Apple Watch Adds Native Running Power & Triathlon Support: All New watchOS 9 Features Detailed

Today, as part of announcing watchOS 9, Apple rolled out a massive slate of new sports and fitness features including running power, triathlon mode (including automatic transitions), custom workout support, and plenty more.

Apple’s annual Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC), which is traditionally held in June, is where the company outlines the slate of both platform and developer changes coming to each of their platforms (iOS, iPad OS, watchOS, etc…).  For this post, I’m going to be focusing on the Apple Watch specific ones, which utilize watchOS. WatchOS is the platform that Apple Watch hardware runs.

Now, while these features are announced today, they won’t hit public release until usually the September timeframe. It’s between now and then that developers can utilize the time to update their apps using beta versions of the software. And then typically, Apple releases both new iPhones and new Apple Watch editions in the September-ish timeframe.

Of course, somewhat confusingly for consumers, the numbering for watchOS versions doesn’t actually match the recent Apple Watch versions, for context:

Most Recent Apple watchOS 8: Released in October 2021
Most Recent Apple Watch 7: Released in October 2021
Upcoming Apple watchOS 9: Approximate release September 2022
Upcoming Apple Watch 8: Approximate/assumed release September 2022

In any event, keep in mind that WWDC is primarily about developers. Just like Google and Microsoft’s respective developer conferences, thus, the features and focuses here are heavily developer-driven. That said, each year Apple has shifted more and more of their public keynote towards outlining consumer features as part of the device platforms. And that’s certainly true this year as well, where the overwhelming majority of the keynote was focused on consumer features, not developer ones.

Apple has announced that this update will come to the Apple Watch Series 4 and higher this fall, which means that it’ll also force Apple to decide on a successor to the Apple Watch Series 3 as their budget watch (priced at $160ish).

New watchOS 9 Features:

Now, while Apple always announces new hardware bits as part of the new Apple Watch editions, most of the software features tend to be outlined here in June at WWDC, rather than September. So basically at this juncture we tend to know about 80-90% of the new software features for the next version of Apple Watch. However, only a small portion of these are highlighted in the keynote itself.

Instead, over the coming days/weeks/months new watchOS beta editions are going to be released and updated, and it’s then that we’ll see even more detail on how things work.

With that, let’s dive into it, first with the general features:

– Adding Four new watches faces: Astronomy display with current cloud coverage, ‘Lunar calendar’ with special events included, ‘Play Time’ is a more playful watch face, and ‘Metropolitan’, with a dynamically stretching font.
– Adds refreshed SIRI UI, and new banner notifications design
– Podcast app lets you discover and follow new podcasts
– Redesigned calendar app
– Support for dogs & cats in Portrait Faces
– Expanded keyboard language support
– Kids can now control Home devices from their wrists (if approved)

But of course, you’re probably here for the sports and fitness features. So with that, we’ll start in the sports side and those specific to the Workout App, which is the native app on the Apple Watch that you start a workout from:

– Workout App: Adding three new running form metrics for efficiency: Vertical Oscillation, Stride Length, and Ground Contact Time
– Workout App: Can now see heart rate zones during the workout zones
– Workout App: Can now create new custom workouts, including repeats based on distance or time intervals
– Workout App: New alerts for heart rate zones, cadence, and other metrics (not shown yet)
– Workout App: New Running Power support, now natively tracks running power
– Workout App: Revamped data pages with more data per page
– Workout App: Can now race against past routes, which are saved to workout app
– Workout App: Triathletes gets workout support including auto-switching between swim/bike/run and triathlete tracking time
– Workout App: Adding kickboard swim detection

Wow. That’s a massive increase in sports and fitness features. Starting off with the running power pieces, this is natively tracked at the wrist, joining companies like Polar and COROS. And in the process, yet again illustrate Garmin’s miss last week on not doing it natively on the wrist and simply using a Connect IQ app in the Forerunner 255 & Forerunner 955. You can see the running power here:

Of course, we don’t know yet how accurate this is, but again, there is no standard on accuracy or how to measure running power. And anyone claiming their device is more accurate than another is simply trying to sell you something. At the moment, the best we can hope for is consistency to itself.

