All about fitness and personalization:
For the last couple of years, Apple’s had a clear purpose for each iteration of watchOS. For instance, watchOS 7 introduced several features to make pandemic living easier. watchOS 8 focused on giving people tools to chill out and adding features that make use of the Series 7’s larger screen. That trend continues with watchOS 9, which is available starting today via the public beta. This time around, Apple is zeroing in on a more expansive fitness experience, with a dash of personalization.
watchOS 9 introduces several new running metrics and workout views. You can now get insight into your running form, stride length, ground contact time, and for the first time ever, heart rate zones. Apple’s also added support for triathletes as well as the ability to create custom workouts. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
After spending a few weeks with the developer beta, it’s easy to see why the rumor mill is buzzing about a rugged version of the Apple Watch Series 8. While the Apple Watch has always been a great casual fitness tracker, the updates in watchOS 9 allow it to compete — at least in terms of data — with actual sports watches from Garmin and Polar. All in all, this is the most substantive and cohesive update to watchOS that we’ve seen in a while. Let’s just say it wouldn’t be surprising to see a major shakeup to the Apple Watch line this fall.
With each iteration of watchOS, Apple usually adds new activities to its Workout app or improves existing ones. However, the new running updates are the most significant overhaul to any one activity in… the entire history of the Apple Watch.
In addition to the aforementioned new metrics, you’ll also have access to new workout views that showcase elevation charts, heart rate zones, and other helpful data like time spent in specific zones. Heart rate zones have been a core metric in the most popular fitness apps and wearables for a very long time now, so it’s not as if this is revolutionary. However, they’ve been a glaring omission on the Apple Watch, and fixing that makes the Workout app a more attractive option for fitness buffs.
As an avid runner with a penchant for data, I use heart rate zones in my training to gauge the intensity level of certain segments or intervals. Before watchOS 9, that meant I’d either have to use a third-party app that did include that data or memorize what my five zones were. Not having to do that was liberating.
Switching between views mid-run came in clutch while training for a 10K, but Apple is still playing catch-up here — it’s not fun swiping on a touchscreen with sweaty fingers or scrolling the digital crown mid-stride, which makes it easy to accidentally fly past the view you actually wanted. (Third-party running apps like Strava on the Apple Watch, which also require you to swipe and tap to navigate screens, have the same problem.) It’s less intuitive than the physical button navigation you find on multisport watches.
Also, watchOS 9 changes how you edit workout views. Now, you can tap the ellipses on a workout type and customize views to your heart’s content. Thing is, I preferred when you could do this within the Watch app, which is no longer an option. Being able to edit on the Apple Watch is great for standalone functionality, but it’s more time-consuming to do this on a smaller display, especially if (like me) you have poor vision. Having multiple editing options would’ve been helpful. I’m not sure why Apple removed editing views from the Watch app, as it seems like you should be able to do it on either platform.
Though it’s still tedious, I was less fazed creating custom workouts because there are good presets if you’re feeling lazy. You have multiple options here, which make this suitable for all kinds of runners. It opens up the possibility of using training programs from non-digital sources. However, I’m not convinced that many people would go through the extra hassle since many third-party running apps already have their own built-in custom training plans.
On a more humbling note, I enjoyed challenging myself to race my times on previously run routes. I failed miserably more than once, but it’s good for the ego to get your butt kicked from time to time.
I could go on about every little update, but here’s the TL;DR: these expanded running features are a net positive, long overdue, allow for greater insight into your progress, and position the Apple Watch to compete more seriously with established players like Garmin and Polar.