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This week Apple launched their new Apple Fitness Plus (also written simply as Fitness+), which is their premium fitness subscription service with guided/coached workouts. It’s designed to compete with not just platforms like Peloton, but also real-world places like your gym. Fitness+ service costs $9/month, or $79/year – but more importantly, it requires an Apple Watch to activate (Series 3 or higher). The Apple Watch requirement also in turn requires an iPhone, though for workouts you can also use Apple TV or an iPad. Also, you need to be in an English speaking country that was or is currently part of the British Empire (US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand).
I’ve been using it this week on roughly half a dozen workouts now to figure out what works, and what flops. I’ve taken workouts across a number of different sports and instructors as well, using both basic equipment (nothing but a yoga mat), as well as higher-end equipment, to see if it matters much.
The platform includes roughly 10 different workout types, and 21 different instructors. Now, before we dive into it – you’ll need to do one thing to get started: Be on at least iOS14.3, iPadOS 14.3, WatchOS 7.2, and/or tvOS 14.3 (or higher). That’s the version that adds in Apple Fitness Plus, and without it, it’s a no-go.
Apple Fitness Plus Basics:
Once all your devices are updated, it’s time to get cracking. You’ll load up the Apple ‘Fitness’ app, which is what Apple renamed the ‘Activity’ app to this past fall. The Fitness app normally stores all of your Apple Watch related activity/workouts, but now it’s grown a new tab down in the middle – Fitness+.
This new Fitness+ tab is where you’ll find all the classes to take. You won’t find your completed workouts here, that’s still over on the ‘Summary’ tab. Think of the Fitness+ tab as just where you can surf around, à la Netflix style, for classes to take. Along the top are the different workout types. Once you select one, it’ll filter to just those workouts. If there’s a checkbox over the workout, it means you’ve already taken it.
Back on the main Fitness+ page you’ll see what’s new this week:
And if you scroll down you’ll get a ‘For Beginners’ section that aims to get you up to speed with a series of shorter and more simplistic workouts.
Now, if you’ve got an iPad you can use that as well (as many of these screenshots are, so they fit better on the page than vertical ones). Interestingly, I see quirks in continuality between my iPhone and iPad on completed workouts. I suspect they’re using the Apple Watch as the middleman here to keep a cache of these, as it won’t register classes taken on my iPhone until *AFTER* the next class I complete on the iPad (probably since that’s when it connects and starts talking). Again, I’m not 100% sure on how this works, but I can definitely say it isn’t working smoothly if you use multiple devices.
Next, we’ll go ahead and pick a class to begin. Apple’s big marketing and PR push here is that you only need to decide four things to start a class, which they’ve instilled in a catchy repeatable mantra of: “Workout…Trainer…Time…Music”…[Go]. They even made an entire ad about it.
So we’ll start now with choosing Cycling (note below how that top left ‘Cycling with Tyrel’ doesn’t show as taken on the iPad, yet I took it nearly 18 hours prior on my iPhone):
While I could skim through the workouts, I’ll use the Apple Fitness mantra filters to narrow it down. So I’ll tap the filter, which then gives me a list of trainers to choose from. Now since at this juncture you’re not likely to know any of them, this option becomes little more than a Tinder popularity contest based on appearances. Thankfully, you can instead just select another filter instead – like Time or Music. So in my case, we’ll pick a 20-minute workout to begin, and then see what’s available:
This isn’t all that different than what Peloton does, except Peloton updates the list of classes in real-time below as you make each selection, versus with Apple Fitness+ you need to hit the ‘Done’ button. Note, you don’t need to select all of the options – just one (or none).
Here’s the list of options to chose from, giving you a very brief and meaningless title of ‘Cycling with [Name]’, and below it the type of music. This is where we see far better descriptions from Peloton, with themes beyond just a music type. For example, a ride might be focused on intervals, or another one a recovery ride, etc… None of that exists here.
Since I’ve already cycled with Tyrell and Emily, so I’m going to pick Cycling with Kym, and her Everything Rock one from Oct 19th. On the right side you’ll see the music tracks that make up this workout (in fact, clicking on anything on that panel opens up Apple Music with the playlist there).