In conjunction with that, Apple’s added running efficiency metrics, including Vertical Oscillation, Stride Length, and Ground Contact Time. While stride length isn’t typically that complex or new in watches, GCT and VO are more complex – and I believe the first time we’ve seen it from the wrist. Most other companies measure it at the chest strap or pod. Apple created animations demonstrating the ‘complexity’ of this and their algorithms, which they say use machine learning and sensor fusion by leveraging both the accelerometer and the gyroscope to separate out torso movement from arm swing.

 

Following that, Apple rolled out a slate of new features including heart rate zones:

As well as the ability to create alerts on different metrics. And with that, also fully custom workouts using your own distance or time intervals:

 

After that they showed what is essentially a Virtual Pacer type function, where it’ll snap to frequently used routes to show how you compare against those, allowing you to race against your last or best time:

However, for triathletes, the biggest news here is a true triathlon mode, including tracking not just transition times but automatically transitioning from swim to bike to run. We saw Wahoo introduce this on the Wahoo RIVAL watch nearly 18 months ago, but no other companies have followed suit, till now:

Next, moving into more general health and fitness aspects, starting in iOS 16 the Fitness app will be available to all iOS users, not just Apple watch users. That means everyone can track general activity data.

Next, Apple is adding support for tracking sleep stages.  This includes how much time is spent in each stage:

Apple says they clinically validated this against polysomnography with the largest study ever assembled. But didn’t include a link or details on what that is. Further, if a user signs up for Apple’s Heart & Movement Study, it will now contribute sleep stage data via the app.

Apple then announced a huge new feature: Atrial Fibrillation history. This now tracks detailed specifics about your heart when in AFib, via AFib history, so it shows exactly how much time you spend in AFib, as well as trends around which day of week/month/etc.

Apple Watch received FDA clearance for that just hours prior to the event.

Next, Apple Watch will now track medications and help log those medications quickly from the watch itself, as well as remind users to take medications by alerting them based on their med schedule.

The companion iPhone app can also scan in your medication’s label to automatically figure out the name and schedule. It’ll also automatically notify you of any interactions, like not drinking alcohol or any medications that shouldn’t be taken together.

And this is also sharable within the family to allow others in the family to assist with medications.

Going Forward:

This is by far the most significant sports and fitness-focused update the Apple Watch has seen in years. Not only is Apple adding in more common features like custom workouts, they appear to be going straight to the core of endurance sports companies like Garmin/Polar/Suunto/COROS, with the addition of full triathlon support, running power, running efficiency metrics, heart rate zones, and more.

Further, the addition of full sleep stages might also imply longer battery life in an Apple Watch Series 8 down the road. Or, it might not. Either way, it implies more data to compete against their more data-focused competitors.

I’m looking forward to trying this out though, and seeing how some of these features stack up in real-life. Stay tuned!

Thanks for reading!

DC Rainmaker:

View Comments (176)

  • Thank you on good summary, no news on cycling power meter connectivity, and how the recovery works in Apple Watch.

  • Maybe people will finally stop the ridiculous claims of “if you want a running watch with smartwatch features buy a Garmin, if you want a smartwatch with running features buy an Apple Watch.” IT IS A REAL RUNNING WATCH, people.

    • It's certainly not "ridiculous" to say Apple Watch has been a Smartwatch with basic running features, and Forerunner is an advanced running watch with basic Smartwatch features. Those are both 100% accurate.

      This update certainly helps close that gap.

    • No, it's not. The fact that I would have to buy an iPhone to use it, bad battery life and awful touch controls haven't changed, so it's definitely still a smartwatch and not a sports watch.

    • BTW —— do you endurance Experts and Studs have any idea how many world class marathoners and triathletes often just swim, bike or run without the $600+ “I am cool and serious” jewelry on their wrists and bikes? 😂. Get real and get over yourselves. I mean REALLY!

  • The battery life is a complete show stopper for me. No features can compensate for that.

    • It has enough battery for a 6-7 hour HIM. Sure, it won’t last the full distance unless you are a top athlete, but for everything else it’s actually plenty of battery.

    • With the launch of the Epix Gen2, the clock is ticking for Apple to match/meet Garmin's battery life performance. It may not be this year, but possibly next I would expect a sports watch mode that allows for 12-18 hours GPS battery life similar to an Epix. I could also see Apple's watch supporting multiband this year. If Apple can nail the lower power modes and offer SOME more tactile buttons, it's going to cause serious consolidation in the GPS watch landscape (COROS+Suunto+Polar? Or Garmin acquiring one of the three? Or Apple?).

