KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 7 — Not long ago, any company that made a high-end smartphone was making, or planning on making a smartwatch.
Now, some of those companies have bowed out of the race with Apple being the king of the hill where premium smartwatches are concerned.
Yet the No. 1 spot in the global wearables segment isn’t Apple: it’s Xiaomi, which captured 17 per cent marketshare according to research from Strategy Analaytics, overtaking not just Apple but Fitbit.
What Xiaomi excels at doing, however, is selling cheap fitness wristbands. Apple on the other hand is invested in creating an entire ecosystem around health and fitness, with the Apple Watch being just one part of it.
Not that the Apple Watch is doing badly; it shipped 2.8 million watches in Q2 2017, growing 56 per cent annually from 1.8 million in Q1 2016.
More than just iPhones
Apple’s director of fitness for health technologies, Jay Blahnik, said,” Health and fitness continues to be a priority for Apple.” How true is that? Considering the amount of work Apple puts into just the amassing of health data, it’s pretty believable.
Apple has a dedicated facility in Cupertino where for two years, Apple employees worked out and a wealth of health data was amassed.
On that data, was laid the foundations of various health algorithms used on the Apple Watch and Apple’s own dedicated Activity and Health apps.
In a series of demos in Los Angeles, Apple previewed the upcoming changes to its Apple Watch OS in its latest iteration — watchOS 4.
Coming in the Fall, the Activity app will now offer “intelligent coaching by learning your behaviour and offering tailored encouragement.”
It’s not an overhaul of the OS. Instead it’s a series of small, but significant changes that add up to a better experience using the Watch.
For instance, to improve how the Watch worked during pool workouts, Apple asked dedicated swimmers what they felt was missing.
One significant feature request was for the Watch to detect different strokes in the pool, and Apple delivered.
Swimmers didn’t need to stop and pause between laps to record what they were doing — the Watch detected not just laps but the pauses between sets.
So at the end of a workout, the Watch could show, for example, a swimmer did two sets of the breaststroke, two sets freestyle and a set of the backstroke with a complete record of times achieved.
As far as running is concerned, runners are still buying dedicated running watches such as the ones produced by Garmin. To cater to them, Apple has provided support and integration with popular running apps such as RunKeeper. But its most fruitful partnership has to be with Nike.
Apple and Nike have collaborated on the Apple Watch Nike+, making specific Nike straps that were only available with the special edition Watch.
Now Nike’s sport straps for the Apple Watch can be purchased separately while the Nike Running Club app offers not just run tracking, but the ability to leverage off Nike’s dedicated community of runners, with challenges, social media sharing and gamification via achievements.
At the Los Angeles demo sessions, there were also product demonstrations of the Apple Watch used as a tracker in sports such as baseball.
With dedicated apps and sensors, the Apple Watch experience could be tailored to the needs of different sports from baseball, to surfing and basketball.
It goes beyond sports — Apple is now working to integrate with gym equipment, giving it yet another edge over other premium smartwatches.
The Health app to rule them all
However, the cornerstone of Apple’s strategy is its dedicated Health app. Going beyond mere metrics, its core is built around four categories: activity, mindfulness, nutrition and sleep.
Why have third-party apps when Apple has its own? Well, other apps leverage on the data that Apple’s own Health app collects.
The Health app itself also recommends specific apps for health needs such as dedicated sleep trackers, and apps for meditation.
The Mindfulness category is something that sets Apple apart from its closest rivals in this space such as Fitbit and Samsung.
Apple’s take on mindfulness: “Finding a moment to take a few deep breaths and quiet your mind is a great way to relieve stress and improve your overall health.”
Staking its claim in this category makes sense, considering the rise in popularity of yoga and meditation.
Apple’s Breathe app, while derided as something of a joke when first launched, has now been seen as a useful even if non-essential part of the Apple Watch experience.
What’s to come
The watchOS 4 update will improve on the experience that Apple Watch provides, well justifying its premium pricing.
Yet the question is if the next Apple Watch will address niggles such as less robust GPS tracking (when compared to the likes of Garmin).
Beyond the watch, however, is how Apple is collaborating in the healthcare space. It’s already collaborating with third party health providers.
Whether it’s providing simple access to health data to patients who want to understand their test results, to other applications within the healthcare industry, Apple is taking health seriously.
With collaborations with Nokia for healthcare projects in the works and more apps/devices in the pipeline, Apple looks set to move seriously into the healthcare space the way only Apple can.
For health conscious, tech-savvy consumers and medical professionals who want to leverage on Apple’s technological prowess, that can only be a good thing.