The Apple Watch now has a new mystery, thanks to watchOS 9

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It’s only now that you’re bringing this to the public, Apple.

image credits: apple

For years, there’s been something about the Apple Watch and how it’s used as a training tool for running that’s bothered me.

If you don’t have a phone with you when you’re running, you’ll find that the first Apple Watch was essentially useless as a running companion because it didn’t even have a GPS chip, making it essentially useless as a fitness companion without the phone there.

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In the intervening years, Apple has made incremental but significant improvements to the Watch, and the release of watchOS 9 at WWDC 2022 marked a significant step forward. This version includes new features like structured interval training and customizable data screens, transforming the device into a true fitness companion.

Heart rate training is a feature that I believe is essential for the best running watch, but it has never been included in the Apple Watch’s heart rate monitor.

What does heart rate training include, exactly? If you’re aiming to get fitter, maintaining a certain heart rate during your workout can help more than focusing on keeping up a speed, as terrain or muscle limitations might mean that you cannot be as quick as you’d want.

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Heart rate training, on the other hand, is a great way to make sure that you’re working as hard or as little as you’d like. Slowing down while climbing a hill is not a good idea. Trust me, your heart rate won’t be.

This additional functionality on the Apple Watch is a welcome development, and we applaud Apple for bringing it to the wearable. However, the question remains: why now?

When it comes to heart rate zones, Apple could have easily let users choose their own (or automatically do so based on a user’s maximum heart rate, which the device has been able to record for years) and then issued alerts to let them know when they’re falling outside of a preferred range.

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However, Apple could have made this feature available on the original Apple Watch years ago. That’s what I’m wondering.

A phenomenon known as cardiac drift(opens in new tab) means that other physiological factors (from poor hydration or nutrition to a lack of high-level fitness) mean that the same amount of effort will yield an ever increasing heart rate over time throughout a workout.

You will have to exert more effort to maintain your pace over a longer distance, which defies the purpose of the watch and might easily discourage beginner runners, to whom the Apple Watch has historically been targeted.

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Just to be quite clear: Apple, why are you doing this now? Yes, watchOS 9 has improved the brand’s software algorithms, which means that it can more correctly determine your heart rate from the wrist, and it may possibly imply it could reduce cardiac drift. Though this seems doubtful.

Using a chest strap to measure your heart rate is more accurate than wrist-based heart rate monitoring, which Apple freely acknowledges to(opens in new tab). Only recently has Apple been able to confidently offer correct heart rate data due of recent updates to its software.

Even though Polar and Garmin have long offered heart-rate training, it’s strange that Apple has resisted it for so long. It’s one of several benefits their users have over the Apple Watch.

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Although competitors like Garmin frequently promote the use of chest-based heart rate monitors (and even manufacture their own), Apple rarely mentions that you can connect one. This suggests that Apple does not want its own hardware on the Watch to be tarnished as a result of pushing users to connect accessories.

Power to the people

Apple’s new running power statistic is still a mystery. Following in the footsteps of other high-end fitness manufacturers that don’t require an additional sensor on the shoe to reach running power, this is a surprise.

How much effort you’re expending with each step is measured in watts by the Watch, which uses its motion-tracking capabilities to gather this data.

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Theoretically, running power tracking provides a more accurate picture of output than does heart rate monitoring. Despite the fact that there is no universal way to measure power, Apple’s running power feedback should be a superior way to evaluate how you’re doing over heart rate zones as long as they can be constant.

If the new metrics perform as expected, I’ll be able to overlook the fact that they haven’t been available until now; but, I believe Apple has been deliberately delaying the release of these improvements for some time.

There is still a long way to go for the Apple Watch to catch up to the best-in-class Garmin watches, but these improvements may have brought it closer.

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