    • "It has enough battery for a 6-7 hour HIM."

      Right, but it's easy to forget that not everyone is using these watches exclusively only for relatively short running events. As soon as you start using an AW for a long dayhike, for example, the battery life is crippling.

    • Not really on the Apple Workout app. Obviously, just about any Garmin is better but not massively so in all use cases. If you are listening to music you'll get about 6-7 hours on the AW and 9ish on the Epix. The native workout app, without music, will get you, well, more, maybe 10 hours +/-.

      So, obviously, multi-day without a charger is out but for 95% of us, who don't do major endurance events, it's enough.

      It's just charging it everyday that's a pain.

    • But not enough to get to the start of your HIM as well. The Fenix 7 would manage a HIM if you charged it before your long haul flight then sat by the pool for two days before the race. And you can get sleep stats during that time too to ensure you're prepared for race day.

    • I was really really hoping for some sort of recovery data that would be used on activity goals. They’ve got to stop with pushing people to exercise 7 days a week no matter what.

    • It’s not really. With the fenix, I say to myself after 5 days “maybe I’ll charge it now”. Apple Watch charge or die every single day. Nope.

    • I have the S7, I can get two days out of it.
      With the new fast charging, I have not worried about charging the watch at all.

      Apple is getting closer to satisfying 90% of the users out there. If I were Garmin, these announcements would worry me.

    • It is widely believed that Apple is going to offer a new variant of the Apple Watch this September (in addition to a regular “Series 8”) that is some type of rugged / sports version, sorta a “Fenix” style Apple Watch. While I doubt it will have anything approaching Epix 2 like battery life if such a new Apple Watch is released I think it’s likely larger size will allow for a significant increase in battery life for sport etc. that makes these new triathlon and other features make more sense.

    • How accurate will all these metrics be considering that Apple does not measure Heart Rate on a per second basis?

      Finding information on the exact timing of the intervals is extremely difficult so the intervals are probably long. This is what Apple documentation has to say:

      "Apple Watch measures your heart rate throughout the day when you’re still, and periodically when you’re walking (Apple Watch Series 1 or later). Since Apple Watch takes these background readings based on your activity, the time between these measurements will vary. Apple Watch also calculates a daily resting rate and walking average by correlating background heart rate readings with accelerometer data when sufficient background readings are available."

      If they do increase the Heart Rate recording to per second, it will further reduce the already poor battery life.

    • I hiked with Apple Watch multiple times. I typically get something like 7-8 hours of activity recording before the battery drops to 10%. So you just bring an Apple Watch-compatible powerbank and charge it. Same with Fenix to be honest - as soon as you start using maps, the battery life drops drastically

    • Agree this isn't *good* for Garmin, but very manageable.

      Very reminiscent of when Apple first added GPS in 2016 -- series 2. Many then concluded Garmin watches would go to zero.

      Since then Garmin's fitness business has roughly doubled [despite massive decline in fitness trackers] + outdoor business [fenix] has roughly tripled.

      Just a big growing market benefiting all. Catering to hardcore hobbyists more than mass market products is a durable business.

    • They barely manage to get a full day's battery out of it. You likely cannot wake up with a fully charged Apple watch, use it during the day periodically, and go to bed and have it last the night recording your sleep.

      That is completely unacceptable in a marketplace where companies like Garmin are now offering watches that can record an activity longer than an Apple watch will last just being a fashion statement on your arm, and will now last TWO WEEKS on a charge if you're not recording activities.

      Even my ancient VA3 with a kinda-dead battery lasts several days, and that includes recording an hour long activity most of those days.

      Nearly every sport smart watch on the market for the last half decade has offered better than that. Hell, my Basis watch had multiple day battery life, and it was the first watch to do 24x7 heartrate monitoring.

      Until the Apple Watch lasts more than two days on a charge, it's just far too inconvenient.

    • I'm assuming you didn't get that quote from Apple, someone has cut off the first few words of the first sentence and omitted the bit before about constant monitoring.

      The Apple page that includes that quote is pretty clear that it is constant monitoring of heart rate whilst exercising (using the app):

      https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT204666#:~:text=When%20Apple%20Watch%20measures%20your,heart%20rate%2C%20check%20your%20settings

      I'd assume the new metrics will likewise be constant.