We can hit ‘Preview’ to get a 30-second snippet from the video, though I haven’t found any of these terribly useful since they’re actually too edited to provide any useful context or clues about the class. I prefer how Peloton just lets you basically skim the class in the preview on a bike/tread, it’s far more functional to figure out if I’m going to like that particular instructor or music selection. However on Peloton’s Digital App you technically have to start the class to skim through it, but you can at least skim around and see if it’s what you want (and then delete it). Versus Apple doesn’t allow you to skim.
Also, I have seen numerous times in two different locations on three different devices, cases where classes would simply just fail to load with a number of random error messages:
What’s unclear about the above message is that it doesn’t tell me if it’s a service issue, or perhaps an issue on my end (my other devices worked fine internet-wise, and this one too also was able to load a webpage. I tried again a minute or two later and it went through just fine).
Doing the Workouts:
With our workout selected, we’ll hit the ‘Let’s Go’ button to begin. Once you’ve done so, it’ll connect to your Apple Watch nearby and both will show the big green play button circle, which means they’re connected and in-sync, and ready to begin. This is true whether it’s an iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV.
Note that you can do an iPhone workout without your watch (if for example, it’s not charged). It’ll just note that it’s a watch-less workout. In that case you can’t get any heart rate data into the workout, since Fitness+ won’t directly connect to a Bluetooth HR strap.
Once you’ve begun the workout you’ll see your metrics in the upper left. This includes the elapsed or remaining time (your choice), your current heart rate, and total calorie burn during the workout. The pink line below it is the ‘Burn Bar’, more on that in a second. In the upper right is a view of your current ‘Rings’, per the usual Apple Watch activity rings (standing/exercise/activity rings).
You can turn off these components if you want, leaving you with just a simple video playing.
Speaking of turning off, there’s the ‘Burn Bar’, which aims to be a mini leaderboard of sorts. It’s the pink line you see below the calories. I say ‘leaderboard of sorts’, because it’s mostly useless. It just tells me how I’m doing relative to everyone else, but certainly doesn’t show me how my friend did on that class, or anyone else at all.
In terms of instruction during the class, as I dive into a bit later, it’s gonna depend a lot on your instructor. Some are great, and some really suck. Not because I didn’t like their personalities, but because they failed to be clear about what to actually do.
One challenge that Apple Fitness+ faces though is lack of metrics on the screen. For example, the cycling instructors routinely call out specific cadences to use. Except, I can’t show cadence on Apple Fitness+, because I can’t pair a cadence sensor (unlike the Peloton digital app). While Apple’s own Fitness+ page has a pile of connected sports tech things you should buy – none of it actually connects to Apple Fitness+.
You can see the instructors struggle at times with presenting these instructions. For example, Tyrell noted numerous times to simply match his legs as an alternative. While Kym tended to aim more for slower or super high speeds that were easier to distinguish. These two instructors also understood how to convey intensities, using terms that were super clear – so that you knew whether this was a hill to die on, or one to go easier and save it for next time. Whereas another class I took from another instructor was totally ambivalent, making it mostly useless.
Once you’re done you’ll get a simple summary screen, showing you top-line stats. But here’s the thing – I’m a numbers guy. And when I sign-up for a 20-minute class, it better be 20 minutes. Not 19 mins 40 seconds. That’s like stopping a 5K race at 4.9KM. One thing that people who do structured workouts (or even a Peloton class) appreciate is that when they specify a 45-minute or 60-minute workout – it’s actually that duration. It’s not hard. Also, why does this summary screen take up only about 25% of the screen’s usable display?
And ironically, one of the weirdest privacy quirks of this entire thing is that for these indoor GPS-less workouts, it actually records your GPS location and puts a precise map on your completed workout page in the bottom left corner. Why? There’s exactly zero reason to do this. No other company in the fitness space does this – at all. Ever. So if you were to share this as a screenshot (since…you know, Apple doesn’t have a way to do that otherwise), this would be included. Why?
In any case, let’s choose another class, this time a short treadmill class with ‘Scott’. After some internet digging, Scott was previously an instructor at a treadmill studio in NYC, and, as I’ll quickly learn – it shows. He knew what he was doing here.
