Apple unveiled its new smartwatch today, and CEO Tim Cook spent a lot of time onstage talking about the two major selling points of the device. "It's a new, intimate way to communicate from your wrist, and a comprehensive health and fitness device." The Apple Watch is being pushed as an accessory to help the average person lead a more active life and for professional athletes to take their training to the next level. There are already a lot of wearable fitness trackers on the market, but none have managed to become mainstream best sellers. If it works as promised, the Apple Watch is poised to change all that.
"Now the consumer won't have to choose."
"The Apple Watch is powerful. This does what a Fitbit or Jawbone or Nike Fuelband does, but it offers music and the apps integrated into the device," says Julie Ask, a digital health analyst with Forrester Research. "Now the consumer won't have to choose" between a dedicated fitness device and the fun and utility of a smartphone on your wrist.
The Apple Watch will track your heart rate and measure three separate categories of movement. The first is the "Move" ring, which measures the calories you've burned and tells you when you've hit your personal goal for the day. The "Exercise" ring captures more brisk movement, and closes when you've put in 30 minutes total each day. The "Stand" ring measures how often you break from the sedentary reality of parking your butt in an office chair all day, and closes when you've gotten up for at least one minute in twelve different hours during the day. It pairs with the barometer in the newest iPhones to track your climbs and claims it will be able to distinguish the intensity of your activity to better track the calories you're burning.
At $349 dollars the Apple Watch is more expensive than your average fitness tracker, roughly three times the cost of our current favorite, the Jawbone Up24. A much bigger drawback is that it needs to be paired with your iPhone for one of its best features — GPS to track your distance — to function. But startups in the health and fitness space were excited about what they saw.
"Wearables need to pass the turnaround test."
"Wearables need to pass the turnaround test. If you left home without it, would you go back and get it?" asks Mike Lee, CEO of MyFitnessPal. "The Apple Watch has the potential to be that device." Lee says that even if the Apple Watch doesn't have features like GPS when it's not paired with your iPhone, he thinks it will be a strong offering in the wearable fitness market.
"The barometer adds a lot of interesting new data, and the combination of heart rate and accelerometer allows for a much better measurement of how many calories you're burning." Most importantly, says Lee, a watch is often something that becomes an everyday, all day part of your attire. "The true north for us is user success, and the way to achieve that is through building habits. An Apple Watch looks habit forming."
"Battery could be the Achilles heel."
The man leading the charge on the watch is Jay Blahnik, Apple's director of Fitness and Health technologies. While Apple has some big ambitions around what they could do with users' medical records, for now, it's focusing far more on the quotidian things a smartwatch could do to help the average person live a slightly fitter life. "[It's] designed to help anyone who wears it live a healthier life by being more active," Blahnik said in a promotional video Apple showed onstage.
These are the kind of generic fitness goals that will appeal to a mass audience, and Apple has promised that it will include a social component, leader board, and digital rewards, to help get users motivated.
"Battery could be the achilles heel," says Ask. You have to charge the unit each day, unlike fitness trackers or sport watches that can last a week. But she still feels it's likely to be a game changer for the wearable fitness market. "You have to feel bad for the hardware startups when you see something like this."