What the Apple Watch Means for Outdoor Athletes
With the official unveiling of the Apple Watch we’ve gotten our first true glimpse of the future of wearable technology. Apple says that its new device will streamline communication, help us to become more fit, and put a host of information and functionality right on our wrists. Whether or not the Watch actually lives up to all of that hype remains to be seen, but there is no denying that it has a lot of potential for use while working out and traveling. Here’s what the Apple Watch will mean for outdoor athletes, most of whom are already wearing GPS-enabled timepieces packed with impressive features.
Apple has always said that the Watch would be very focused on fitness, which is why it ships with an integrated heart rate monitor, as well as a host of sensors and accelerometers designed to track speed and motion. The device will also come with a fitness app pre-installed that will help owners to track their movements, set fitness goals, and chart progress over time. It’ll even serve as a virtual trainer of sorts, offering suggestions on how to improve your workouts, while also encouraging users to train smarter, helping to improve performance and efficiency. And since the Watch is capable of running third-party apps, expect all of the major fitness programs, like MapMyRun, MapMyRide, Strava, and so on, to be updated to support the device as well, making it easier than ever to record workouts, share milestones with friends, and push your training to new levels.
One downside to the Apple Watch however is that it doesn’t come equipped with built-in GPS. Instead, users will need to carry an iPhone with them on a workout if they want to accurately track distances and speed. Carrying an extra device will likely be a turn-off for some outdoor athletes who would prefer to go as light as possible when they walk, run, or ride. When not tethered to an iPhone, the stand-alone capabilities of the Watch are actually quite limited, which will probably be a disappointment to many outdoor athletes who have come to expect their fitness watches work independently and handle all of their fitness tracking needs.
While much has been made about the special edition gold versions of the Apple Watch, which costs in excess of $10,000, the reality is that in terms of fitness/outdoor-centric timepieces, Apple’s newest gadget is fairly affordable. The Apple Watch Sport begins at just $349, which is a lot cheaper than the GPS-watch that I typically wear when going for a run, hike, or bike ride. When you consider the fact that the App Store will add greater functionality to the Watch over time, this new device actually starts to feel like a bargain when compared to some of the watches that are available from companies like Suunto and Garmin.
On the other hand, as mentioned above, you’ll also need an iPhone to get the most out of the Apple Watch, and you need to factor the cost of that device into the overall price as well. That raises the price of entry considerably, particularly for someone who doesn’t already own one of Apple’s ubiquitous smartphones.
The Apple Watch will reportedly have “all-day battery life,” meaning that it will be capable of providing notifications, running apps, and tracking our workouts for roughly 18 hours between charges. But much like a smartphone, the Watch will need to be charged every night in order to be ready for use the following day. This is somewhat comparable to other smartwatches on the market, but it limits its functionality greatly for use with the outdoor crowd. After all, who would want to take the device with them into the backcountry if it also means having to find a way to keep it charged each and every night. Even my GPS-enabled fitness watch is capable of much longer periods between charges. With almost daily use on runs and bike rides, it is actually capable of going a couple of weeks without needing to be recharged.
With an operating system that can be updated over time, and it’s ability to run third-party apps, the Apple Watch will certainly be one of the most versatile pieces of wearable technology available on the market. This versatility will make it just as popular to wear while hiking a trail as around town, even if it appears like a device that will be more at home in an urban environment. The Watch will help us to stay in touch with friends and family, navigate to the nearest restaurant, and provide reminders of when we need to get back home. Over time, it’s functionality and versatility are only going to grow as app developers come up with new, and creative, ways of exploiting its capabilities.
Apple claims that the Watch will be built to withstand the rigors of day-to-day use, but it is clearly not meant to worn in rugged outdoor environments. Case in point, the smartwatch is water resistant but not waterproof, which puts it at a disadvantage when compared to the vast majority of fitness watches that are currently available. I have no doubt that it will be durable enough to wear around town, and even during vigorous workouts. I’m just not sold on wearing it while rock climbing for instance, and certainly not on a paddling trip. Even the most basic of outdoor oriented watches will be more durable in those environments than the Apple Watch.
Judging from the reactions posted online, the Apple Watch—or any smartwatch for that matter—is fairly divisive product so far. Either you see the value of having a piece of information technology strapped to your wrist, or you think it is a complete waste of time. If you fall into the latter camp, it will take some seriously persuasive arguments on the part of Apple to convince you to change your mind. But if you happen to already see the value that wearable technology can deliver, than chances are you’ll be impressed with the Apple Watch as well. Upon release, it will be easily be the best smartwatch available. Whether that means it is a must buy, or just another expensive tech toy depends completely on your perspective.
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