Apple has just announced their next Watch operating system, watchOS 9. It’s jam-packed full of proper new sports features and is destined for Apple Watch 7 all the way down to Series 4 and obviously anything that’s released this year as well.
watchOS 9 will be publicly available in September and via the beta program shortly. The features are groundbreaking for Apple’s sports offering. Here’s what we get
- Deeper sports profile capabilities adding more metrics per page
- Workout planning – Custom workouts with intervals
- Performance features – including alerts and the ability to be paced over a course.
- Physiology – adding heart rate zones, sleep stages and cardio recovery
- Running dynamics from the wrist – VO (Vertical Oscialltion), GCT (Ground Contact Time) and Stride length
- Triathlon mode with auto-transitioning
- Running power – calculated natively from the wrist
- Kickboard detection
Who Gets This?
There will inevitably be an Apple Watch Series 8 in September which will run watchOS 9. However, every Apple Watch from Watch Series 4 onwards will get the update although not all the features will necessarily be enabled for older models. That said, Series 3 has an altimeter and so there is no obvious reason why even running power won’t be available on all watches that get the update.
If you are an Age Group athlete then 99% of your cohort won’t be interested in what Apple is doing here.
But there are tens of thousands of people every year doing triathlons either for fun or a bit of serious fun. These are the people that should rightly consider NOT buying a Garmin as their current Apple Watch will now do the basics of training and get them through on race day.
The inclusion of running dynamics is a nod to more serious runners. But of course, more serious runners know that to improve most of your metrics you just have to run faster rather than trying to make the metric better by itself. Of course, form and economy are important.
Running power is different. Even for beginners, there is scope for power to be more meaningful than speed or pace. After all, power is analogous to effort and everyone kinda understands that. The imagery already provided by Apple shows some high power numbers so I guess it’s likely that they will use the same calculation method as Garmin and Polar (unlike Stryd).
Whilst Garmin has only this week introduced native running power, Apple’s move today somewhat shames Garmin’s approach which was neither fully determined on the wrist nor a standards-based implementation.
Smartring supremo, Oura, has just published a high-quality scientific study where they demonstrate 80% accuracy for sleep stage recognition. I would imagine that Apple has done similar studies and are at a similar level ie probably better than every other wristwatch company pretending to offer sleep stage detection. Or as they say…
validated against the clinical gold standard, polysomnography, with one of the largest and most diverse populations ever studied for a wearable.
However, to do this I would imagine that they are changing the frequency of overnight HRV readings. This is a BIG deal for recovery/readiness apps on the Apple Watch. Why? Because they can now work properly! That said Apple does often take the path less well-trodden, for example, their respiration metrics are based on the accelerometer and not HRV (HRV is the usual source for competitors).
Garmin – they’re coming. Garmin shares fell 0.5% compared to a rising market.
So this is where the next phase of competition in wearable fitness tech begins. I envisaged today’s Apple announcement being more incremental and starting in 2-3 years’ time. I had foreseen Apple still focusing big time on the wellness side of their offering until then. Instead, Apple is clearly targetting sports big-time starting from now…which is kinda what they said they would do with the Watch all along.
This move is eventually going to have a significant impact on sales of low to medium-priced sports watches from all other vendors…Polar, Garmin, Suunto and Coros will all take a hit. We will soon see with clarity that Garmin’s move to premium sports will give them a cushion against what Apple is doing here with only Venu, Vivoactive and FR55 sales suffering. Polar and Coros now have Apple as a direct competitor…at least in the minds of many of their customers. Ouch. There’s not a good side to this story for them. For a small company like Stryd maybe this week is their best-ever week as now both Garmin and Apple push running power…something they are the experts at.
What about Fitbit/Google and Wear OS? A thoroughly thought-through opinion would end something like “Oh dear“, although that should be tempered with whatever Google does with Fitbit this year. That said, it looks right now that Google is seeing Fitbit more like an app/service rather than a hardware brand for the future…as I said, “Oh dear.”
I should be able to get my hands on this beta software soon and I’ll report back. Exciting!
Points – Why Apple Watch is Rubbish For Pro Sports
- You can’t take a lap with Apple Watch buttons – Wrong, apps can be configured to take laps with buttons
- Apple Watch doesn’t support sports sensors – Wrong, support is at the app level and thus iSmoothRun has done this for years with bike powermeters and Stryd.
- Apple watch has an appalling battery life – Fairly true, but they are not targeting Ultra Runners and Ironman triathletes. That’s a TINY number of people. Apple Watch is now pretty good at quick charging which easily powers your Watch ahead of a 30-40 minute run ;-). A fully charged Watch 6 easily lasted me 10 hours of GPS recording time with battery to spare, it depends a lot on how often you consult the screen or interact with the watch.
- Apple Watch can’t control smart trainers – Wrong, apps like SelfLoops can control fitness equipment via FTMS. Fitness+ users will need equipment control sooner rather than later, so expect change to come here at the Watch level.
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