How the Apple Watch Could Become an Even Better Fitness Tracker


The Apple Watch, like many modern health trackers, can measure an almost dizzying number of statistics. It added blood oxygen saturation measurements to that growing list in 2020, and reports from The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg suggest a temperature sensor could be next. But what I really want is more ways to make sense of that data … and more context to go along with it.

Who knows whether any of these capabilities will ever arrive on the Apple Watch. Apple is doing a lot of things right, but there’s room for improvement.

More customization for daily goals

A day doesn’t feel complete if I don’t have at least one Activity Ring. But not every day is the same, and the Apple Watch shouldn’t act like it should be: I want different move and exercise goals depending on the day of the week. On days when I’m commuting to the office and know I’ll have time for a long workout, I’d like to set higher goals for my exercise minutes and burned calories.

I also imagine setting a schedule like this could be helpful for building a regular exercise routine. While you can change your activity goals anytime on the Apple Watch, there’s no way to customize goals according to specific days. – Lisa Eadicicco, Senior Editor

Apple Watch workout mode

Apple Watch’s Workout app.

Lexy Savvides / CNET

Scores for readiness and sleep

After living off and on with the Oura Ring and several Fitbit trackers for the last few years, I’ve gotten really used to having both sleep tracking and a holistic type of daily “readiness score” as part of my daily watch feedback. A readiness score indicates whether your body is rested enough for a heavy workout or if you should skip the gym. The score takes a variety of factors into account, such as sleep, recent activity and heart rate variability among other metrics.

Similarly, a sleep score indicates the quality of your slumber through statistics like time spent sleeping and whether you were tossing and turning, along with other elements. Both Oura and Fitbit offer their own versions of sleep and readiness scores.

To be sure, readiness scores and sleep scores aren’t necessarily perfect predictors of anything, but neither are daily activity rings. I find the calculation of activity, sleep, heart rate and other factors boiled into an overall score interesting as a correlative snapshot of how I might be feeling.

Both Fitbit and Oura also fold temperature into the mix: Changes in body temperature, resting heart rate and breathing rate could possibly flag a change in how well I’m feeling. Again, it’s not perfect, but Apple seems well overdue to add these features to the Apple Watch. – Scott Stein, Editor at Large

Apple Watch Series 7 Unity Lights

The Apple Watch could improve how it tracks rest.

Lexy Savvides / CNET

More focus on recovery

I’d love to see the Apple Watch lean more into recovery and rest. If the past couple of years have taught me anything, it’s the importance of listening to my body. The activity rings are a great way to motivate me to move, but some days it’s just not practical to close them – especially if you feel unwell. Let’s have a flag or toggle on the watch to signal when you need a rest day. And perhaps adjust the Move circle to instead reward that recovery or mindful rest.

With all the health data the Apple Watch already gathers, like heart rate variability, sleep and overall activity, it makes sense to consolidate this all into an easy-to-understand metric. Maybe it’s a score like Scott mentioned. Or it could be another ring that is automatically filled with how “ready” you are and changes daily based on your body’s responses.

With the mindfulness app in WatchOS 8 and meditation activities within Fitness Plus, Apple already has the tools to support rest and recovery. Let’s see it come full circle. – Lexy Savvides, Principal Video Producer

airpods-pro-red

The Apple Watch could perhaps do more with AirPods.

Sarah Tew / CNET

AirPods health tracking with Apple Watch

There’s huge potential for AirPods to pair even more closely with the Apple Watch – beyond just music. Perhaps it’s measuring heart rate or blood pressure from the ear to complement the existing heart-health features on the Apple Watch. Maybe it’s even more robust with your ear acting as an additional lead for the electrocardiogram app. Ming-Chi Kuo, an analyst at TF International Securities known for his Apple product predictions, sees promise here, too. He pointed to the addition of health management functions as a potential way for Apple to grow AirPods shipments in the future, according to an investors note MacRumors viewed. – Lexy Savvides

Apple Watch SE with AirPods Pro

The Apple Watch could also try out weekly goals as seen on Amazon’s Halo app.

Lexy Savvides / CNET

Weekly fitness goals

The Apple Watch’s Activity Rings are an excellent reminder to get up and move every day. Unfortunately, I haven’t found an equivalent that’s as motivating for quantifying progress on a weekly basis.

Amazon’s Halo app and fitness tracker made me realize the value of setting activity goals goals by the week instead of by the day. Instead of a daily goal, Amazon sets a weekly objective of 150 points that you earn by being active. (Points are subtracted if you’re sedentary for too long, too.) Measuring weekly activity gives me a better snapshot of how active I generally am throughout the whole week. I could have an extremely busy day and exceeded my Apple Watch’s move goal, but that might be a fluke. A weekly target may make it easier to establish consistency.

Plus, measuring weekly activity makes every bit of movement feel like it counts. A brisk walk to the subway won’t be enough to close my Apple Watch’s daily Activity Rings, so it almost feels pointless. But it’s comforting to know it’s contributing toward my weekly Halo activity goal. I’m not saying Apple should replace daily goals with weekly ones, but it would be nice to at least have the option.

There are other ways to track weekly and monthly progress on the Apple Watch, but none of them have felt as rewarding as closing an Activity Ring. For example, you can view your weekly and monthly activity in Apple’s Fitness app. There’s also a section in the app that shows how your last 90 days of activity are trending compared to the previous 365 days. Apple also rewards you with special app badges for meeting certain milestones, like working out all seven days in the same week or reaching your move goal 500 times. – Lisa Eadicicco

Amazon Halo View

The Amazon Halo View.

Lisa Eadicicco / CNET

Apple never discusses product plans before publicly announcing them, so there’s no telling whether any of these wish list features will become a reality. We’re expecting to learn about the Apple Watch’s next major software update at the company’s Worldwide Developers Conference in June, and the company typically announces new Apple Watch models in the fall. If Apple’s history is any indication, we can expect health and wellness to be a large part of both announcements.



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