There has been much discussion about whether or not the Apple Watch has a “killer app” that will drive adoption. For instance, CNBC recently speculated that interest in the Apple Watch is waning because it lacks a killer app. Personally, I think the idea that a killer app is required to ensure the success of a new personal electronics device is a significantly over-stated. After all, what was the single killer app that drove adoption of the original iPhone? In the end, adoption of a new gadget usually occurs for multiple reasons and cannot be credited to any single killer app. In fact, I believe that usually there are different killer apps that are applicable to different audiences or, as Ken Segall does a good job of explaining, perhaps a combination of different apps are worth the price of admission and drive adoption.
In the case of the Apple Watch, a killer app does exist for one specific audience. As a member of that audience, allow me to explain by first describing how I have historically used my iPhone to track my exercise patterns. For the past several years, I required all of the following devices when working out:
- My iPhone 6+ for GPS tracking and, when combined with a good pair of running earbuds, for music.
- A Polar Bluetooth Stride Sensor foot pod for distance tracking indoors.
- A Polar chest strap heart rate monitor for tracking my heart rate and getting a more accurate read on calories burned.
- An online tracking service and app to gather all of this information and report on it. (I have used both Digifit and Polar Flow for this at different times in the past.)
All of these gadgets were necessary just to allow me to track how much and how hard I was working out. It may seem overkill, but for me it was extremely motivational.
Then the Apple Watch came along and I bought it with the expectation that I could replace all of these gadgets with just the Apple Watch and a pair of Bluetooth headphones. I would no longer have to take the time before working out to strap on my heart rate monitor. I would no longer have to remember to get the right pair of running shoes that have my foot pod on them. And perhaps most importantly, I would no longer have to carry my bulky iPhone 6+ along on my runs and hikes. For me, that is a killer app.
So has the Apple Watch lived up to my expectations and truly replaced all of these devices? As with many first generation products, the answer is “mostly”. I find that the heart rate monitoring and distance tracking capabilities of the Apple Watch are good enough for my purposes. I have tested it against my former devices on known courses and the results reported by the Apple Watch are in line with what I used to see from my Polar trackers. It also does a capable job of playing music via a new set of Bluetooth headphones that I purchased. (More on them later because I really like them.)
However, as an exercise tracker, the Apple Watch does fall down in two key areas. First and most importantly to me, I cannot play audiobooks on the Apple Watch yet. This is a huge miss because when I am on a long run or hike, I want to listen to an audiobook to take my mind off the fact that my heart rate is up around 150 beats per minute, since if I focused on my heart rate, I might die. Second, the reporting that is available on the iPhone today is substandard. You can see in the embedded images that if I want to see a snapshot of the results of an individual workout, the report is pretty good. However, the whole point of monitoring workout times, calories and distances is to see how much more or less I am working out over time. As the image titled “Fitness Tracking on iPhone” shows, the dashboards available to show this information are subpar and that is being generous. The scales are impossible to read and the information is presented in a terrible format. Also, you cannot even see how your heart rate tracked over the course of a workout. Further, none of this information is available online at a website or on other devices – only via Apple’s native apps on the iPhone.
These are rather significant flaws, but I expect both to be fixed when Apple allows third parter apps to run natively on the Apple Watch, starting this fall. Other fitness tracking companies will surely see how inferior Apple’s own native tracking apps are and will use the Apple Watch heart rate monitoring and distance tracking natively in order to pull the information they need for their own dashboards. I also expect that Audible will develop a native Apple Watch app that will allow users to play audiobooks directly from the Apple Watch to Bluetooth headphones.
So in total, the fitness tracking capabilities of the Apple Watch are a killer app for fitness tracking nuts such as myself. However, work still needs to be done to make full use of those capabilities.