Within the class there were also two other treadmill people there. One is doing the walking version, while the other was…well…it wasn’t clear to be honest. In theory these modifiers basically have differing goals, but in practice in many workouts it’s just super fuzzy. For example, in the running one it was clear that the woman on the left was walking and the instructions were noted by Scott for walking. Yet, it wasn’t clear what the women on the right was doing.
In fact, in the three different cycling classes I took – these additional people served no purpose whatsoever, despite apparently being instructors. For example, in Kym’s class, Tyrell was there. She even asked questions of the participants – but the answers were literally edited down to essentially a ‘Woot’ or laugh. You’ve got these other instructors there – build that bond, don’t let that opportunity fall flat, especially if the chemistry is good.
Yet at the same time, when there are apparently random people off the street in a class awkwardly smiling…why? They didn’t serve any purpose to motivate since it’s not clear why there were these three people there. [Update: I’ve been told all random people are in fact instructors in some way, though, they’re not always introduced. Thus, I’d argue they’re still random if they’re never actually introduced.]
Oh – back in the class, you’ll notice the distance on running. This comes from the accelerometer in the Apple Watch. Again, despite Apple actually highlighting connected treadmills on their Apple Fitness+ page, the app won’t connect to them. Also shown below is the time remaining in the interval.
In general, I liked Scott’s workout, and could be convinced to give a longer one a whirl. That’s sorta the point of trying shorter ones, to figure out if you like or don’t like a personality. I suspect he’d actually be more fun to run with outdoors, or when he’s not trying to cater to literally everyone. This is another good reason why Apple needs to have labels on workouts as to their purpose (e.g. High Intensity, or Base, or whatever).
After that, I did a cool-down workout. This was essentially stretching with a bit of ‘mindfulness’ built in. Which, I guess is just stretching without physically stretching. Not my cup of tea per se, but I get it. And while I probably wouldn’t repeat the class, I thought the instructor did a good job.
And finally, now let’s choose a core workout class.
This was fine too, nothing of major surprise here, and the one I had seemed pretty basic/straightforward – probably moving a bit too fast, but then again, I selected a shorter class here.
As with the first workout, all of these are synced to my Apple Watch and back into Apple Health on my smartphone. However, none of these will sync to Strava or any other platform by default. If you want to do that, you’ve gotta:
A) Manually import the workout via Strava or another app like HealthFit.
B) Then manually change the workout title on Strava to match the workout description (or pick your own)
C) Choose to export the header image from Apple Fitness+
D) Add that photo in manually to the Strava workout
And then, you’ve got a workout on Strava. Of course, the only thing you’ll get is heart rate for cycling. For running, you’ll also get cadence and pace however.
Or, if you were on any other platform except Apple Fitness+, it’d just do all that for you magically.
Now, a few random notes after completing about half a dozen Apple+ Workouts:
– Like any other platform (or real life in general), you’ll have preferences with which instructors you prefer. That’s great, and part of the spice of life. However, the very first class I took was a 20-minute cycle class with [withheld to be nice]. And wow, that was the worst class I’ve ever taken (on any platform). And not necessarily because of her ‘style’, but rather, the fact that it was such a soulless impersonal class. The instructor fake-smiled the entire way through, while calling out meaningless intensities without giving any clarity on what those intensities actually meant. Never mind the fact that the music wasn’t at all in sync or even complementary to the class. It was astoundingly bad. Had I not needed to write this review, I’d probably never opened the app again.
– Yet other instructors are great, and clearly actually experienced in this field. Take for example Tyrell Désean, another cycling instructor whose class I took. In his case, he knew how to explain each intensity level in terms that were useful, despite not having any real metrics (like cadence or wattage or resistance) to leverage. The music supported the narrative of his class, and he had genuine emotion throughout. He wasn’t plastic-surgery smiling when he was suffering. And he included a slew of personal tidbits throughout the class that ended up being an entire (funny) theme. It was just as good as any top Peloton instructor, likely because he was a top SoulCycle instructor before Apple recruited him.