    • Does help that the straps means you wear the watch further from the wrist that most users don’t do with other watches, but yea it’s still very good despite its sample rate

    • I will 100% buy a rugged version of the AW if it comes out this September, day one. I'm waffling between AW-only and AW/945LTE combo. Probably going to sell the 945LTE and just do AW for now.

      But I really miss the buttons and (especially!) the battery life. Battery on the AW is a huge bummer for someone who spends 9-11 hours a week training.

    • Interesting comment and one that I've been wondering about since I got my first Apple Watch (rev. 4). All of my exercise training, for years, emphasized that taking a rest day occasionally was not just smart but recommended. I was very surprised when Apple's "fitness" programs all emphasize "streaks" of unbroken, daily exercise.
      Yours is literally the first comment I've seen (in over three years) about Apple's fixation on "streaks".

    • Not just the total time for activity but having to charge daily...

      Example, if you randomly decides to go on an evening or night run... you maybe out of luck battery wise.

    • I’m pretty sure that Apple will finally discontinue Series 3 altogether, leaving, for example, SE as the budget offering, S6 as the mid-tier and whatever they announce in September as the top-tier model.

  • My jaw literally dropped when Apple showed running dynamics, native running power, multiple data screens and triathlon mode with seamless transitions.

    Even now, without power, it easily makes Apple Watch one of the best beginner choices for triathletes - until full IM distance, as the battery life is not there yet.

    Ray, do you think that If Apple doubles down by adding BLE power sensor support, it will just destroy Polar’s/Suunto’s budget segment?

    • Pavel,

      I completely agree, jaw-dropping announcement. I don’t see how Polar/Suunto/ Coros remain relevant after September. While Garmin offers enough variety to cover a lot of people’s bases I’m sure even their mid-tier options will suffer. I have been on the fence converting from Polar to the AW, but now I’m going to do it.

      AW just offers so many daily conveniences + more native running metrics and functions… it really is the best watch for most athletic iPhone owners.

    • power sensor support is done at the app level.
      ismoothrun has done bike power and stryd power for a couple of years, hasn't quite destroyed Polar and Suunto yet ;-)

    • Sorry, I should have expanded that comment about them not remaining relevant. I'm referring to the $300 range of watches and down are where the competition is most fierce (bread and butter watches). Most people in that bracket (I assume) are looking for ease of use and convenience, all of which AW can now offer out of the gate as opposed to the end-user having to download needed application to use power, intervals, zones, etc...

      Also the smaller sports watch companies will remain relevant as many users are looking for a round face, a more durable choice and longer battery life to name a few differences. I'm guessing that Polar (more so than Suunto or Coros) will loose those customers who are looking for a less expensive watch as AW will offer not just the daily convenience of a smart watch, but the necessary and "nice to haves," i.e., power from the wrist, which models such as the Pacer/Pacer Pro offer.

    • Don't underestimate the power of Strava and the like. I'm heavily committed to Apple's ecosystem and in general their 'walled garden' doesn't bother me, but until Apple allow sharing of data with third party sites (without involving pagan rituals) or at least provide a decent native analysis platform akin to Garmin Connect, then I think they themselves are holding back the threat they could be in that segment.

    • I've wondered for awhile how Suunto has managed to keep hanging on independently (as in, not absorbed in one of the other brands, I think they do have a parent company though?) but I know they have a very loyal hiking/mountaineering type crowd that I think keeps them in the market to some degree...
      Polar on the other hand, with their very robust full fitness ecosystem and decades of experience in tracking fitness and sports, is not in danger (yet) by this (any more than they are by their own short-sightedness with or without Apple's existence in the market)...
      Polar has the entire training platform, programs, metrics, and basically everything you'd want, in a scientifically "deep" environment.

      Multiple buttons is always better than one crown/button for actual sports, the more competitively you are involved, the more you need "one-button press without a glance" capabilities.

      And ultimately, battery life is still going to be critical for athletes... whether an AW CAN last an event (even say a 3 hour marathon) isn't as critical as the "oh, I forgot to charge it last night" factor. As someone gave a great example, you get in the car, plane, whatever, get to hotel in your new town and, exhausted, fall in bed and totally forget to charge your watch... Polar, Coros, Garmin, no problem, they are down from say 96% from the day before your trip prep where you forgot to charge (or forgot to pack your charger) down now to 85%... and still good for 12-20 hours of activities... your AW is down to 20%, and is going to die about an hour in (for example)...

