Finally, Apple gets serious about its smartwatch
For my money, Apple has never been a great innovator. It excels at taking the technologies other companies are struggling to make sense of and turning them into world beaters.
But until now that hasn’t been the case with the Apple Watch. It’s made a desirable smartwatch with plenty of pulling power, but the end experience has been underwhelming. Its health tracking has been poor, and until now has barely leveraged the impressive heart rate monitor that’s built in. GPS came late to the party, and wasn’t backed up by great workout tracking experiences. Apple Pay is possibly a notable exception, but it was clearly an iPhone-first feature.
The addition of the Apple Watch Series 3 LTE is the moment that Apple stepped out in front. Yes, of course there have been LTE smartwatches in the past – and from major brands. But they have remained in limited markets and sold in limited numbers. Something for the power user to seek out; an option for those in the know.
Apple’s announcement is validity. Like it or not, and we know a lot of you don’t, when Apple says something is right for prime time, it becomes prime time, no matter who did it first. One could argue that’s exactly what happened with smartwatches as a whole – and I’d bet the same will be true here. Apple has the clout with networks, the might of developer support and the brand power to make LTE smartwatches the norm.
It’s also done a better job at explaining why untethering from your smartphone make sense. Its keynote was dedicated to terms like “keeping you in the moment” – while other brands have simply tagged cellular versions onto their line-up as an afterthought. Streaming from Apple Music is a big part of that, and that has wrong footed brands like the Fitbit Ionic smartwatch, which can offline sync Pandora, but has no connection to stream data itself.
This is an area Samsung has excelled in, and it’s led the way with the Gear S3, which has an LTE version. But the regions available are much more limited, and the UK and Europe for example have barely got a look-in. And that’s the difference: while Apple has only signed on one UK network, it’s starting with a decent spread of countries to begin with, and will be looking for more.
Going big on heart rate
But it’s not just in LTE that Apple has gone from an almost passive follower to an aggressive leader.
Additions to its heart rate technology include resting heart rate tracking and recovery, something that Garmin has led with, yet has felt too important to ignore. We’ve opined on how frustrating it was that Apple included a heart rate sensor only to neglect to do anything with it – resting heart rate is a great example of using your HR monitor to good effect.
But it’s gone even further, which is something that will dismay Fitbit.
It’s adding functionality that will alert you if your heart rate elevates abnormally – something no tracker has done to date. It’s hugely significant, and moves the Apple Watch into medical device territory. Likewise is its focus on atrial fibrillation – irregular heartbeats.
It’s something Fitbit has widely spoken about – and has the technology to do it via the red LED sensor on the new Fitbit Ionic – but there’s no date attributed to its release. The only ace Fitbit has now is sleep apnea, possible because of its superior heart rate tech, but the march towards true wellness has been stolen by Apple. It’s now calling the shots.
And one other announcement you might have missed was about the Nike+ Apple Watch now boasting real time audio coaching via the Nike Run Club app. It got a passing mention, and could be little more than some audio tips played on loop, but it adds to a growing picture that the Apple Watch is coming of age.
I’ve never gone easy on brands, including Apple. While I think the Apple Watch has been one of the most wearable smartwatches to date, I’ve been frustrated by the potential that’s not been realised. For my money Apple just went back to doing what it does best: making the strongest argument yet that you need this in your life.