On September 15th, Apple announced its new at-home workout platform, Fitness Plus. That same day, Peloton tweeted, “Friendly competition is in our DNA. Welcome to the world of digital fitness, @Apple.”
While Apple isn’t a new player to the fitness space (the Apple Watch has included fitness features for quite some time) Fitness Plus is its first shot at original workout content for the Watch. It’s a subscription service that costs $9.99 per month or $79.99 per year. Subscribers, who are required to have an Apple Watch and iPhone, will have access to a library of virtual classes, which they can stream through iPhones, iPads, and Apple TVs. Some won’t require any equipment, while others can leverage gadgets you have: there’s cycling, treadmill, yoga, core, strength, rowing, and HIIT, with a variety of durations and intensities. New workouts will appear each week.
If this sounds familiar — and it clearly did to Peloton — that’s because it’s pretty much the same thing as the Peloton app. But that doesn’t make Fitness Plus the downfall of Peloton. On the contrary, experts say it could actually help home-workout companies like Peloton take on their shared adversary: the gym.
Peloton’s app-only membership costs $12.99 per month. It offers a similar selection of workouts to Fitness Plus (strength, yoga, HIIT, the works).
But the app isn’t what Peloton is best known for — or what it wants to be known for. Peloton’s calling cards are its cardio machines, which integrate seamlessly into Peloton’s workouts and display your metrics on the built-in screens. You don’t need the devices to use Peloton’s app, but the hardware is an important part of the company’s brand. “They’re just going to be the content,” Peloton CEO John Foley reportedly said of Apple, in response to the Fitness Plus announcement last week. “And we think the special sauce, the magic, is our connected platforms.”
Hardware is, of course, a selling point for Fitness Plus, too. But there’s a significant price difference. Peloton’s current spin bike and treadmill offerings start at $1,895 and $4,295, respectively; you can get an Apple Watch for less than $200, and some customers who might be interested in Fitness Plus probably already have one.
That’s a key distinction because it means Apple’s barrier to entry is much lower — but it doesn’t offer the same level of integration with cardio machines. So while the app subscriptions are priced similarly (the Peloton membership that includes bike and treadmill classes is $39), the companies won’t be fighting for the exact same consumer base (unless Apple starts putting out spin bikes of its own).
“They may be tapping different people,” said Ben Williams, global CXO of the innovation consulting agency R/GA, who has worked with brands including Nike, Equinox, and SoulCycle on designing connected fitness products and services. “Peloton is a little more on the performance end of the spectrum, and Apple’s more of an everyday fitness kind of audience.” There are certainly users in the middle, especially among Peloton subscribers who don’t own the hardware; if Apple and Peloton butt heads, it’ll be over that group.
“Peloton has very specific products, fitness products that they attach to services like the bike,” Rick Kowalski, Consumer Technology Association’s director of industry analysis and business intelligence, tells The Verge. An Apple Watch, by contrast, “addresses people using, participating in many different fitness activities, and allows the user to choose which activity it is.” Kowalski added, “I think there’s plenty of room in the space.”
2020 has not been kind to fitness clubs. Gyms around the US were ordered to shutter in mid-March in response to the spread of COVID-19. Since then, some clubs have permanently closed; others have reopened with tight restrictions.
The pandemic gives Fitness Plus a unique opportunity, because shutdowns have driven a number of households to consider (or refocus on) at-home workouts. Ten percent of US households were using online fitness services before the COVID-19 pandemic, but that number has since grown to 14 percent, according to a recent Consumer Technology Association (CTA) study. The CTA also found that 53 percent of consumers who have owned connected fitness equipment since before COVID-19 are now more likely to use it — even as gyms return.
Now that more consumers have invested in home fitness services, and are settled into virtual workouts, some may not want to re-up their club memberships, even when clubs are back at capacity. “People have really had a chance to rethink their routines,” Colleen Logan, who has worked in the smart fitness space for over 20 years and is currently VP of marketing for Icon Health & Fitness, told The Verge. Logan believes that being able to blend a variety of locations — indoors and outdoors, living room and hiking trails — helps motivate users to exercise. Some may find that easier to do with an app subscription than with a gym membership.
