August 20, 2018

Running with the Apple Watch and watchOS 5

watchOS 5

Apple Watch and watchOS 5

On Monday 4th June, Apple held their annual WWDC event in California where they focussed solely upon software. The event unveiled new software updates coming to the iPhone with iOS 12, the Mac with macOS Mojave, Apple TV and the Apple Watch with watchOS 5.

With the introduction of watchOS 5, I am to take a look at the new features that will benefit runners.

The Apple Watch has been slowly crawling its way onto the fitness scene by introducing GPS and LTE. The latter of these has firmly allowed the Apple Watch to surpass all music capabilities of competing fitness wearables companies by allowing wireless music streaming whilst on a run. Garmin recently adopted internal storage to its Garmin Forerunner 645 Music device which acts in the same way as the TomTom Spark 3. These devices have internal storage on which audio can be uploaded and listened to via bluetooth earphones. Apple has outwitted these competitors through the addition of LTE allowing music to be streamed via Apple Music without the need for your phone or a fixed playlist of a limited number of songs.

Despite this standout feature, Apple still sits a way off the mark in comparison to the market leader: Garmin. I personally believe this is due to the sheer diversity of the Apple Watch which is not primarily designed around running, but rather is an all purpose ‘smartwatch.’ Given this deficit to the rest of the field, I believe Apple are really pushing the feature aspect of the Apple Watch with the introduction of watchOS 5.

watchOS 5 introduces new features to the Activity section of the Apple Watch which is another step to meet the expectations of most modern GPS running watches. The running-focussed updates on watchOS 5 fall into two categories: ‘Workout Updates’ and ‘Advanced Running Features.’


Workout Updates

The Workout Updates part of the watchOS5 update introduces one primary change to the way in which your runs are recorded with the introduction of ‘Automatic Workout Detection.’

watchOS 5

Automatic Run Detection does exactly as it says on the tin. If you start a workout, namely running, then the Apple Watch will detect the change in your movement/ velocity and prompts you to start a recorded workout on the watch. The clever part is that it subtly starts recording the workout in the background once this movement is detected and backdates the recording to the point from which the workout was detected, recording your activity even when you have forgotten to start it manually. This feature extents to the ending of a workout where the watch prompts you to stop the activity once movement has stopped.

Personally, I think this is a little bit of a gimmick and far from game-changing innovation. Albeit, this is not a feature currently available upon other running watches on the market, but it is also a feature which is not required for most (probably all) runners. It would certainly be a rare occasion where one goes out with a GPS running watch for a run and for one not to start or stop the watch. At least that is how I – maybe naively – anticipate this feature to be futile in most cases. However, if not too great an interruption, it is a nice safety net to have just incase.


Advanced Running Features

The running watch market is developing very quickly along the same exponential trend of modern technology. With the Apple Watch being a relatively late addition to this market, Apple have been playing catch up on the feature set available to runners. The introduction of watchOS 5 brings runners three new features which have been around on almost all other running watches for years.

  • Pace Alerts
  • Instant Pace
  • Cadence

watchOS 5

Pace Alerts on watchOS 5 are simple. Choose a target pace that you want to run at (e.g. 5:50min/ mile) and the watch will update you to whether you are on pace, faster or slower with the use of the Apple ‘Taptic Engine’ and an on-screen alert.

Instant Pace is something which Apple has strangely marketed as ‘Rolling Miles.’ This is essentially a real time pace reading which also provided an average pace reading alongside it. Apple has decided to present this pace value at a resolution of 0:01 min/mile which is an optimistic value given the accuracy of real-time GPS updates. This is a value which Garmin has moved away from, now providing instant pace readings at a resolution of 0:05 min/mile instead. This is certainly a long-awaited feature for the Apple Watch and will appeal to many runners.

Cadence. This, also, is a long-awaited and trivial feature which Apple have been delayed in introducing to the Apple Watch. This is a simple measure of the number of steps per minute (e.g. 170 spm) and would be interesting to test the accuracy of this (and the other new features mentioned) against the main competitors.

These new features complete a full set on the Apple Watch ‘Run’ face which will now be able to display:

  • Time
  • Instant Pace
  • Cadence
  • Heart Rate
  • Distance

The introduction of these features is a step in the right direction but nothing spectacular. Apple needs to really step up its game on the running front to think about seriously competing against the likes of Garmin and Suunto, if Apple want to compete in the running market, that is. As a running watch used seriously, the Apple Watch will always struggle to compete due to both its hardware and software; there is no real, clean way of competing interval sessions on the watch, but for now it makes a reliable general running watch for the amateur runner.

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