Earlier in 2020, Apple announced a new subscription fitness service, called Apple Fitness+. With the upcoming go-live of the service looming on December 14, I wanted to take a look at how this new option stacks up against other options, like Peloton, and zoom in on whether it's a good fit for cycling enthusiasts specifically.
Fitness+, the recurring subscription service, revolves around the hardware component of the Apple Watch, which does the physical health and fitness monitoring for the wearer, and the Watch is a required component to access Fitness+.
Let's take a look at an overview of the Fitness+ service:
What is Apple Fitness+ ?
Fitness+ is a subscription service targeted at Apple Watch/iPhone/iPad/TV ecosystem. Notably, the Watch component gathers metrics (like heart rate, activity times, calories, and distance, when using a GPS version) while the iPhone/iPad/TV provides the screen to watch pre-recorded workouts. Modern Apple Watch models feature tracking of blood oxygen monitoring, ECG, heart rate, fall detection and menstrual cycle tracking.
Apple promises "studio-style" workouts suitable for beginner to expert, wrapped in a slick production with popular music for motivation, with the workouts coached by Ironman champs, pro athletes, fitness club founders, and so on. Put on the Watch, fire up your connected TV, and start your workout.
To use Fitness+ you'll need at minimum: an Apple Watch Series 3 or later, plus an iPhone 6s or newer. Want to watch the videos on a screen bigger than your phone? Add an iPad (modern models) or Apple TV 4K or HD.
Pros and Cons of Apple Fitness+
- Reasonably priced compared with a gym membership or competing services, like Peloton
- Tight integration between the Watch for monitoring metrics and displaying those metrics on-screen during your workout. Starting a workout on your TV immediately starts the right tracking type on the Watch.
- Large variety of workout types, styles, and intensities
- Proprietary hardware: requires use of a modern Apple phone, iPad, or connected AppleTV component (which you may already have) and recent Watch (which you may not already have); does not work with Android devices
- The service is full-featured but requires a complete buy-in to the Apple "ecosystem"
- Unclear information on GymKit compatibility and other connected devices
Competitors to Fitness+
It's no secret that Peloton has dominated the indoor cycling market for the mass market, and there are plenty of other options targeted at racers, like Zwift as well. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused the indoor fitness market to explode as people seek to avoid indoor spaces like gyms, group rides, and find racing mostly shut down. Like Peloton, other services like Mirror offer a selection of wide variety of workout types (although not cycling).
Apple Fitness+ enters a space already crowded with cycling-specific options, and the entry into the home indoor cycling market was enough news to make Peloton stock dip slightly.
Is Apple Fitness+ good for cyclists?
Fitness+ from Apple is entering a crowded market and will need to take steps to differentiate. Here's what they have specifically for bicycle riders:
- HIIT (high intensity interval training) workouts
- Showing metrics from the Watch on-screen during the workout
- Interval countdown timers
The big selling point here is clearly the integration between the Watch and the screen. For example, an on-screen trainer might prompt you to check heart rate, and the heart rate could be showed on-screen automatically at that time.
Enthusiast cyclists are likely interested in leveraging hardware they already own - power meter, bluetooth sensors, and possibly an indoor cycle from a competing brand, like Peloton's $2,495 Bike Plus, featuring GymKit:
GymKit is a standard communication protocol to allow indoor bikes to talk to connected devices, but it isn't clear yet if the new Fitness+ service talks to GymKit compatible indoor bikes you may already own.
The cycling-specific features in Fitness+ only represent a small portion of the service, however. Subscribers will also get:
- Strength training
- Core workouts
I suspect that enthusiast cyclists who want to race and train seriously will be better served by racing-focused tools, like Zwift. Still, Fitness+ may be a nice complement to other tools as an add-on.
Can Apple Watch replace your Garmin or Wahoo GPS?
It's worth noting that the Apple Watch, while it can be used as a "cycle computer", it's not a substitute for Garmin/Wahoo and similar devices for anyone except the most casual users. Battery life is also limited when using GPS on the Watch. If you're racing and training seriously, Apple Watch complements your other devices, it likely doesn't replace them. Only the higher-end models feature the GPS needed for speed/distance tracking, and you'll find it's awkward to look at your wrist while riding, compared with the "out-front" models common today that put your cycle computer front and center where it's easy to read.
Wrist-worn GPS does have one unique application specific for cyclocross riders - because you may be racing with multiple bikes, a wrist-worn GPS allows you to make bike changes in the pit without losing access to your handlebar-mounted computer. For this reason, you'll often see pro riders stopping their (wrist-mounted) GPS right after crossing the finish line and they do without a Garmin or Wahoo GPS.
Fitness+ pricing and features*
Fitness+ costs $9.99 monthly or $79.99 annually, pre-paid for one year, which is less than a gym membership and lower than some competing streaming services. Compare that with $12.95 for Peloton and you can see why the Apple Fitness+ service is raising some eyebrows.
If you're wrapped up in the Apple ecosystem already and paying for other Apple services as well, Fitness+ is also included with "Apple One Premier", a bundle including Apple Music, Apple TV+, Apple Arcade, Apple News+, and 2TB of iCloud storage for $29.95 per month. Those services can be shared with 6 family members for larger households.
Finally, new Watch 3 (or newer) buyers get 3 months of Fitness+ to try it out.
Apple Fitness+ Review
A long-term review of Apple Fitness+ will come once I've had a chance to fully evaluate the service after the go-live. I look forward to trying it out in conjunction with an indoor trainer that would allow the use of my existing bikes for guided indoor workouts.
* this article is based on the service offered for USA customers.