The Apple Watch for Cycling
Lots of cyclists just love the latest tech.
Mostly our focus is on group sets, computers and power meters.
But something rather large and game changing happened last week.
Apple released its Apple Watch.
Whilst you'll find incredible reviews by watch nerds and tech nerds (John Gruber's EXCELLENT summary, if you like tech reads) none really touch on the fitness aspect, not in any great detail anyway (understandably). Gruber says fitness wearables will be decimated by the Apple Watch and he's probably right.
And for me, on first glance, I wasn't interested in the Apple Watch at all, beyond a passing curiosity: “hey, that's pretty cool”. In fact, I dismissed the notion of wearing (or wanting, let alone needing) an Apple Watch. VeloNomad reader Nick O from Melbourne (a watch nerd?) summarised thusly: “Unexcited”.
(To be fair, when I saw my first iPhone in 2007, my first comment was, “No keypad? Ho-ho, Apple. It'll never take off”. So, short my comments – go long Apple stock.)
But some of the tech geniuses I know started throwing ideas around about what it will be capable of, and especially what WatchKit might mean, and one thing struck me: there's so much we don't know about the Apple Watch (and WatchKit) and *that's* what's so exciting.
So, for what little my thoughts are worth, here's how I see what I think abut The Apple Watch and Cycling.
(This is a new use-case, inspired by Ben Evans' article.)
OK, so in 2011, I did Etape du Tour. After I finished atop the Alpe d'Huez, I had about another 90km riding up the Glandon/Croix de Fer, through some more ups and downs, to get to St Jean de Maurienne, then back to St Michele-de-Maurienne where Kate had been waiting all day in the campervan at the campground.
She couldn't drive over to get me as she was sick at the time: and wrangling a manual campervan through the Grandes Alpes is not something one does for a lark.
Anyhoo, I initially thought I'd knock over the 110km Etape (Telegraphe, Galibier, Alpe d'Huez—much of the ride downhill) in about 4-5 hours. WRONG.
I messaged Kate from atop the Alpe d'Huez that I'd be a couple more hours then took off on the return.
The 5 hour day ended up 9 hours and I constantly had no mobile service as I made my way up the Glandon. Poor old Kate was worried sick after I messaged I'd be another 45 mins (from the peak of the Croix de Fer), only to take another 90 minutes.
I probably could have stopped to sms her a couple more times, but the SIM card I had for SMS wasn't the same for data, so, stopping to swap SIMs was a total PITA.
Point is, what if my Apple Watch was transmitting my heartbeat to my phone, which transmitted that to Kate, so she didn't have to worry?
I'm sure I'm not alone in wanting my partner to know I'm ok, without having to constantly bombard them with a barrage of smses, right?
Simplification: On board storage and audio
No more music on the iPhone: I have a 16GB iPhone and take way too many photos: of cows I see on rides, of our farm and our dog. Point is, 16GB is barely enough space for photos, let alone all the music I want, so the iPhone is a poor iPod substitute. So, when I ride, I currently take a phone and iPod. (I will happily admit I almost never listen to 90% of my iPod music, but I want the option.)
The Apple Watch (hopefully) relieves me of the need to carry an iPod. (There's a downside: iPods have remarkable battery life. Gruber supposes, and he's probably right, the Apple Watch will initially have poor battery life resulting in the need for nightly charges. Don't sell your iPod just yet.) And you might say, well, you're still going to wear the watch (I kinda like to minimise what I need to worry about in life) but I often wear a watch anyway. So why not have one that tells time, carries music and so on.
This storage and music-player functionality might seem a nice-to-have, but as Gruber says, this might be the best iPod-like (aka music) player they've invented. And that's worth paying for right there.
As a cyclist, it'll be super-convenient, too. “Hmmm, not so much on the Hall and Oates today.
An added bonus would be Bluetooth connectivity to wireless earbuds which does away with the need for wired earphones, which are a pain in the bum. ESPECIALLY when you're racing and have been dropped off the back and still have 70 minutes of climbing to do. Wireless buds = inconspicuous = less chance of a commissaire pulling you from the race.
Wireless Communications and Other Devices
I got my hands on a Magellan 505 recently for review (again, sorry, it's not done) and local rider Greg was most excited about the Bluetooth integration with his phone. The Magellan will pop up notification of who's calling his phone. Useful? ‘Tis if the better half is calling with something important. (“I'll pick you up at the pub and we'll have a Bundy and Coke.” LOVELY.)
And I concur. I usually ignore the phone when someone's calling. But, I sometimes ride when I ought to be at my desk (and work when I should be riding) so this is a useful feature.
Some have speculated (wrongly, probably) that the Watch might just be an iPhone-linked notification and music device.
And even though this is likely way off in terms of accuracy, still, tight integration with your iPhone (or Android, if they allow it) will be killer.
What I'm saying is that notifications of calls and sms aren't a huge selling point for me, but they're awesome to have nonetheless.