– Another great cycling instructor was Kym Perfetto. It was clear almost immediately that she’s an actual cyclist, with clear history in the sport. She referenced various specific routes/climbs in the greater LA area a few times, including one I’ve done. It made it real and relatable. Some quick Googling later on found that indeed, she’s a very legit cyclist – having ridden across numerous continents more than once. Also, a noted crit racer as well. Finally, prior to all this, she was a SoulCycle instructor – and it shows in her classes.
– Inexplicably, Airplay doesn’t actually work. Seriously. I can’t Airplay Apple Fitness+ from my iPad to my Apple TV. Why would you want to do that, you might ask? Well, simple: During many of the core/floor type workouts, you may be on the ground facing one direction (like doing a plank), and having the iPad on the ground near your head, while also having it mirrored to a larger TV screen for when facing/standing up is super useful. I fail to understand why this is restricted, as it establishes the Airplay mirror, syncs the audio, but shows a black screen on the Apple TV.
– You can’t multi-task: If you try and leave the Apple Fitness+ app on your phone, such as to answer a text, the entire workout grinds to a halt. While I can understand the coaching drive here, most other platforms continue on in the background. It’s just frustrating the way Apple has done it. Like, are we back to the days before multi-tasking on the iPhone now?
– Apple’s stream quality is very good: One of the things that’s always frustrated me about Peloton, no matter the platform or device, is that the quality of their streams is poor. Not unacceptable, but not great either. YouTube easily outclasses it at 72op, let alone any other resolution. There’s really no excuse for this on Peloton’s side, other than paying more for bandwidth. They clearly shoot the videos at higher resolution, and the Peloton devices and apps are easily capable of higher compression (again, YouTube looks far better). Point here being Apple’s streams are super crispy on all devices. Sharp and high resolution.
– There’s no feedback to Apple: For every Peloton class you finish, you rate it. This includes the instructor, accuracy, and difficulty. It allows Peloton to figure out what works and doesn’t work. Except, that doesn’t exist in Apple Fitness+. They have no idea whether or not you liked the workout or thought it was hot garbage. It’s too bad, as there’s no better feedback loop than being shown that when you complete a workout. No amount of user surveys will ever capture that data as well as an end-screen does.
– Music integration is well done. All the music for each workout is listed in the description for every workout, complete with the full playlist. You can tap it to load it into Apple Music and see it there. As a Spotify person, this isn’t super ideal, but hey, at least it’s listed. On a Peloton bike I can tap to add a track to Spotify or Apple Music, but I can’t see the single-tap load playlist easily for every workout – I’d have to do each track manually. And I can’t do that on the Peloton digital app itself. Here, it just magically works – at least if you’re on Apple Music.
That said on music, I don’t feel like the Apple Fitness+ productions seem to care as much about music as the Peloton ones. Many of the tracks were kinda blah relative to what was going on in the class at the time, and countless times they weren’t in sync at all to the ups and downs of the class. Which isn’t to say Peloton always nails it, but by and large it’s far ahead of what Apple has here in terms of cohesion to the workouts.
Pricing & Availability:
Ultimately, the goal of Fitness Plus is probably less about getting you fit and more about getting into your wallet. And specifically, likely getting you to spend more money on Apple subscription services than you otherwise would have. Here, let me show you all the variants you can pay for. Note however, that availability-wise, Fitness Plus is only available in the following countries at launch:
Availability: US, Canada, UK, Australia, Ireland, and New Zealand
In other words, English Language focused countries – and Apple hasn’t stated when other countries might be available, but if Peloton and other trainer-focused fitness platforms are any indication, it’ll probably be a heck of a long time, since they’d be likely spinning up entire content divisions to those languages natively. Which ultimately makes this substantially different than any of their other services, which basically just require easy by comparison localization in user interfaces.
As far as pricing goes, unlike Apple’s other services (e.g. Arcade or news, etc…), the Fitness Plus service is only offered by itself or in the full Apple One Premier plan. It’s not offered in any of the less expensive Apple One plans:
Base Fitness PlusOnly: $9.99/month or $79/year
Apple One Premier Plan: $29.95/month (includes Apple Music, Apple TV+, Apple Arcade, Apple News+, 2TB iCloud storage) – can be shared with up to 5 other family members.
Note again that Apple Watch owners get one month free, and new Apple Watch purchasers from September 15th, 2020 get 3 months free.
