Apple is playing up the watch's fitness capabilities, saying it combines the features of a fitness tracker and a sports watch into one device. Here's what it can—and can't—do.
Yesterday, Apple finally unveiled its version of the smartwatch after years of development and rumors. The Apple Watch will come in three models—standard, Sport, and Edition—and will be available in early 2015 starting at $349. (No word yet on any pricing differences between models.)
Apple is playing up the watch's fitness capabilities: Every Apple Watch will come with two built-in apps, Activity and Workout, which are meant to combine the features of a fitness tracker and a sports watch into one device. Now, this watch is way more than just a tracker but if that's how you plan to use it, the price may still seem steep compared to other devices on the market. (Plus, the watch requires an iPhone 5 or newer to work.)
Here's what the Apple Watch can—and can't—do in terms of tracking your fitness.
It can nudge you to move more
The Activity app has "movement ring" with three circles that show you how much you're getting off your butt each day (see the watch on the left in the above photo). "Move" tracks calories burned via the watch's accelerometer, "exercise" counts minutes spent doing anything at or above the intensity of a brisk walk (the goal is 30 minutes total over the course of the day), and "stand" confirms that you've stood up for at least one minute per hour in 12 different hours. The watch will suggest a new Move goal for you each week based on your history, but you can adjust it up or down. It will also prompt you to get up if you've been sitting too long. Pretty smart.
It can motivate you mid-workout
You can log dedicated sweat sessions in the Workout app, which can track cardio activities including running, walking, and cycling. Choose your goal (length of workout, calories burned, or distance) and the app encourages you along the way (e.g. "Halfway There!"). When you set a new personal best, you'll get an achievement badge. Data tracked via the Workout app count toward your Activity app stats for the day.
It can track heart rate sans chest strap
The casing has photo sensors on the back to detect and record your heart rate without a chest strap. (These sensors are how the Activity app can tell if you're moving faster than a brisk walk.) This is welcome news for anyone who's ever wrangled with a sweaty elastic-and-rubber band around their chest. We only know of three other watches with this function built-in: The Adidas MiCoach Smart Run ($400), TomTom Multi-Sport Cardio ($299), and the Mio Alpha Heart Rate Sport ($199). And those are all sports watches, not smartwatches.
It can't record mileage on its own
The watch needs the GPS and Wi-Fi features in your iPhone to determine how far you've moved. So you'll need to have your iPhone (5 or newer) with you, so it technically won't replace traditional GPS watches or bike-mounted GPS units. Though some runners and cyclists carry their phones in addition to their tracking devices.
It creates graphs and charts...on your iPhone
The Apple Watch displays your activity for the day at a glance. To see your movement and workouts by day, week, or month, you'll need to download the companion iPhone app called Fitness which shows you your stats over time. (This is separate from the Health app available on iPhone 6 and iOS 8, which can pull in data from third-party apps like Nike+, but Health can access your data from the Fitness app. Got that?)