KUALA LUMPUR, June 17 — Apple announced it was making the Fitness app available to everyone with an iPhone, and not just those with Apple Watches.
It’s a similar move to Fitbit who very early on made their app available to all users without needing to own one of the company’s wearables.
Does that mean there are less compelling reasons to buy an Apple Watch? I’d argue no. With the latest upcoming update to the fitness wearable’s software it has become an even more compelling buy for those who want to get a little more serious about getting fit.
The deal is the data
In the beginning most fitness trackers were little more than glorified step counters.
What, in the end, set the better ones apart was what metrics were collected and how useful they were.
Apple’s heart rate, ECG, aFib and blood oxygen trackers have proven to be literal life savers with so many stories about users being alerted to possible red flags about their heart health.
With the watchOS 9 updates, a new heart health aid will come in the aFib history feature that will let users who have shown aFib symptoms have a record of aFib instances.
While it has been FDA-cleared, when or if it will be available in other countries will depend on individual countries’ medical licensing bodies.
Theoretically, however, countries that have already approved the aFib detection feature might have less resistance to approving this new capability so Malaysian users can keep their fingers crossed.
Related to heart health, Apple has also upped its cardiovascular tracking game by complementing its Cardio Fitness tracking with Cardio Recovery.
Why is this a big deal? Tracking how long it takes for your heart rate to return to normal after a workout is a good indicator of cardiovascular health.
What is also interesting is that you do not need to reach peak intensity to measure cardio recovery with the Apple Watch.
Having the watch measure it automatically is much easier than doing it the manual way where you would need to work out the difference between your heart rate at the end of a workout, and one minute after.
Working out according to heart rate zones (HRZ) is a popular method to achieve both maximum efficiency while avoiding injury.
Previously while working out on my exercise bike, I had to manually calculate my HRZs and constantly be checking my chest strap monitor readings so I would stay within the zones to hit my target.
Apple has now added the ability via a new Workout view that can either create HRZs for you, by calculating your estimated max heart rate and resting heart rate.
You can also instead manually create those zones and then the watch will help you see how much time you spend working in a said zone.
My more dedicated runner friends preferred other, more specialised devices such as those by Garmin. Perhaps to appeal to that crowd, Apple has added a whole slew of metrics for runners.
These include Ground Contact Time, Stride Length and Vertical Oscillation. Apple already supports the ability to calculate cadence and pace.
What I find intriguing is the ability to measure Power ― a metric for responsive energy demand. By setting a power target, runners can set their efforts to measurable levels that they can sustain.
Power can either be added to a Workout view or users can use the specialised Power Workout View for visualisation.
Also runner-friendly are the new Pacer and Custom Workout options. With Pacer, you can set a goal time for a set distance, and the required pace will be calculated for you.
You will then be given pace alerts to help you reach your Pacer goal.
The new Custom Workouts will also let you better tweak your workouts to structure it for intervals that incorporate both work and recovery.
For overachieving multisport athletes, the Multisport workout now can auto-detect when you switch from swimming to cycling to running, which will be useful for triathlon participants.
There is also a Workout summary so you can see details about your heart rate, pace, cadence and more with swimmers now getting a new stroke added ― the kickboard.
Apps for you
Because I got asked for app recommendations, here’s a few of my favourites for those who want to get the maximum out of their Apple Watch fitness experience.
While the Fitness app on its own is great for tracking the basic rings, it’s good to explore what else is out there on the App Store.
HRV4Training: Heart rate variation, or the interval between heart beats, is also a good measure of fitness and HRV4Training makes measuring it easy.
As Apple doesn’t let developers access all the metrics directly, HRV4 Training relies on calculating HRV via using the Breathe app. It’s both a nice way to get me to use Breathe once a day (usually first thing in the morning) and a way to gauge my general fitness readiness.
The data collected (a minimum of four days is required) helps the app determine a baseline and will then recommend either keeping to your normal intensity while working out or taking it easy.
The app is purchasable for RM39.90.
Strava: For runners and cyclists, it’s basically like a dedicated social network. Until it stopped working properly with my exercise bike, I liked how it collected data on my cycling workouts and helped me decide what/when to share the details with my Strava friends.
Since it’s fiddly indoors, I would recommend it more to people doing outdoor cycling and running but walking is also supported as well as various other activities.
It’s free to download but there is a premium option should you want to see more metrics.
Nike Training & Nike Run Club: Both these Nike apps are great companions. Training offers a whole bunch of in-app workouts that you can just start from your Apple Watch and your Watch will then prompt you to follow along, with little alerts to change position or move.
Nike Run Club offers not just advice and coaching, but also alerts you to events run in your area. It also recently held a Kuala Lumpur running event on May 22, which is encouraging news for Malaysian runners.
Both apps are free to download.
Steps: If you just want a clean design and a visual history of your walks, then Steps keeps it simple and affordable. It will take data from your Health app and then suggest a step goal. No expensive subscription plans here ― just pay RM7.90 and you’ll get pro features, with no ads and a clean Apple Watch interface, as well as complications to add to your watch face.
Walkr: Step Count Fitness Game: While this isn’t an Apple Watch app, it’s still nice to have to complement your watch. This app has been around for the longest of times and I’ve used it on Android and iPhones. Free to download with entirely optional in-game purchases, it’s simple ― rack up the steps to power up your virtual space ship and colonies.
HeartWatch: Still my favourite heart rate measurement app that displays my heart rate and other data in an easy to understand format, while also giving you insight on your daily activities as well as sleep data.
While I do wish there would be more fun stuff on the Apple Watch (where are the games?) as it is, it’s still the best health wearable device for almost everyone but Android users, someone on a very small budget and specific pro users.
With the coming of watchOS 9, Apple demonstrates just why the Apple Watch is still the world’s most popular wearable.