The price differential doesn’t help gyms out much, either. A 2018 survey found that the average monthly cost of a gym membership is $58 nationwide — but that’s higher in some major cities like New York.
But even for customers who don’t want to buy an Apple Watch, the release of Fitness Plus could bring more attention, and investment, to the connected fitness space overall. “If people are going to have more ways of doing this stuff at home, it might kind of just raise the tide for... create a bigger market for mass in-home fitness tools,” says R/GA EVP and global CTO Nick Coronges. Apple, he says, is “pushing these digital tools out there and making it less ... appealing to go and sign up for another monthly fitness club membership. Those guys might be the ones who have more to lose.”
In fact, some competitors in the connected fitness space are happy to see a company of Apple’s size coming to the table. “We’re thrilled that Apple is joining the fitness game because it calls attention to the need for easy, affordable daily fitness,” says Logan. “It’s fabulous that one of the most valuable companies in the world is telling people daily fitness is essential.”
That’s doubly true if Apple ends up integrating Fitness Plus with other fitness products — connected bikes, treadmills, or other equipment from third-party manufacturers. Peloton has taken a similar approach with smart TVs — over the past year, it’s rolled out integrations with Apple TV, Android TV, Roku, Fire TV, and Chromecast (through the iOS app). And Apple has been down this path before with GymKit, which enables Apple Watches to sync with machines from various brands including Life Fitness, StairMaster, and even Peloton itself.
“The content has people on bikes and things like that, so it could be in direct competition, but it may be complementary to the Peloton, too,” says Williams about Fitness Plus. While nobody expects Apple to release a bike anytime soon, it’s easier to envision a Carplay scenario — Apple software that brings Fitness Plus to cardio machines.
Or you could imagine something like Siri, which other companies could potentially develop for and incorporate into their products. “Apple Fitness Plus ... and services like it could become platforms that other hardware manufacturers can connect with and integrate with,” says Kowalski. “I look at it as a broader platform move for them that can start connecting all the products together.” With GymKit, the groundwork is in place.
Fitness Plus has been a long time coming. It’s part of the same broader effort that other at-home fitness players have been making: expand to do everything that a gym does. That encompasses three broad areas, Williams says: inspiration, guidance, and progress tracking.
Currently, each area has its leaders — but no company has yet conquered all three. “Nike does a great job of owning that inspiration piece, inspiring more people to move,” Williams says. “Equinox and SoulCycle really have that guidance and community aspect of that, they really connect people. And Apple, with the products and platforms, have the ability to track progress and give you a sense of how you’re doing. And each one’s trying to build on the pieces they don’t have.”
Apple is certainly making a big play for the “guidance” realm here. But it’ll need to check the “inspiration” box to fully replace the gym for many customers. The Apple Watch will be able to contribute — it already awards badges and stickers for various accomplishments, and tasks you with filling three visible “rings” for calories, exercise time, and time spent standing and moving. But for some users (and gym-goers in particular) inspiration isn’t just about personal goals — it’s also about competition and community. When it comes to Fitness Plus, that’s still a question mark.
“Getting the social, competitive part, the community part right is challenging,” says Coronges. “With a lot of premium clubs, that’s why they go to the SoHo House or whatever for fitness, or Equinox. I think some of that has to be replicated digitally, and it’s certainly yet to be seen whether it could do that. It doesn’t feel like that’s what the platform is geared for, but that’ll be a need.”
Peloton has made moves in that area — its platform includes live classes, leaderboards, and some limited ways to interact with fellow participants. It’ll be interesting to see if Fitness Plus offers anything similar. But the much more interesting battle is between gyms and the connected fitness space as a whole. In that regard, Apple and Peloton are in this together.