The one big catch to Apple’s new fitness app
2020 will not go down in history for its positive effect on our health.
This is not the year that we all got fit, lost weight, pulled on our skinny jeans or, in the grimmest of circumstances, even stayed well.
Between the lockdowns, gym closures, and introduction to work-from-home-near-the-kitchen lifestyles, many of us let waistlines and regular exercise routines blow out.
And it's into this market that Apple is today launching a potential lifeline: its own fitness offering, with 21 diverse trainers, 10 exercise styles, workouts of varying duration and difficulty, and a lot of personal statistics.
But this extra Apple service comes at a cost, could lock users into its system long-term, and might require more equipment of the non-exercise variety than you think.
So is Apple's take on fitness worth it? We sacrificed our nowhere-near-ripped physique to find out.
HOW IS APPLE FITNESS+ DIFFERENT?
While you may suspect this was rushed to market during the pandemic, Apple Fitness+ has been in the works for two years.
And its obvious in some of the choices the company has made.
There are 21 fitness accomplished trainers hosting workouts in this app - available in a tab within Apple's existing Fitness app - and despite what you might expect, the trainers don't look like they all strolled out of Instagram.
These people are not just fit enough to jump, instruct and smile simultaneously, but they come with diverse histories and unexpected backstories.
Some of my favourite trainers include yoga master Molly Fox, who began her fitness career in 1979 at Jane Fonda's studio and somehow knows just what you need stretch and when, and strength trainer Betina Gozo who wishes you well in Tagalog before introducing you to compound exercises you've probably never tried.
Other key differences to this app are the personal statistics from your Apple Watch shown on the screen (more on that below), a 'burn bar' to show how you compare to other users, the soundtracks selected by two DJs from Apple Music, and artificially intelligent suggestions for what workout to try next.
These recommendations kick in after three sessions, and will suggest more of what you clearly like to do, as well as something different to try.
WHAT ABOUT THE WORKOUTS?
You can choose workouts according to your level of fitness - mercifully, there are seven 'beginner' workouts if you're just starting out - or you can select a routine based on the time you have to devote to it, the trainer hosting it, the style of workout, or its soundtrack.
These categories are particularly handy if you want to slot some exercise into your lunch break or into your morning, before regular work and life demands begin.
Apple reportedly created these workouts so they could be completed at the gym, substituting for a personal trainer, and that's why there are options for the treadmill, exercise bike, and rowing machine.
Other workouts only demand some space to step back and forth and swing your arms, potentially a yoga mat, and some medium-sized weights - nothing a quick raid on Kmart couldn't provide.
And the workout sessions can be intense. Ben Allen's old-school dance workout somehow kept my heart rate above 140bpm for 20 minutes, and Tyrell Desean's cycling routines could open up a new career as a bicycle courier for anyone able to regularly complete them.
The company has also committed to launching new workouts every week to build on its catalogue and keep users interested.
HOW DOES IT COMPARE AND COMPETE?
There are more than 200 workouts inside this app at launch, and all offer something different.
For the amount and diversity of content, Apple's offering could win the fitness app race.
That said, this app doesn't cover every workout style. If you're more interested in pilates, martial arts-style workouts, or hardcore weights routines, you might not find what you want here.
Also, other popular fitness apps cross over to the Google Android side.
Apple's Fitness+ app, as you might expect, locks you into the company's ecosystem and won't be changing platforms. It also lacks recipes and meal plans that the others deliver.
All three are priced at almost identical rates, near $120 per year, though Apple's free trial period of one month or three months for new Apple Watch buyers is more generous.
IS THERE A CATCH?
Yes. Only fitness fans with recent Apple Watches can use this service, which may not have been clear at its announcement.
It doesn't matter if you already have an iPhone, iPad or Apple TV ready to screen the workouts, Apple has decided live heart-rate and calorie measurements from its smartwatch are too important to be omitted from this experience.
The requirement of an Apple Watch Series 3 or higher will exclude some smartwatch avoiders, as well as dedicated runners, swimmers, hikers and cyclists who have opted to use watches from Garmin, Suunto or Fitbit that gather similar data but won't work with Apple's platform.
In Apple's defence, it is helpful to see Apple Watch statistics on the screen during a workout and, when you trainer mentions your heart rate or 'rings' during a session, greater detail appears.
Apple Watches can also be used to connect to any Apple TV - not just your own - to access a workout, which could be useful when staying with friends or, should 2021 allow it, a hotel.
APPLE FITNESS+ VERDICT
Apple's own fitness solution is deep, diverse, slick, and easy to use.
Most people will find a workout style to suit them here and, thanks to its suggestions, might try something new to switch up their routine. There's something to be said for lining up three 10-minute workouts of different styles using this app (even though you'll have to do that manually).
Apple's trainers are also professional, friendly, land in that comfortable zone between motivational and pushy, and are obviously accomplished in their fields.
The price of Fitness+ is also competitive … but only if you already own Apple devices.
By making the use of an Apple Watch a requirement, Apple is making its ecosystem even 'stickier' but perhaps at the expense of a wider audience.
Originally published as The one big catch to Apple's new fitness app