Apple launched its hotly-anticipated new fitness service in December, but after the initial shine of a “new Apple thing” wore off, it has proven to be rather unremarkable.
Fitness+ is just…okay. If you want to work out along with fitness videos, and you own an Apple Watch, it will let you do that. It’s a quality set of videos, well-produced with excellent instructors. But that’s really all it is.
The launch of Apple’s new “Time to Walk” feature this week offers hope that Fitness+ will break out of its ho-hum existence in the well-trodden ground of so many other fitness video services. Apple’s opportunity in fitness is so much greater than streaming prerecorded workout videos.
Well-made workout videos is not enough
At its heart, Fitness+ is a nice set of well-made workout videos. The instructors are likable, energetic, and enthusiastic without acting like drill sergeants or cult leaders. That’s good, but it’s not enough. There are lots of services offering workout videos, and they don’t even require you to own an Apple Watch.
Factor in the limited availability (you can only watch videos on your iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV—not on smart TVs, Macs, or in a web browser) and it’s hard to see what Apple really brings to the table other than nice production values.
A little overlay in the corner of your workout shows key data from your Apple Watch—Apple talks about this feature like it’s truly revolutionary, but it’s little more than a curiosity. It’s nice to have, and frankly an expected benefit of a service built in Apple’s tight ecosystem, but it doesn’t solve the the biggest problems with working out.
Any fitness guru will tell you that the most important thing is to make vigorous workouts a part of your lifestyle. Working out once a month doesn’t benefit you very much, but working up a good sweat several days a week, every week, has enormous health benefits.
Apple’s dropping the ball here. All that on-device machine learning, and tight ecosystem communication, and my Apple Watch can’t even nudge me to work out. It reminds me to stand up a dozen times a day, but it can’t say “you’ve only worked out once this week, want me to schedule a Fitness+ workout?”
There are dozens of badges and awards for doing fitness stuff with your Apple Watch, and of course you can satisfy those requirements with Fitness+ workouts just like any other workout, but why can’t Fitness+ subscribers earn badges and rewards exclusive to the service?
Apple’s tight ecosystem enables about about a million creative ways to help encourage users to get off the couch and fire up the service, and it’s doing none of them.
Time to Walk is the way forward
I was all set to write off Fitness+ as a mediocre service that squanders all of Apple’s many ecosystem advantages, but then the company released Time to Walk.
It’s sort of a walking-centric podcast with inspiring stories told by a variety of celebrities who recorded them while walking outdoors. Listen to one with your Apple Watch and Bluetooth headphones, and it automatically starts an appropriate walking workout.
This is exactly the sort of thing Apple should be doing to make Fitness+ a worthwhile investment. It leverages the Apple Watch and its ability to play audio directly to Bluetooth headphones (like AirPods), and to seamlessly and automatically sync content through the iPhone.
This one feature doesn't make Fitness+ worth subscribing to, since there will only be 18 such vignettes. You’ll burn through them in no time. It’s more of a curiosity, sort of a “bonus feature” of the service. But if Fitness+ is going to thrive, Time to Walk is a great example of what Apple needs to do: expand beyond workout videos into an all-encompassing fitness service that leverages the platform as a whole.
A huge step forward for Fitness+ would be nutritional tracking, similar to Lose It! or MyFitnessPal. Apple could adjust calorie targets based on your active calorie count from your Apple Watch, or suggest longer or more frequent Fitness+ workouts if you’ve been over-indulging, for example.
Apple made a decent (if restrictive) workout video service with Fitness+, but the world doesn’t need another workout video service and it doesn’t really leverage Apple’s unique capabilities. With Time to Walk, Apple has demonstrated that it doesn’t view Fitness+ merely as a way to stream workout videos. Now is the time to aggressively extend and expand what Fitness+ is all about.