190 on Black Friday. I like it quite a bit for that price, and I've tried other bands as well. I like that I can keep my phone on silent all day long, and I don't even have to dig it out of my pocket (or even have it on me) for many things. It's also compatible with my work's Outlook setup, so I have my calendar events right on the face. Having an extra motivator to be active is nice as well.

    I get that these aren't for everyone, and I think $400 is too much, but I like the Apple Watch for what I use it for.
  • amdwilliam1985 - Tuesday, December 20, 2016 - link

    my wife just got a XiaoMi fit 2 for $200HKD.
    It got like close to 1 month of battery life(wtf), tells time, heart time, sleep tracking, vibrate with phone call and notification.
  • Midwayman - Wednesday, December 21, 2016 - link

    I don't have an issue paying $400 for a watch. I have plenty of those. They even do far less. The real issue is the lifespan. I can expect decades out of a quality traditional watch. A smartwatch I'm probably lucky if it lasts 3 years between battery issues and plain getting outdated. Its just another fairly large recurring cost. You have to pick and choose which tech products are worth keeping up with I guess.
  • jaydee - Wednesday, December 21, 2016 - link

    It's all about Apple trying to convince you that your time an effort is such a valuable commodity, that you have to buy a $400 device to do 20% of what your $800 iPhone can do, just by looking at your wrist instead of the arduous and back-breaking task of pulling something out of your pocket.

    Hence Brandon's comment in the article:
    "Being able to check the time, the weather, the date, and other information simply by raising your wrist is just a convenience, and it's nothing your iPhone can't do as well, but it's a convenience that I wouldn't want to give up now that I have it."
  • KoolAidMan1 - Thursday, December 22, 2016 - link

    I see wearables everywhere now. The most common are Apple Watches and Fitbits.

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