watchOS 9: Apple Watch moves on Garmin – Triathlon, Running Power & Running Dynamics – yes really

watchos 9Apple Watch – Triathlon, Running Power & Running Dynamics – yes really

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?

Good question.

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.

 

Triathlon

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.

More serious triathletes can already get bike power support and stryd support on the apple watch (eg with the stryd app or the ismoothrun app)

Running

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.

Sleep Stages

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).

 

Opinion

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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7 thoughts on “watchOS 9: Apple Watch moves on Garmin – Triathlon, Running Power & Running Dynamics – yes really

  1. This was a very interesting move by Apple. Most of the people who read your site and other similar blogs are not necessarily Apple’s target for this. It is those friends that all of us have in running and triathlon who don’t even have a heart rate strap no less a power meter on their bike. Let’s be honest, that’s a significant chunk of the people that I train and race with. Several just use an app on their phone when they train. I have so many fast friends who are still using their FR910XT or 920XT and that’s at best. A fair few who just use a stopwatch on their Casio.

    I disagree that this is primarily going to hit the low end watches, though. I read all of these comments from new Garmin users who bought the Epix (or sometimes the Fenix 7) and clearly needed and wanted an Apple Watch (or WearOS equivalent) but didn’t get it because Garmin has been doing a good job of advertising their watches. They are spending a lot of money on the top end Garmin watches and then complaining that it can’t do the EKG or upset (rightfully so) about bugs with the features that Apple does so well like music on the watch. Many of those people would be better served by the Apple Watch if they have an iPhone, especially once these new features come out.

    I am usually one of those “Apple Watch is a great smart watch but just a mediocre sports watch” kind of people, but I am seriously impressed. If they could pull off 3 days of battery with 1-3 hours of GPS usage per day, I would have to seriously look at it.

  2. Garmin has a problem in that their firmware is relatively primitive from a computer science perspective. It is like DOS with no security whatsoever for things like memory protection and preemptive multitasking. Every OS Apple uses is based on the XNU kernel like OS X. They all have UNIX semantics for memory protection and multitasking. This makes developing features much, much easier. On top of that, Apple has a processor that is loads more powerful than Garmin. It’s going to be impossible in the long run for Garmin to compete without changing the underpinnings. You see this practically in how difficult it is for Garmin to add features and new hardware without serious bugs. And how comparatively easy it is for Apple to ship a lot of new features.

    In the not too distant future, Garmin needs to port their technology onto a more robust kernel like QNX or VxWorks or Linux while also not destroying the battery life.

    1. interesting point.
      then surely the entire codebase needs rewriting?…that is a cripplingly huge task for garmin. i would border on thinking it is commercially impossible?

      1. Maybe but there are legitimate engineering reasons to do a tiny embedded system. Everything in this space that isn’t based on WatchOS (which is XNU) or Android/WearOS (which is Linux) is the same. When the constraints are relaxed, I think Garmin has the wherewithal to port onto a legit RTOS kernel and keep a lot of their existing code. They aren’t dummies and the system is relatively small in scope.

        (Which incidentally is why Polar, Coros, Wahoo, and Suunto don’t offer a 3rd party SDK for an arbitrary software runtime. The ConnectIQ thing is pretty amazing given the constraints.)

        Apple can only do what they do because they have the best chips in the world and their acceptable runtime target is pretty short.

  3. @Brian – I am pretty sure that the main problem is not the Garmin OS – but the way that the development is done.

    Having played a bit with development of a Garmin watch-face – it is really not that bad, and the main problem with the OS/FW is that you earlier were not allowed to use all the metrics. Luckily this has changed.

    The main problem is that there are simply too many development teams (e.g. a team for each product line) together with the source-share/source-control is bad. One Code-base to rule them all is non-existing.

    Garmin knows this, and that is why they have announced that they are changing the release of FW-cycles – which means that quality is going up and new functions.

    Actually, you can see it already as Fenix 7 code is “back-ported” to older/other devices = source-control and source-code-share is getting better.

    1. Garmin does not use Monkey-C and ConnectIQ itself in general. Their native toolkit is entirely C and C++. I don’t think you can compare ConnectIQ development to their system programming.

      This is instructive: https://cppcast.com/brad-larson-cpp-watch/

      However, I do think you are right that there is something strange about how the development teams are organized. I suspect the divisional structure between fitness and outdoor is dysfunctional. It is bizarre that generations of identical hardware do not have identical firmware released at the same time. Eventually they get kind of mostly get there in a generation but it seems like there is coopetition in some kind of duplicative and unhelpful way.

      Also as a general public, why do we have to know that outdoor and fitness are separate divisions to compare devices on their site?

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