      Definitely this is a MASSIVE update for AW and does bring them to parity on a "consumer wanting more sports-watch features" that isn't concerned with how deep the backing ecosystem is, or not worried about integration with their 3rd party platforms, but it's not (YET) a true head-to-head competitor to Garmin, Polar (and with their recent updates to the training platforms and every indication of a continued rapid pace of development; Coros)....
      I would say though, especially for Coros that hasn't yet established themselves on the full training system world, this is a strong bite not at the heels, but at the backside, of their market... AW with these improvements, kicks right into the heart of something like the Coros Pace 2 for a buyer without a true sports watch already, AND adds of course the entire apple watch "smartwatch" apps functionality that the dedicated "semi-smart" sports watches lack in large part.
      If as someone theorized, Apple comes out with a "sports" model with 3+ days of non-sports battery life, combined with a fully-charged sports activity (all features active) of 17+ hours (to cover 99.9% of even most non-multi-day endurance events)... then only the single-button design and back-end training platforms hold them back from otherwise top-tier sportswatch glory (assuming all features work properly as advertised, of course)
      IMO

    • Neil, I completely disagree about how Apple shares data. I love the way HealthKit is setup. I own all my data, locally, on a device in my hand. If I want to I can allow any app on my phone to access only the data I want to give them, and can cut it off at any time. I could even do weird things like allow heart rate, but not distance, or distance, but not time; give one app full access, but another doesn't get the map. I fully get that this requires other services to create an app rather than use web integration, but given the level of permissions, I think it is a much better model.

      I do agree on the analysis platform and I think that Garmin is missing an opportunity here as Apple doesn't have (and didn't announce) anything that looks to come close. Obviously I want Garmin to fix their broken Implimentation of HealthKit in Connect, but I would be happy to pay monthly for Garmin to also pull other data in from HealthKit and process it for use in Connect/FirstBeat. I wear an Apple Watch as my daily driver (it does all the things I want to do better than my Fenix other than hold a charge and track workouts). I use a Garmin (Fenix or Edge) any time I do a workout, but I would love to be able to jump on the treadmill, go for a quick 5k or short hike/walk or whatever without having to switch to the Fenix. I don't know if Garmin hardware captures something out of the ordinary that enables recovery metrics, body battery, etc. but it looks like the Apple Watch should be close enough to inform most of them. So, charge me to have Connect pull in all the data in HealthKit (including stuff put there by apps that aren't AppleWatch like food weight and calories intake and show it to me in the Connect App. That way I use Garmin hardware for longer activities, Apple for casual stuff and all day wear, and Withings for my scale. I get connect to track my fitness, and Health to track everything else (and be the clearing house for my data). I very much suspect I'm not the only one with a device from both companies who would like to see this. So far, Apple has put all the tools in place on their end to make this happen, the rest is up to Garmin. From what I understand, they don't even need to ask or work with Apple in anyway to do it since the API is public and they kinda already use it. I'm already paying RunGap for a partial solution here, and I'd be willing to pay more for one that added this kind of value instead.

    • My AW exports to Strava, and then I click a button in the Strava app to upload. It's literally one more finger tap. And then it automatically is imported into intervals.icu. It's very little bother.

    • The Garmin running power requires a separate sensor, so it’s not really contradictory. Quoting from the link you included:

      “It is not native running power using your wrist like Polar or COROS.”

    • The difference being Garmin is not on the wrist ("not doing it natively on the wrist"). It is native on the 955 but requires an additional sensor.

  • Uh oh, Garmin. Looks like Apple beat them to the punch on a new running metric. Wonder why they've been dragging their feet on native running power for so long, with so many users literally begging them for it? Perhaps this will light a candle under their butts.

    Personally I couldn't care less, I think wrist-based power metrics aren't really the way to go. How well would instant-power really work when you're holding the sensor up in front of your face to read it? I think footpods are probably going to remain the long-term answer for running power, despite what so many people are asking for.

  • Wow, a big update. This actually contains the main features that were holding me to my Garmin ( Native HR alerts and Zones) If Battery life is improved, then I may actually swap over, when the Apple Watch 8 is released. This is finally a running watch that can compete!

1 2 3 7

By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to the use of cookies