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Apple Fitness Plus + A Critical Opinion & Review
Welcome to Apple’s awesome Fitness Plus service. Or at least it will be when it’s finished.
Right now, it’s far from finished.
That said, it is still a highly polished aesthetic offering. The phone, pad, watch and probably the TV (I haven’t got Apple TV) all work together really well and relatively seamlessly. The visual consistency with what you see from one device to the next and the integration into Apple Health is great. You would expect nothing less from Apple.
We’ll come onto the details shortly but let me say right now ‘More serious athletes shouldn’t waste their money on the run and ride features…not yet.‘
But wait a minute. I’ve recently bought an Apple Watch SE and an Apple Watch 6 so I’m going to get a free 3-month subscription from each. That’s going to ‘save’ me and my partner £30 each and cost nada. Is it worth a 3-month free subscription? Hell yeah.
An Overview of What You Need To Make It All Work
As a minimum, you need an iPhone or iPad to playback the video workouts and audio, which includes music. The specially curated playlists are only available for free when using Apple Fitness+, outside of that you would need an Apple Music subscription.
An Apple Watch enhances the experience, acting as a source of heart rate data and motion for the Fitness+ workouts. For example, you can get treadmill distances and speed from the Watch’s onboard accelerometer. The Apple Watch also has some limited in-workout features including the ability to pause, the ability to view summary workout info and the buzz of occasional haptic feedback.
The current version is nearly ready for linkups to other pieces of tech and the following image tantalisingly indicates that connectivity to some indoor treadmills and other electronic equipment is likely to arrive soon. As far as I know, no 3rd party gym equipment currently works with the service.
I was a little bit confused by how earbuds and chest straps worked here. I used some new Jabra Elite 85t earbuds and these would only pair to my iPhone whereas my Garmin HRM-PRO chest strap HRM did seem to pair to the Watch SE for one workout but then not retain that connection 1 minute later when I started another workout.
OK, so I guess we can summarise that and say that you need at least an iPhone and Apple Watch, caveating that with the expectation that ‘more is to come’. I’m not entirely sure which other company could get away with releasing a fitness subscription service like this without connectivity to smart fitness equipment.
Apple Fitness Plus – The Overall Experience
Apart from the heart rate monitor I used (not made by Apple) all the bits ‘just work’ how you would expect. You don’t have to manually pair anything to anything. It just all works…how often do I say that? Never.
Apple has made an excellent effort to cover the key indoor ‘sports’ and has a variety of instructor types that probably reflects the true global diversity of Apple customers and you can add to that a variety of workouts covering different experience levels and durations typically between 10 and 30 minutes. Even more than that you get choices of music from Hip-Hop to the ’80s. There probably is literally something for just about everyone who exercises all in this one package.
Except for me. I have just invested in a rather expensive indoor swim device (Vasa Trainer), so to avoid the boredom of looking at the floor for half an hour each workout, I pretended to Apple Fitness Plus that it was a rowing machine – it worked! I do have a Concept II as well but, hey, I Iike to mix it up.
Apple Fitness Plus – Specific Experiences
The instructors were all good. At times they seemed to struggle with how to explain intensity or technique eg Instructor Emily said: “every song has the same beat” when really wanting to refer to a specific cycling cadence. Clearly, they are normally used to having the proper equipment for their jobs. They all pulled it off though.
Then it comes to the iPhone. It’s too small.
Try to follow a core workout or a dance workout on an iPhone and you just can’t see the steps or detailed techniques required and you could well end up scurrying around your mat to get a closer look at the small screen. That’s clearly my bad for having substandard equipment for this particular fitness task but, one day when life returns to normal, you will be in a hotel room trying to do an evening workout with your iPhone before a work dinner and experience the same issues. And let’s not forget that even though that iPhone-based workout in your hotel room is not ideal, it’s probably better than nothing, probably better than the hotel gym and Fitness Plus will certainly involve tech & instructors with whom you are already familiar. That said, iPad (which I have) and Apple TV are better formats to immerse yourself in the world of Apple Fitness Plus.
I was going to dwell a little more on the Apple Watch part of Fitness+ but the watch is a smaller part of the offering than I expected. I found myself visually interacting with the bigger screen rather than the watch; sure I do that in Zwift as well it’s just that for some reason I expected the Apple Watch to be more than a heart rate monitor and remote control.
The in-workout metrics are very basic. As before, no endurance tech company could get away with delivering so little on this aspect of the workout experience. That said, the are several nice touches. The interval countdown does its job, the occasionally completed ‘ring’ in the top-right corner can be a visual delight to behold and the ‘burn bar’ was a neat way of showing calories burned. The burn bar part of the screen seemed to also double-up with workout-specific encouragement messages like ‘you’re mid-pack or ‘ahead of the pack’, I wasn’t able to capture those as they only fleetingly appeared on the screen.
