Try as I might- and my love of all things Apple mandates that I try- I just can’t get excited about the Apple Watch. Granted, I haven’t worn a watch in decades, but I have worn a Fitbit for over two years and track my exercise and sleep patterns daily. So while I’m not a watch guy, I’m a prime candidate for a better and more powerful fitness tracker, with communication and timekeeping features to come along for the run. The thing is, based on everything I’ve read, the Apple Watch (at least in the absence of an associated iPhone) doesn’t do much from a fitness tracking perspective that my Fitbit One doesn’t already do. Sure, it tracks steps and stairs, but it has no independent GPS functionality and, because it is not waterproof, it doesn’t significantly increase the universe of activities I can track. Let’s take a look at some things the Apple Watch can do all by itself, without relying on a nearby iPhone.
1. It can tell the time. Well, that’s great, but I don’t want a traditional watch and if I need to know what time it is, my Fitbit One can tell me. As an aside, I can’t remember the last time I was working out, didn’t know what time it was (or close enough), and just had to find out the exact time. There are clocks, other people, and the sun, everywhere.
2. It can play some of your music and show you some of your photos. OK, I’ll admit the music capability is intriguing, especially if it includes podcasts, which comprise 95% of my workout listening. The thing is, none of this streams. You have to create some sort of playlist and store it in the 2 GB of space available on your Apple Watch. Maybe, in theory, that would be awesome. In actuality (based on my history with iTunes playlists), I might do it once or twice, and then never again. As far as photos, if I were to list the things I want to look at while working out, my iPhoto library would be at or near the bottom. And if I were to list the manner in which I want to view photos, on a watch-like size and form factor wouldn’t even make the bottom of the list. It simply wouldn’t occur to me.
3. It can track your heartbeat, steps, stairs, and stand-sit ratio. Granted, my Fitbit One does not (at least as far as I know) have the ability to track my heartbeat or stand-sit ratio, but it tracks steps and stairs just fine. If the Apple Watch had the ability to record and display my route (e.g., independent GPS functionality), that would be an improvement over my current process (my Fitbit can’t do that either, so if I want to I have to use my iPhone). I suppose it would be nice to monitor my heartbeat, but that single additional feature isn’t going to get me in line to buy one. I can see data that roughly correlates to my stand-sit ratio via my Fitbit dashboard. In other words, these are relatively small and incremental gains that don’t seem like enough to warrant a third workout device (along with my Fitbit and iPhone). Again, if the Apple Watch either allowed me to leave my iPhone at home or completely replicated and improved on the data tracked by my Fitbit, it might be a candidate to replace one or the other during my workouts. But it doesn’t seem like that’s the case. Sure, if enough third parties play ball, the Apple Watch will one day allow a lot of health and medical tracking, but that’s not something that affects my actual workouts, and by the time all the players are in place, there will likely be newer Apple Watches and all sorts of other options. In sum, I can see how the Apple Watch would appeal to people who are really into traditional wristwatches (except, you know, for the obsolescence problem), but I just don’t see how it is going to revolutionize fitness tracking.
4. It can use Apple Pay and Passbook. This is neat, I guess, but I’m a huge Apple geek and I have used Apple Pay exactly four times: twice in an Apple Store and twice in a Walgreen’s (and Walgreen’s makes you sign something, even when using Apple Pay, which is a huge buzz kill on the entire process). Nevertheless, I think Apple Pay is the future of mobile payments. So, if I were willing to bet my right arm on the future, Apple Pay might be the Apple Watch’s quickest route to my wrist.
Rene Ritchie, at the always reliable iMore, has an article today about the Apple Watch as your new fitness trainer. He makes as compelling a case as can be made that the Apple Watch will evolutionize, if not revolutionize, personal training. Maybe, but I’m not seeing any giant leaps forward, though I will admit that the potential for the Apple Watch to learn how to track your workouts more accurately over time is intriguing. Mostly, I see some incremental gains, some sideways leaps, and the allure of Apple. If I could swim with an Apple Watch, that would be one thing. If it could seamlessly manage my music and podcasts, that would at least replicate what my iPhone does now, on a smaller device. The fact that you can only shower with it seems like a missing feature, as opposed to a benefit.
Having said all this, I am realistic enough to know- and years of Apple experience has taught me- that feelings can change. It may be that when I see an Apple Watch in person, and put it around my wrist, I’ll conclude I can’t live without one. A year or two ago I would’ve told you that I will always be primarily a desktop computer user (long live the iMac). My retina MacBook Pro has since taught me otherwise.
But here’s what I do know. With the large majority of previous Apple devices, I have counted the days between the event announcing and showcasing the device and the day I could pre-order one. Alarms clocks were set. That’s not the case with the Apple Watch. I’m going to need some convincing.