The Apple Watch for Cycling: Potential
But the biggest potential lies in something like this (remembering we have scant detail on specs and so on):
- Run a Strava app on the Watch. Whilst the Watch won't have ANT+, it'll have Bluetooth. So, it can communication with your phone (iOS or Android) running Strava (or Garmin). The phone app can then be sending real-time data to the web, to Strava or Garmin Connect.
- The app (whichever it is) tells the watch what's going on and maybe the watch barks commands at you as you attack a KOM, telling you how fast to ride to beat your PR or the KOM…all in a German voice hopefully. “VAT? VAT VAT VAT? Is ziss all you are havink? Schnell, little girly man. SCHNELL.” (This will be even funnier if the voice channels Spike Milligan's Rommel.)
- Now maybe those commands are in-ear, maybe not. You could make a case a phone could handle this without the need for the watch, but visual telemetry would be useful too.
Some might say, “well, the Garmin 1000 can/will do this. And maybe even control your Durace or Campag electronic gears”. True, very true.
But, not everyone is going to want a Garmin 1000. And a Garmin 1000 is not an Apple Watch.
An arguably, the Watch will have a lot more computational power, so who knows where this could lead especially once WatchKit devs start developing on the platform.
Moreover, with accelerometers and who knows what else (GPS?), the potential of fitness/activity apps—not just on the bike—is going to be enormous.
Apple is also releasing its own fitness app. Apple has a history of making really great apps (and some poor ones), so “Fitness” may be amazing. I think it will most-suit those who don't have a pressing need for loads of data like that provided by Training Peaks, Golden Cheetah, Rider Metrics and the like.
I mean, look at the below potential screen. This is a pretty compelling and useful picture of your activity in the last month. It's certainly more useful than, say, Strava's view.
And what I like about it, is it's right there, on your wrist. For someone needing impetus to train, well it's right there in all its nagging glory.
What does this mean for you?
Well, some of my friends have started buying Android wearables. So if that's you, stop it. Now. (Unless you really hate Apple, or, more weirdly, just really love Android.)
As Gruber goes on to say:
The fitness wearable industry is in deep trouble — Apple Watch Sport seems poised to do to Fitbit et al what the iPod did to the MP3 market. And I think it should prove to be the best iPod Apple has ever made — especially in terms of audio playback while working out. That justifies a $349 expenditure right there, full stop.
My impression of Android Wear is that it's best thought of as a wrist-worn terminal for your Android phone and for Google's cloud-based services. An extension for your phone, not a sibling device. Android Wear devices are almost useless other than for telling time when out of Bluetooth range from your phone. I don't think that's a device that many people want; it's a solution in search of a problem. Call me biased if you want, but I think Android Wear is simply the result of the rest of the industry trying to get out in front of Apple, out of fear of how far behind they were when the iPhone dropped in 2007. On the surface, they do look like the same basic thing: small color LCD touchscreens on your wrist. But all Android Wear devices are larger and clunkier than the larger 42mm Apple Watch, and none of them are even close to the smaller 38mm one. Is there anyone who would dispute that Apple Watch is far more appealing to women than any other smartwatch on the market?
Some may be wondering, “that's all fine, but what's the point of this post?” Well, there's no point. Sometimes I just like to engage in baseless speculation.
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You forgot to mention one great feature that most cyclists will find handy and that is Apple pay, which will allow you to pay for goods with your watch at merchants that have NFC payment terminals. Looking forward to this rolling out in Australia sometime.
No more having to carry cash to buy a coffee after your ride.
Really, really good point Dale.
Of course, relies on WatchKit take up and Apple Pay AU rollout, and app/system rollout (I actually built a coffee review website with plans to do something in this space but it just relies on Apple Pay being available). Huge opportunity!
If you are a cyclist, the Apple Watch is undeniably an under-whelming device. I used it today for the first time on a ride using, at the same time, a Polar m400. The difference is abysmal! I am definitely sticking with the Polar m400 as my preferred watch unit for cycling, as it is far more accurate and doesn’t need a phone to operate a highly accurate GPS.
The Apple Watch native Workout app is mediocre, at best. It doesn’t track your route at all, so you are dependent on a third-party app, such as Strava.
Mind you that for the first time as a cyclist I went out without a wallet or cash today (I forgot), and as I needed to refuel I found a service station that operates with Apple Pay…but guess what? I paid with my iPhone, NOT my watch. Therefore, if you own an iPhone, you do not need an Apple Watch for Pay.
Hi Carlos, I suppose it depends on your user profile, eg. power user or not.
Obviously as a data junkie, you’ll be best off with a proper head unit.
I suspect Apple’s target market isn’t real depth of data (load of metrics) but what they think (and have tested) is important.
V2 might be different. I remember thinking iPhone 1 was horrible (my exact words were: “a phone without keys? It’ll NEVER take off.”)
I can see the case where you might leave your phone in your pocket and pay with your watch, horses for course I spose.
We don’t even have Apple Pay here in Oz yet!