To use the Watch as a fitness tracker, you simply open up its workout app, where you choose from a handful of basic workouts like outdoor run, elliptical, or rower, and then select how many calories you want to burn or how long you want to exercise. Then hit start. It’s that simple. (For most workouts, though, like calisthenics or CrossFit, you’ll choose the “other” category.) As you exercise, you can watch your heart rate by glancing at the phone.
I hate my iPhone. It’s too good at what it does.
Whenever I open my 6 Plus, I find myself lost. I want to check the weather, but suddenly I’m flipping through Instagram. I need to look at my calendar for the address of an appointment, yet somehow I find myself clicking through podcast updates. As a distraction, it’s the adult equivalent of going to Toys “R” Us.
If you’re like me, I have good news for you: Apple has solved this problem, and it’s called the Apple Watch.
Ironically, the Watch’s small face turns out to be its saving grace. The screen is only big enough for so much information, and that means the information must be useful. The little computer is like a cowpuncher herding all the frenetic noise of messages, alerts, texts, phone calls into something resembling a manageable information feed. Once you’ve personalized all your alerts and notifications—which isn’t easy, I may add—each time you check your Watch you’ll see everything from emails to the next event on your calendar. Yes, this probably seems frivolous, but it’s not. For me, it was like getting unchained.
Take maps, for instance. Plug a destination into your phone and then put it away. Let your watch takeover. A flick of the wrist, and, whether you’re driving, walking through a new town, or, like me, riding a motorcycle, you’re good to go. And it’s these kinds of applications—checking out with Apple Pay, checking in at an airport gate, using the watch as a hotel key—are where the Watch will continue to simplify life. A week ago there were only a few dozen Watch apps, but as of this writing there are 2,143 and counting. Every few minutes a new app gets approval.
Now, when it comes to fitness, the Watch outperforms all the other fitness trackers on the market. At its most basic, it encourages you to be active via three “rings” users are required to fill each day. The first is the “stand” ring, which requires standing one minute each hour. And if you’ve sat for 50 minutes straight, the Watch will nudge you to move.
Next is the “move” ring, and to fill it in you need to move enough to reach your daily goal of calories burned. And last is the “exercise” ring, which requires 30 minutes a day for completion. You can inform the Watch when you’re doing a workout or it will let decide on its own when your activity is vigorous enough. But if you want constant heart rate monitoring, you need to let the device know you’re doing a formal workout.
The heart rate monitor isn’t exactly perfect, but it’s vastly superior to the other wrist worn devices on the market. (For more on that, see here) During intense workouts there’s a bit of a lag time to get your heart rate after big bursts of effort. Unlike similar devices it doesn’t spit out inaccurate BPMs, it just pinwheels until it gets an accurate read. If you’re training for a triathlon, don’t throw out your chest strap just yet. But if you’re the other 99% of humanity, prepare to be impressed.
In the days and months ahead expect legions of fitness apps to appear. FitStar Yoga is a good indicator of the things to expect. One of the first workout apps for the Watch, it guides you through yoga sessions by showing you each move on the Watch. Seeing each move is as simple as glancing at the time. Later this year Apple will open up the sensors to third party developers, and that’s when things should start to get much more exciting. That’s when developers can begin to show off the stuff that Apple hasn’t yet thought of. Imagine trainers sending personalized workouts that change daily. The Watch’s accelerometer is sensitive enough that apps should eventually appear that can count reps.
But when it comes down to brass tacks, it’s the everyday functionality that wins the day. Even if people aren’t using the Watch for fitness, they’ll be wearing it and getting used to it being a part of their life. It’s easy to imagine the power of the Watch as the sensors improve and it takes deeper biometrics and it becomes less of a quirky timepiece and more of an essential part of your quest to be a healthy person. But, for me—at least for now—therein lies the rub.
No doubt the Apple Watch will follow in the steps of the Mac, iPhone, and iPad. Soon there will be a better version. Soon the marvelous thing on my wrist will be dull and outdated. Placed next to the Watch on my desk that’s currently getting no love, it’s an odd juxtaposition. I’ve worn my Rolex Submariner for nearly 20 years, and I’ve only had it serviced once. Its minor scratches and dings add character and make it look tougher. It’s been on hundreds of dives, atop many mountains, covered in mud more times than I can count, and it’s no worse for the wear.
I’m wooed by Apple Watch, but until it reaches its full (or at least fuller) potential—perhaps with the help of a blood-glucose monitor—I’ll treat it as what it is: a really, really cool gadget. Not a watch.