Apple Watch as Fitness Tracker
With the release of the Apple Watch, fitness junkies everywhere are in a stir! Read below to learn about the features of this new wearable activity tracker and fitness tool. The Apple Watch will sell for $349 in early 2015.
Updated Sep 9, 2014
Apple Watch for Fitness Tracking: Sensors & Apps
An accelerometer and gyroscope in the Apple Watch track your activity throughout the day. Wifi and GPS from your phone combine with this data to record the distance you've traveled. Sensors on the back of the watch capture your heart rate (continuously during workout mode) and a "Taptic Engine" produces "tap-like" alerts against your wrist.
Apple Watch Fitness Apps
The Apple Watch comes with two fitness-centric apps, the Apple "Workout" app and the Apple "Activity" App.
The Workout app is for use during exercise and workouts. Begin by launching the app, choosing the activity you'll be doing (cycling, running, etc.), and set a goal for duration of exercise, calories burned, or distance covered. During your workout, you can see your progress in a glance by looking at the Apple Watch, including how far you've gone, how fast you are, and how long you've been working out. At the end of your workout, you can see a summary of your sweat session. You also can earn awards for your fitness achievements. Finally, the Workout app has a built-in coach that learns from your past performance to suggest customized fitness goals to help you take your fitness to the next level.
The Activity app measures your activity throughout the day, and reports on the running tallies of three metrics via an attractive 3-ring interface: duration of brisk activity, total calories burned, and standing breaks from extended periods of sitting. The three rings are nested on the app's home screen, but can be viewed individually for additional detail. Your daily activity data is stored and can be viewed on the Apple Watch via an attractive fitness calendar view.
The new Apple Health app receives data from the above fitness apps. From the Health App, you can browse current and historic charts of your data. Third party developers can interface with this data to offer you more perks. For example, a calorie-counting web service or app that you use could interface with the Health App to take note of how many calories you actually burned in a day, and then accordingly adjust the number of recommended calories you can eat that day in order to stay on track with your health goals.
Apple Watch Styles, Sizes & Bands
The Apple Watch features three styles and comes in two sizes. In addition, there are also six types of bands to choose from.
Three Styles: Basic, Edition, Sport
The styles, known as "Collections", range from a basic model to a sports model and a luxury model, as reflected by different metals used for the cases and different materials used for the watch faces. The chassis of the basic model is made of stainless steel, while the high-end luxury "Edition" model sports a hardened 18-karat gold case in yellow gold or rose gold. The "Sport" model is geared toward both style and sport, with an attractive yet lightweight aluminum case that comes in silver and space gray. The watch face of the Basic and "Edition" models are sapphire crystal with anti-reflective coating. The "Sport" model watch face is made of ion-X glass, which is a lightweight and very impact-resistant and scratch-resistant alumina-silica glass. "Ion-X" refers to an exchange of smaller ions for larger ions in the glass surface, which lends strength and durability.
Two Sizes: Small, Large
Sizing ensures that the watch will feel comfortable on both large and small wrists. The case size for the small watch is 38mm (case length). The large size is 42mm (case length). Both have the same features and software.
Many Band Styles that Vary by Watch Collection
The Apple Watch's band selection is designed to appeal to a wide range of preferences and use cases. The bands come in a variety of colors, and bands' buckle styles match the given model; there are gold buckles for the gold-case "Edition" watches, for example.
For the Basic model, choose from a flouroelastomer sport band in black or white; an embedded magnet leather band in stone, light brown, or light blue; a modern buckle leather band in soft pink, brown, or midnight blue; a classic buckle leather band -- only in black; stainless steel links with butterfly closure in "space black" stainless steel or standard stainless steel; and magnetic closure Milanese Loop -- only in stainless steel.
The "Sport" model's band options include the flouroelastomer sport band in black, white, and three more colors: a salmony pink, light blue, and bright yellow-green.
The "Edition" model's band options include a yellow gold case with modern buckle and bright red leather strap, black sport band, or midnight blue classic band; Or, a rose gold case with modern buckle and rose gray leather strap, or white sport band.
Apple Watch as Sleep Tracker
Apple has not said anything -- yet -- about tracking sleep with the Apple Watch. The watch does have the sensors needed to track sleep. However, Apple has not announced an accompanying native app for sleep analysis.
Whether the watch can be used for nightly sleep analysis will depend largely on the battery life -- which has not yet been announced. If the battery requires a re-charge at the end of each day, it will need to be paired with its inductive charging base during some portion of the day -- or night, when you'd like it to be on your wrist for sleep tracking. However, if the battery can hold a sufficient charge for more than a day at a time, then it will be available at night to be worn on the wrist for sleep tracking. I'll return to this section to update both battery specs and the potential for sleep tracking once more information becomes available.
Fitness Tracker Fran's Thoughts
I'm going to share my initial thoughts on the Apple Watch as an activity tracker, having purchased and used about 15 different activity trackers over the last two years and researched and written about many more. I'm planning to get my hands on an Apple Watch at some point in 2016 to provide first hand insights.
