A fitness tracker of some sort has been part of my watch-wear for several years now. I lost my first Fitbit in an airport security check, but I loved my Nike Fuelband. There *is* motivation in knowing that your steps were being counted. I didn't really use the "social" aspects, but I did like the reporting on the web where I could look at my week/month/year views. A friend of mine used to talk about parking at the outside the parking lot so we could "fitbit around" and pick up some extra steps. This aspect of the fitness band craze is actually one of the most effective motivations. You want to hit your number.

Adding my Apple Watch to the mix a few months ago, has added some features and a new Fitness app, but it hasn't really changed my fitness tracking approach. But there is a lot more data, if I want to dig into it. Do you want BIG DATA around your fitness? I don't know yet. I *really* like the heartbeat monitor. But I have yet to correlate my expanded data with a new insight or new behavior based on my new Apple Watch.

In order for the Apple Watch's fitness application to really kick ass it's got to offer something new, something that I really want. Today, for me, not so much… Let me explain.

Here's what my watch reports back after a long match of tennis.

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and the fitness app shows the backup data when I look at it on my phone.

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Let's look at another example. Walking. And this time I'll show the heart rate data available in the Health app, which is native on your iPhone.

Here's the old school version of distance tracking. We've come a long way since this.

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This time I used the Fitness app on my Apple Watch to map the walk. Here's what the watch read when we got back to the car.

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And as I saved the data, here is what the Fitness app recorded.

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Pretty nice.

The fitness app does give you the option to set goals (Pace, Time, or Distance) and gives you vibrating indications to help you stay on track.

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I tend to use OPEN, no goal, as my starting point. But it is nice to have a discrete tracking of the walk. In the Health app, here's the same walk in the data on the iPhone. Now, if I kept my iPhone in my pocket, I can get this same data without a watch. It's built in. (Yes, right now on your iPhone, unless you turned it off, your Health app is tracking your steps.)

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The Apple Watch adds the Heart Rate dimension.

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By default, the new Apple Watch takes a pulse reading every hour. In theory, as I get more fit my heart rate will return to resting quicker. And I will be able to tolerate higher sustained bpm averages. The heart rate is the Apple Watch's killer feature. What you do with the heart rate data, that's up to you.

And the fact that it would be a lot harder to keep my iPhone in my pocket while I'm playing tennis. The Apple Watch does a great job of capturing that fitness data, even if you leave the iPhone at home.

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I use "Outdoor Run" as my activity, since there is no "Tennis."  And even without my iPhone, the display gives a quick assessment of my short morning workout.

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It was a leisurely morning tennis workout with my sweetheart.

And then there was the time, days after I got the watch in NYC, that we walked 15 miles!

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But, again, I could've gotten that with my iPhone in my pocket.

Pros:

  • Easy to track discrete workouts.
  • Can track vigorous activities that would preclude an iPhone in your pocket
  • Nice feedback during work out, if you're going for a pace or time/distance goal
  • Can track activity even when untethered from the iPhone
  • Does a fantastic job tracking heart rate data over time

Cons:

  • It hasn't revolutionized my fitness routine
  • Big data still has to be computed and evaluated
  • Fitness app doesn't really add much functionality
  • Data analysis has to be done on iPhone and most likely on a laptop with Excel

When the Apple Watch evolves, I'm sure they will continue to improve the fitness tracking function. And as Apple had already captured the #2 slot in fitness trackers, you can be assured that Apple is working on it. Heck, Nike is probably working on it, since they've discontinued their Nike Fuelband.

The Apple Watch does a lot more than fitness tracking. It's truly an interface for your phone. You can text, answer calls, and yes, track your fitness. I'm looking forward to "what's next" from my Apple Watch. But at this point, it's the best watch I've ever owned, and it does heart rate, and it lets me keep my iPhone in my tennis bag when I'm playing, and still get the activity data and heart rate data. I'll keep you apprised of any future developments.

I'm sure I am not a fitness enthusiast. I like my fitness tracking, as passive encouragement. I like to park a bit further from my destination and walk a bit further. But I'm not training for a race or tournament. And I'm not using the fitness and health apps to their highest potential. I like my tracking with pretty pictures and general stats. Adding the heart rate monitor to these data points is the big win for me and my Apple Watch. Your mileage and satisfaction may vary.

Check out the Apple Watch on Amazon.

John McElhenney
@jmacofearth (also seen on Google+: jmacofearth)
permalink: http://uber.la/2015/09/apple-watch-fitness/

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One Response to Apple Watch as Fitness Tracker: How Does It Stack Up?

  1. Jezza Ryland says:

    I love the fact that it works away from your iPhone and then syncs back up. The hard part of course is the calorie counters – you only get SO much accuracy from these things.

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