Monday, October 10, 2016

Apple Watch Series 2: Great Hardware, Software Needs Work

When the original Apple Watch came out, it was a non-starter for me. As one of my main uses of a smartwatch is for running, i.e., to track my runs and view them on a map, the lack of on-board GPS meant that the watch had to be tethered to an iPhone. While I do sometimes run with my iPhone, I might as well carry just my iPhone. In addition, I sometimes run in places where I am not able to use my iPhone, such as countries that do not have international data plans with my carrier, Verizon (admittedly increasingly rare).

I was therefore thrilled to read the announcement of the Apple Watch Series 2, which would have standalone GPS and enable me to track runs without a phone.

I have been using my Apple Watch Series 2 for about a month now, and have some observations and hopes for improvement. If those improvements are made soon, I will add a postscript to this posting.

From a hardware standpoint, the watch is excellent. It is comfortable to wear and works seamlessly with my iPhone 6 (soon to be replaced with a 7 Plus). I have always able to make it through a day (even with a run that consumes 20-30% of the battery life per hour of activity) without having to recharge it.

In addition to capturing my runs, I want to be able to view them on any device, including on a computer via a Web site, and also share them on Facebook. I want to be able to view all of the data, including the map of where I have run, as well as export it via standard formats such as GPX and TCX. For years I have used various Garmin fitness watches, and I appreciated the ease by which I could capture my run, display its data and map on the Garmin Connect Web site, and share it to Facebook and other digital places.

In terms of capturing the run, the Apple Watch Series 2 does great. I am actually impressed at how quickly it locks on the GPS satellites, and the accuracy seems to be equal to my previous Garmin watches.

But I have disappointment in its ability to export or display of data. While the watch’s Workout app is simple and easy to use, and the Activity app on my iPhone easy to use and display results, the data cannot be exported to other apps. I am also disappointed that the Activity app only runs on the iPhone, and therefore cannot be accessed by other hardware, including the iPad or a computer accessing a Web site.

I also dislike the sharing capabilities of the Activity app. When one tries to share the entire exercise activity to Facebook, all that is uploaded is an image from the app, and not the details of distance run, time, map, etc. One can share the map of the Activity, but that is not uploaded with any other data about the run, e.g., distance, time, etc.

Another disappointment is that other fitness apps do not (yet) allow capture of the watch GPS data. For example, while RunKeeper and MapMyRun have Apple Watch apps, they presently do not capture the watch’s GPS data when not tethered to the phone. The SpectraRun workouts app can access and export the run data but it presently does not export the GPS data into the TCX file it generates. I assume that updates to these non-Apple apps will eventually be able to access the GPS, and this might also solve the problem of Activity app data not being exportable.

Fortunately, all of these disappointments should be easily fixable in software, and I am hopeful that Apple and other developers will remedy them quickly. I have had some online dialog with one of the running app developers, and they assured me (and others) that they are trying to quickly update their watch apps to capture the GPS directly from the watch.

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