iOS 13 wish list: Giving health & fitness a workout

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Will Apple move workouts to iCloud so you can browse them on any device?
Will Apple move workouts to iCloud so you can browse them on any device?
Photo: Graham Bower/Cult of Mac

WWDC is less than a week away and there are already plenty of rumors doing the rounds on what new features Apple has in store for iOS and watchOS. Dark mode, a refreshed Reminders app and a new Find My app all look set to make an appearance.

But will Apple also be giving its operating systems a shot in the arm to improve their health and fitness as well? Here’s my top-ten wish list of announcements I’m hoping to hear during next week’s keynote. These features will get my pulse racing so fast it’ll trigger a heart rate warning on my Apple Watch.

Health App

1. App Redesign

The design of the Health app, with its grid of four big squares for Activity, Mindfulness, Nutrition and Sleep, looks kinda clunky. And it buries some of the most interesting stats, like all the heart data gathered by Apple Watch. As Apple crams more and more useful content into this app, the time has come to give it a simpler, cleaner design to help you find the data you are looking for quickly and easily.

2. iCloud Health

The Health app has always been an iPhone exclusive, which made sense when it was really just a place to store the movement data gathered by your phone’s accelerometer. But these days it does so much more. I want to view my health data on my iPad and Mac too. This would probably present Apple with some technical challenges. HealthKit, Apple’s central repository for all health data, is currently stored in the iPhone’s Secure Enclave, and backed-up to iCloud in encrypted form only. But now we (finally) have iCloud syncing for encrypted iMessages, I’m hoping Apple can solve it for encrypted health data too. A cross-platform Marzipan-based Health app that allows you to view all your charts on the larger iPad and Mac screens would be awesome.

3. Body measurements in HealthKit

Every year since HealthKit’s launch in 2014, Apple has added support for more datatypes. Five years on, it now includes an incredibly wide variety of different health and fitness metrics. Everything from workout route-maps to ECG tests can be stored in this versatile database. But there are still some areas that could be improved. One I’m hoping to see is body measurements. Right now, you can only log waist circumference and height. But for dieters, waist-to-hip ratio is at least as important. And for bodybuilders and tailors, chest, shoulders, biceps, thighs, calves and inside leg would be useful.

Activity app

4. Manual data entry

It’s really frustrating when your Apple Watch battery dies on you mid-workout and half your data for the day is lost. I’d like to see Apple add a feature to the iPhone activity app that lets you set the record straight by manually entering the missing data. Yes, there is room for this to be abused, but honestly, who would you be cheating except yourself? Data added manually this way could always be asterisked if you are participating in an Activity Challenge, to discourage flagrant abuse.

5. Rest days

Most health experts recommend a rest day at least once a week. And yet Apple Watch sets us the same Exercise and Move goal every day. Adding support for weekly rest days would enable users to take a well earned rest while still preserving their streaks.

Workouts deserve their own dedicated app.
Workouts deserve their own dedicated app.
Photo: Graham Bower/Cult of Mac

Workout app

6. iCloud Workouts

Currently, Apple does not provide us with a dedicated Workout app for iPhone. Instead we have to go hunting around in the Activity app to find our workout data. If you know where to look, there is a surprising amount of data there. But I think the time has come for Apple to give our workout data a home of its own. A cross-platform Marzipan app would allow us to browse workout routes and progress charts with ease, and even share our workouts with friends and family via iCloud.

7. Workout Awards

You can earn medals for all kinds of things in Apple’s Activity app. Even a Thanksgiving workout can earn you a pat on the back. But if you are serious about fitness, the type of awards you can earn are currently pretty basic. I’d like to see the Workout app noticing when you complete significant distances like 10km, half-marathons and full marathons, and rewarding you with the appropriate bling.

8. Turn-by-turn workout directions

Currently, if you go for a walk or a run and you want turn-by-turn directions to lead you along the way, you have to use two separate apps: Maps and Workouts. Since the Maps app is constantly in the foreground, you can’t see any of your workout data without switching between apps, which is a hassle. Integrating turn-by-turn directions straight into the Workout app would make things much simpler.

Turn-by-turn directions would be cool in the Workout app
Turn-by-turn directions would be cool in the Workout app.
Photo: Graham Bower/Cult of Mac

9. More Workout types

Apple Watch supports 14 main workout types, with features tailored to the unique requirements of each exercise type. So, for example, running and walking workouts log distance and pace, while swimming logs lengths and stroke. There are sixty additional workouts to choose from, located under the “Other” option, but these are all essentially the same thing, with no support for exercise-specific features. Strength training in particular would benefit from additional features, allowing you to log the lifts, weights and repetitions you have competed.

10. Log distance and pace on exercise bikes, ellipticals and rowers

When you log an elliptical, indoor cycling or rowing workout, Apple Watch only records duration, calories and heart rate. There’s no way to log your distance or pace, (unless you are lucky enough to be in a gym that has the latest equipment that supports GymKit). So it would be incredibly handy if Apple provided the option to enter this data manually at the end of a workout. And imagine how cool it would be if you could use the camera on your iPhone to take a photo of the dashboard on your bike or elliptical and it captures the data automatically for you.