In his weekly column, our senior editor of wearables and fitness Michael Hicks discusses the world of running and health-related smartwatches, apps, and fitness tech, in the quest to get faster and more fit (and help you do the same, too). Are.
As someone who reviews both smartwatches and specialized fitness watches, it’s almost impossible to find watches that succeed in performance, UI, health data, and fitness tracking all together. Fitness wearables can’t compete for apps and phone connectivity, while smartwatches don’t provide proper training guidance and drain batteries very quickly.
My time as wearables editor at 2023 showed me a clear trend across all the major brands on both sides of the industry: Smartwatches want to be fitness trackers, fitness watches want to be smartwatches, and they’re all racing to be first. The center…for better or worse.
Google found its way to the right balance this year by purchasing Fitbit and incorporating all of 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 for how hard to work that day based on your fitness level and fatigue.
The main issue is that you have to pay a premium to get these insights, and the Fitbit brand has lost some of its luster over the years. This leaves the door open for competitors to shoot their shot.
The Apple Watch Ultra 2 is another watch that tries to strike a smart/fitness balance. It may be too expensive for everyday users, and its fitness software isn’t robust enough for professional athletes. But watchOS 9 and 10 clearly target runners, cyclists, hikers, and divers, while Apple Fitness Plus prohibits at-home exercise.
It’s interesting to see how close Apple appears to being to a fitness breakthrough that will attract serious athletes, while simultaneously failing to combat its major weak point – the Series 9’s 18-hour battery – which will turn off those same athletes. Will close. I love seeing this fitness push, while also wondering if the company is wasting its time by pandering to fitness fans.
Meanwhile, Samsung finally started playing catch-up on fitness with the Galaxy Watch 6, which includes heart rate zones optimized for VO2 max, fall detection, and other fitness tools, while still keeping track of your body composition. Leading the way in health sensor data with readings and blood. Pressure.
With rumors of a Galaxy Fit 3 and Galaxy Ring launching next year, it’s clear that Samsung has a serious interest in profiting from the thriving fitness-tracking market. It has the brand recognition to be successful, but Samsung still has a long way to go to make its fitness software stand out on its own merits.
As far as other Wear OS watches are concerned, it’s clear that they’ve assumed that Google is doing its own thing and so should handle their own fitness efforts. 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 worked. Only niche brands like Garmin and Coros usually tell you how long you have to rest, so it was a welcome surprise to see it on a traditional smartwatch.
In terms of dedicated fitness watches, more and more watches have started offering AMOLED displays instead of the dull, battery-sapping MiPs we’ve seen for years. Small fitness trackers have been using AMOLED for years, but fitness watches with built-in GPS can’t use them without sacrificing battery; Now, they get about a week of battery life as we expected.
we are also watching Limit What a fitness watch can do to target mainstream users.
Check out the Garmin Venu 3. After years of a vague UI and limited health sensors, Garmin has arrived halfway with its thin-bordered AMOLED, Bluetooth calling, a UI switch to make its “apps” as visible as its sports mode, ECG, and Met the athletes. Skin temperature sensors and a sleep coach that match competing brands. It easily claimed the top spot for our favorite fitness-focused smartwatch.
Plus, some of its other new smarts, like the QWERTY keyboard and images in notifications, only work for Android users. And it certainly can’t offer apps, only very specific third-party features like Strava Live Segments.
Garmin could move down this path, but it knows that half or more of its customers use iPhones that block third-party brands from accessing certain smartwatch features, which limits the incentive to try.
Then you have this year’s Fitbit Charge 6, which keeps essentially 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 has essentially been to throw Google Maps and YouTube Music at its customers instead of focusing on the fitness side of things.
Interestingly, if you look at the recent wearable sales reports from IDC or Counterpoint, you will find brands like Imagine Marketing (BOAT), Noise and Xiaomi claiming the top spot by selling $50 trackers that are becoming more popular by the day. Becoming smart but still focused. More on health and fitness. Fitbit is nowhere on that list.
Looking back at this year, I find myself in a paradoxical situation, where I’m excited by all these fitness developments, but I also don’t know if it will yield any results.
I wanted to see Samsung, Apple, and other mainstream smartwatch brands focus more on fitness, and 2023 sees them doing just that! But with them having to prioritize so many different moving parts, they’ll always be playing catch-up to the “dumb” fitness watches that keep adding new training tools in the interim.
On the fitness side of things, I’m glad to see they’re putting more effort into features that have been in mainstream watches for years. However, I don’t think they’ll ever close this gap: barring Apple’s intervention, brands like Garmin will always focus on battery life and lightweight design rather than “smarts.” Even though some of their loyal customers will appreciate third-party apps, they appreciate battery life and lightweight design more.
As Anshel Saig, principal analyst at Moore Insights & Strategy, told me while looking at 2023 sales numbers, “Fitness trackers are becoming more popular because some people want to focus on just the health aspect rather than trying to add every imaginable feature. Want… in something like a smartwatch.”
So, will the fitness efforts of smartwatches or the IQ upgrades of fitness watches achieve anything, or simply dilute what made them popular among their respective audiences? Only time will tell, but I’m beginning to suspect it may be the latter.
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Image Source : www.androidcentral.com