One of my go-to features in an activity tracker is a screen that provides a readout of current progress and stats. The Apple Watch has this down -- not only do two different apps show plenty of stats (in full color, no less), you can customize the watch's home screen to suit your preferences. That means it should be possible to set one of these physical activity readouts as the home screen default. I find that having the information right on my wrist serves as both a motivating tool and a reminder.
The many styles of the watch are a plus, but not quite what I'd want: If you buy the best Apple Watch for physical activity, the Sport, it only comes in a sporty look. There's no accompanying band that lets you dress it up for a formal event. If you opt for the Basic watch, you do have a variety of band choices, but the watch is heavier, and it's not yet clear whether it's easy to replace bands. And if you opt for the hardened gold Edition watch, you also have a variety of band choices, but run the risk of taking your luxury watch on some dangerously action-packed adventures.
The band doesn't track steps. This makes it an outlier among most trackers, but is not a strike against it, in my book. Why? Because, though I've grown to cherish the steps counted by my FitBit Flex, it discourages me from doing other activities that don't register steps, like cycling or swimming. I pass them over in favor of step-heavy activities. This became very clear to me when I started using the MisFit Shine, which converts all activity to "points", whether you've been running, cycling, or swimming. Suddenly, when I started using the MisFit Shine, I felt like my other activity was being legitimized and I started pursuing a much more balanced set of activities. I imagine that the Apple Watch, with its focus on calories burned and minutes spent doing active activity, will also help push me in the same direction.
Unfortunately it only tracks distance with the aid of the WiFi and GPS of your accompanying iPhone. When I'm out on a run, I don't always want to have to have both the watch and the phone with me to get distance -- in fact, I can't stand running with a phone. I'd much rather opt for a fitness tracker or sports watch that has full features without needing me to carry a smartphone as well.
However! Many activity trackers use a single accelerometer, just like the Apple Watch has, to track steps from the wrist. These wearables use a customizable walking and a running stride length to estimate distance you've traveled. In my opinion, it's very likely that Apple or a third party app developer will make an app for the Apple Watch that has these features, which would negate the need to carry an iPhone for distance data and bring the watch in line with my expectations in this area.
Finally, Apple hasn't released information on the heart rate sensor. It's not clear whether it records continuous resting heart rate or only takes a heart rate reading as a momentary snapshot on request. It has also not be announced whether the heart rate sensor will maintain accuracy during high-intensity workout. A smartwatch with a great heart rate sensor would be a big plus in my book -- but we'll have to wait for a few more months before we have the final word on the Apple heart rate sensor's capabilities.
Despite a few drawbacks (in terms of my preferences) and some unanswered questions, the Apple Watch has enough fitness features in my book to serve the important function of highly capable smartwatch and activity tracker in one. In a world where many fitness trackers don't show a time display or even basic stopwatch or alarm functions, and where many smartwatches don't do justice to the world of fitness data, the Apple Watch has the potential to begin streamlining what's worn on the wrist while increasing the available features on all fronts.
Previous, Pre-Release Speculation:
As the much-awaited release of the Apple iWatch nears, experts have been weighing in on the possibility of its potential as a fitness tool.
With the release of the iWatch likely to occur in Fall of 2014, it seems only prudent to consolidate some of the rumors and opinions relevant to the iWatch as a potential tool for tracking fitness, activity, sleep, and more.
iWatch Sensors for Fitness Tracking
This June, the Wall Street Journal reported that the iWatch smartwatch is expected to contain more than 10 sensors, including those relevant to fitness tracking. According to the article, there might be at least two sizes -- men's and women's -- packed with biometric sensors that will offer fitness capabilities on top of standard smartwatch connectivity features.
The iWatch biometric sensors have been rumored to potentially include a "sweat detector" (according to CultofMac and Laoyaoba) ; a heart rate sensor (according to a report from Reuters) ; and may include any of the sensors already housed in the iPhone 5S, which include the M7 Core Motion Processor, ambient light sensor, accelerometer, gyroscope, proximity sensor, magnetometer and fingerprint ID sensor.
The sensors already available to the iPhone 5S, if housed in an iWatch, could be used to track sleep and steps. When steps and heart rate are measured by the iWatch and then paired up with user-entered data like height, weight and gender, the phone could estimate calories burned throughout the day.
Keep your eye on this review -- as more sensors are revealed, they will be added here.
iWatch as Sleep Tracker
Equipped with motion sensors and a heart rate sensor, the iWatch should be capable of quality sleep detection; Heart rate and body motion are two key factors that wearables algorithms use to determine sleep quality and the transitions between sleep cycles. Read more about sleep sensor products on the market >
According to the site 9to5Mac, Apple has hired a sleep research expert, Roy Raymann -- further suggesting an iWatch or new apple product with the capability of measuring and tracking sleep.
Apple's HealthKit is a set of code that will become available to Apple developers in its finished form with the official release of iOS 8 (a beta version of HealthKit is currently available to developers testing iOS8). The HealthKit code will give developers the tools needed to send data from their fitness trackers to a single Health App so a user can see all their health and wearables metrics through a single portal. The HealthKit could also theoretically be used by developers to tap into the iWatch's health-centric data.
Apple has been working with the Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, and National Institute of Health on HealthKit.
Apple's Speculative iWatch Partnerships and Hires