Now check out the image below. I didn’t capture the live action of a workout for some technical reason but handily the screenshot saved the two display elements that show continually during the workout and the simple metrics to the left are similar to those on the watch, in this case also adding in a couple of extra elements. Handily, that’s what I want to talk about.
One thing that is great about the Apple experience is that the metrics are automatically chosen for you for each workout type. Better than that, during the workout the relevant metrics are only shown when needed and hidden the rest of the time. Thus, the display will look data-poor, somewhat antiquated or naive in many people’s eyes. That’s partly true but there is clever stuff also going on here.
The following are examples taken from the iPhone top left corner display.
- You can see the numerical, yellow interval countdown which only appears during intervals.
- The yellow workout completion circle is prevalent throughout the workout but only takes up a tiny amount of space to convey perfect meaning.
- Metres (M) changes to Kilometres (KM) when appropriate
- The HR display doesn’t say 102bpm it says 102❤️, that kinda works in every language AND it takes up less space.
There are a few more subtleties too and I know other companies have done this sort of thing before. It just seems better and more coherent when Apple do it (and I’m NOT an Apple fan BTW).
If you are a triathlete and you want ‘last lap normalised power’ you can forget that on SO many levels! 🙂
The danger that reviewers like myself and other cyclists/triathlete-reviewers have is that we might project our world view of what we ‘need’ for our complex, finely tuned workouts onto others. Most ‘others’ don’t need the complexity and detail – we probably don’t either but that’s another post for another day. For others, a workout can be an escape or a chore, ‘let’s do it, get it over with, enjoy it, and then quickly move on‘ could be the chain of thought for some. Lots of people don’t want data overload during a workout, they don’t want data overload after the workout and they don’t want to play around with configuring a sports profile at the start of a workout.
Those people are the majority. Perhaps even more so for Apple’s target audience. Apple serves them well.
End of the Workout Experience
Your workout summary is nicely augmented with some imagery and the completion state of your rings. You can forget time-in-HR-zone and instead revel in the, somewhat limited, glory of your HR range.
There is a tad more depth on the iPhone where you get the workout summaries, a training log and the ability to share workouts.
Some Final Points
Here is the bullet-list of snippets that sometimes highlight a hidden gem
- It’s not possible to skip through a workout.
- Music is free when using Fitness Plus
- Varying sizes of English subtitles, also in French-Canadian
- There are some nice ways to filter workouts to only show those that meet criteria like instructor, duration, music type
- At the end of a harder workout, you are prompted to cool down in another, shorter workout (5 mins)
Apple Fitness Plus – Cost
In the main English-speaking countries this will cost you $9.99/month or $79/year. But up to 6 of you in a family could instead get this bundled ‘free’ into the Apple One Premier subscription at just shy of $30/mo which nicely includes Apple Music, Apple TV, some storage and more.
For some people that will seem good value for others, it will seem expensive. It depends on your buy-in to the Apple ecosystem and your personal circumstances.
Free subscriptions: generally 1 month for anyone with an Apple Watch or 3 months if you bought an Apple Watch SE or Apple Watch 6.
Apple Music Plus – So you don’t like it then?
I’m torn on this one.
I don’t especially like repeated indoor training with Zwift, sometimes there can be too much tech. Yet, I definitely want some cycling tech feedback when using Apple Fitness Plus. I’m spoilt by tech and am lucky to have a plethora of it on hand for any workout. Sometimes I just want a simple life with an easy workout. You can see in in the last image gallery, above, for my 127km ride I just used the standard Apple Workout app to log it rather than a fancy all-singing app like iSmoothRun. So I’m pretty sure that, as the bad weather draws in, I’m going to have days when I want a simple indoor workout or a bit of variety away from Zwift.
I’m using my swim trainer 5-times a week and once I start cranking up the durations it’s going to get boring very quickly. I really am looking forward to spending some time with the instructors and I’m definitely going to keep using Fitness+ …until the free subscription runs out.
Similarly, there’s is a lot wrong with the Apple Watch when it comes to how I want to use it for outdoor sports. But the more you use AW the more you find partial workarounds and the more you appreciate many of the subtleties of the design and the accuracy of the sensors.
So, I kinda like it…for me…but in a limited way.
Other people are going to love Apple Fitness. Some will love Fitness Plus simply because Apple made it and some other people will know that it’s limited in scope, free for the moment, yet will be the easy ‘just works option’ on the Apple kit they already have. Others may be looking at a short-term fix to cope with LockDown III (2021) or how to save some cash on their fitness class fees. We’re all different, with different motivations and different life situations.
Bottom Line. Apple Fitness Plus going to improve and expand its capabilities VERY significantly over the coming years and it’s going to rake in the bucks for Apple. I’m not convinced that it will grow the whole market though, Fitness+ could prove a problem for some of the players in a few years time.
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