In his weekly column, Wearables and Fitness Senior Editor Michael Hicks discusses the world of running and health-related smartwatches, apps and fitness tech in his quest to get fitter and fitter (and help you do the same).
As a reviewer of both smartwatches and special fitness watches, it is almost impossible to find one that succeeds in performance, user interface, health information and fitness tracking all at once. Wearable fitness devices can’t compete with apps and phone connectivity, while smartwatches don’t offer proper training instructions and the battery runs out too quickly.
My time as wearables editor in 2023 showed me one clear trend across all the major brands on both sides of the industry: smartwatches want to be fitness trackers, fitness watches are smartwatches, and they’re all vying to reach first center… for better or worse.
Google got the balance brutally right this year by buying Fitbit and shoving all its high-end sensors and fitness recommendations into the Pixel Watch 2. You get fast performance and all the apps a fitness watch could never support, but also recommendations on how hard to workout that day based on your fitness level and how tired you are.
The main problem is that you have to pay for Premium to get these insights, and the Fitbit brand has lost some of its luster over the last couple of years. That left the door open for competitors to fire their shots.
The Apple Watch Ultra 2 is another watch that tries to strike a balance between smartness and fitness. It may be too expensive for everyday users, and its fitness software isn’t robust enough for professional athletes. But watchOS 9 and 10 roll out clearly targeted runners, cyclists, hikers and divers, while Apple Fitness Plus has a lock on home workouts.
It’s fascinating to see how Apple seems so close to a fitness breakthrough that appeals to serious athletes, while failing to address its major weakness — the Series 9’s 18-hour battery — that turns off those same athletes. I love seeing this fitness work, while I wonder if the company is wasting their time courting fitness fans.
Samsung finally got into fitness with the Galaxy Watch 6, adding custom heart rate zones for VO2 Max, fall detection and other fitness tools, while still leading the way in health sensor data with body composition readings and blood. pressure.
With the Galaxy Fit 3 and Galaxy Ring rumored for release next year, it’s clear that Samsung is seriously interested in cashing in on the rich fitness tracker market. It has the brand recognition to succeed, but Samsung still has a long way to go before its fitness software stands out on its own merits.
As for other Wear OS watches, it’s clear that they’ve noticed that Google is doing its own thing, so they have to do their own thing. For example, with the 2023 Mobvoi TicWatch Pro 5, you get 100 sports modes, VO2 Max data, and even recovery time recommendations based on how hard you work out. Only specialty brands like Garmin and COROS have usually told you how long to rest, so seeing it on a traditional smartwatch was a welcome surprise.
On the fitness watch side, more and more watches are starting to offer AMOLED displays instead of the boring, battery-saving MIPs seen for years. Small fitness trackers have used AMOLED devices for years, but fitness watches with built-in GPS couldn’t use them without sacrificing battery life; now they get the week long battery life we’ve been waiting for.
We see too boundaries of what a fitness watch can target to ordinary users.
Check out the Garmin Venu 3. After years of a boring interface and limited health sensors, Garmin met athletes halfway with a thin AMOLED, Bluetooth calls, an interface switch that made its “apps” as visible as its sports modes, EKG and skin temperature sensors to match rival brands, and Sleep Coach. It easily took the top spot in our favorite fitness-focused smartwatch.
Meanwhile, some of its other new smart features like the QWERTY keyboard and images in notifications only work for Android users. And it can’t really offer apps, only very specific third-party features like Strava Live Segments.
Garmin can continue down this path, but it knows that half or more of its customers use iPhones, which prevent third-party brands from using certain smartwatch features, limiting the incentive to experiment.
Then you have this year’s Fitbit Charge 6, which essentially kept the same design and technology as the Charge 5 while adding a bunch of Google apps. The brand has been losing market share in recent years, and its response is mostly to throw Google Maps and YouTube Music at its customers instead of focusing on the health of things.
What’s fascinating is that if you look at recent wearable sales reports from IDC or Counterpoint, you’ll see that brands like Imagine Marketing ( boAt ), Noise, and Xiaomi are reaching the top by selling $50 trackers that are getting smarter by the day, but still focused. more about health and fitness. Fitbit is not listed anywhere.
Looking back on this year, I find myself in a bit of a conflicted state where I’m excited about all these fitness developments, but I also don’t know if it makes any difference.
I wanted Samsung, Apple and other mainstream smartwatch brands to pay more attention to fitness and in 2023 they did just that! But because they have to prioritize so many different moving parts, they may always be playing “dumb” fitness watches that keep adding new exercise tools.
In terms of fitness, I’m glad to see them putting more effort into features that mainstream watches have had for years. However, I don’t think they’ll ever close the gap: Apple’s disruption aside, brands like Garmin will always focus on battery life and lightweight design over “smartness”. while some of their loyal customers appreciate third-party apps, they value battery life and lightweight designs more.
As Anshel Sag, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, told me when looking at sales figures for 2023, “fitness trackers are becoming more popular because some people just want to focus on health…rather than trying to add every feature imaginable to something like a smartwatch.”
Are smartwatch fitness or fitness watch IQ enhancements for nothing or just diluting what made them popular with their audience? Only time will tell, but I’m starting to suspect it might be the latter.
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Image Source : www.androidcentral.com