A Quick Comparison to Peloton:
Of course, many are comparing Fitness+ to Peloton, but more specifically to Peloton’s app-only service, called “Peloton Digital”. That service doesn’t require any Peloton hardware, it’s just an app you load up on a device of your choice and then can get right into the workouts. There’s also the full Peloton Bike/Tread service offering, which is $40/month – and requires a Peloton Bike or Tread (Treadmill). The content is *EXACTLY* the same, with the only software difference being when you have a Peloton bike you also get cycling power and resistance shown on the bike screen. Users without Peloton hardware can’t get that. Further, in order to connect to Strava, you have to at least do a one-time setup of your account on a physical Peloton bike/treadmill.
In any case, here’s a quick comparison chart of the main differences:
Apple Fitness+ vs Peloton Digital App
Apple Fitness Plus
US, Canada, Australia, UK, Ireland, NZ
US, Canada, UK
Approx # of Classes
New Weekly Classes
Yes (TBD #)
Leaderboard of sorts
Workout with someone
Heart Rate Sensors
Apple Watch & BT HR Sensors
Apple Watch & BT HR Sensors*
Yes (Apple Watch)
Daily Workout Suggetion
3rd Party Integration****
No (Apple Health only)
Tag music to library
Only on Peloton hardware
Some notable nuances:
*Peloton’s Digital App does support the Apple Watch HR, while Peloton’s Bike oddly does not, except the newer Bike+ (Note: There’s zero technical reason Peloton can’t remedy this, it’s trivial within the sports tech industry by simply using a companion app – such as what Zwift does.)
** Apple calls it specifically HIIT, Peloton calls it Cardio. Same-same in this case.
*** Apple calls it ‘Mindful cooldown’, which is part-stretching, part meditation. Peloton is a bit more clear-cut here. Again, for the purposes of avoiding 30 definitions of the roughly similiar things, I’m bundling these together based on their implementations today.
**** As noted in the article, for Strava/Fitbit integration you do have to at least once be on a Peloton physical bike to activate it, then you’re good after that. It can be a friend’s bike, hotel, Peloton sales office, Peloton studio, etc… anywhere…just once.
One of the things that COVID-19 has shown us more than ever before, within the indoor fitness space, is that there’s no one perfect app or platform that everyone likes. People have different preferences based on personalities, as well as what they want out of a workout (or don’t want in a workout). And that extends well beyond just choosing a sport. In Apple’s case, with their vast user base of Apple Watch users, it won’t be hard to find people that will regularly use the platform enough to pay for it.
In some ways Apple Fitness+ is heavily polished, and other ways, it just feels rushed. And perhaps more importantly– in some ways it’s actually polished too much as to remove the personality and human aspects from some of the instructors or classes. Undoubtedly Apple spent a lot of time finding instructors, and many of them that I tried are clearly very good at what they do. I just wish Apple would let them do it more, or, with more personality. When the other instructors are in the class, let them interact – that’s why they’re there, right?
Still, for the first week, this isn’t bad at all. I’ll probably give things another whirl closer to the end of my 90-day trial, to see how they’ve tweaked and optimized it. In Apple’s huge media frenzy earlier this week, they oft talked about how this is just the beginning of what they can do in the Fitness space, and certainly, I believe it. While one might assume from a sports tech space that I want tech for tech’s sake, I’m not saying that here.
However, Apple is a tech company – first and foremost. And I’d like to see them integrate at least some of the sports tech products they feature on the Apple Fitness+ landing page. Basic things like cycling cadence within the app would significantly add to the experience given how many instructors call out cycling cadence in their classes. After all, Apple has GymKit for expressly this purpose – yet, Apple doesn’t support it here.
Still, it’s likely that within a few weeks Apple’s new Fitness Plus platform will become the most widely used paid fitness subscription service out there. But like with when the Apple Watch originally launched, I don’t think it’ll spell the end for other fitness platforms (or even all gyms). Instead, it’ll probably do exactly what happened with the Apple Watch launch: Draw in interest to their competitors, while raising the profile of the entire space and increasing the number of people in the market. Plus – it’s never a bad thing when a company as big as Apple wants to invest in sports and fitness.
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