Survival of the fittest: Can Apple Fitness+ crush the competition?

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Can the competition keep up with Apple Fitness+?
Get ready for a serious workout with Apple Fitness+.
Photo: Apple

Apple Fitness+ will enter a crowded market when the service launches later this year. Established players like Peloton and Adidas already have a significant head start.

But Apple is in great shape to give them a run for their money. Fitness+ is a logical next step for Cupertino. The upcoming service plugs some significant gaps in Apple’s fitness offering while intelligently leveraging the power of its platform to gain an advantage.

After Apple Fitness+ sprints off the starting line, the competition might find itself struggling to keep up.

What’s the difference between Activity and Fitness?

Way back in the earliest iOS 14 betas, Apple made a small and seemingly insignificant change. The Activity app was renamed “Fitness.” As it turns out, that was a hint of things to come. It was necessary to tie into the nascent Apple Fitness+ service.

But why change the name at all? Why not just call the premium service Apple Activity+?

In the past, Apple Watch always felt like an approachable product. That’s been a core part of it’s appeal. Unlike fitness trackers from Garmin and Fitbit, you don’t feel like you already need washboard abs to wear one.

At the heart of that appeal was the Activity app. It never promised to get you ripped like The Rock. It just helped you live a better day. Measuring your activity sounds pretty harmless, whereas measuring your fitness sounds like you’re going to be judged.

So the name change is a major pivot. It’s sacrificing approachability for … what?

Apple Fitness+ will be available on iPhone, iPad and Apple TV.
Apple Fitness+ will be available on iPhone, iPad and Apple TV.
Photo: Apple

What does “fitness” actually mean?

There isn’t any one single definition of fitness. You always have to ask, “Fit for what?” For example, an NFL lineman and an elite marathon runner have vastly different body types, but they’re both at the peak of physical fitness for their chosen sports.

Fitness is often defined as having five health-related components:

  1. Cardiovascular
  2. Endurance
  3. Strength
  4. Flexibility
  5. Body composition

By measuring distance, heart rate and calories burned, Apple Watch focuses on the first two. Even if you pick a non-cardio workout type like yoga or strength training, the smartwatch still only measures your calories burned, which tells you nothing about your strength or flexibility.

Apple Fitness+ changes all that by providing in-depth support for all five components of fitness.

Why you probably need Apple Fitness+

When you go for a run or a bike ride, you don’t need any special instructions. You just start the workout and get sweaty. But for other types of exercise, most of us need someone to tell us what to do. That’s why classes like those by Les Mills (Bodypump, Bodycombat, etc.) prove so popular at the gym. An instructor stands at the front of the studio and barks orders at the group like a drill instructor.

Apple Fitness+ aims to re-create the experience of a studio class at home by providing on-demand workout videos featuring trainers who show you what to do on screen. There are 21 trainers in total. (If you want to get to know them now, check out the Apple Fitness+ Instagram page, which includes links to each of their personal profiles). They look like a fun, talented and diverse team.

To start an Apple Fitness+ workout, you will simply pick four things:

  • Workout: Choose from 10 types, including dance, strength and yoga.
  • Trainer: Pick your gym-crush.
  • Time: Select a duration, from just 5 minutes to a full 45-minute session.
  • Music: Pick from eight genres, including Latest Hits, Latin Grooves and Country. You also can listen to the playlists on Apple Music.

The Fitness app finds all the videos matching your criteria, and new videos are added every week to keep you from getting bored.

Get to know Apple's trainers on their new Instagram page
Get to know Apple’s trainers on their new Instagram page.
Photo: Apple

How Apple Fitness+ stacks up against the competition

Providing studio classes online is nothing new. Apple Fitness+ joins an already crowded sector. Peloton is one of the leaders. Best known for its smart exercise bike, the company also offers an app with a service that’s strikingly similar to Apple Fitness+.

Unlike Apple, Peloton offers live video streams as well as on-demand ones. During a live stream, the trainer can actually see your workout stats and even give you a shout-out to keep you motivated.

There are also several third-party apps that offer on-demand workout videos, including Centr by Chris Hemsworth, Nike Training Club,  Adidas Training and Asana Rebel.

At $9.99 per month or $79.99 per year, Apple Fitness+ won’t be cheap. However, it’s priced similar to its competitors:

  • Peloton: $12.99/month
  • Centr: $19.99/month or $119.99/year
  • Adidas Training: $49.99/year
  • Asana Rebel: $9.99/month or $69.99/year

Nike recently scrapped its NTC Premium service (which cost $14.99 per month), making all its existing on-demand workout videos free. This is possibly because the apparel-maker didn’t want to compete directly with its partner, Apple. It’s very noticeable that all Apple’s trainers wear Nike gear.

Apple Fitness+ boasts unbeatable Apple Watch integration
Apple Fitness+ boasts unbeatable Apple Watch integration.
Photo: Apple

What gives Apple Fitness+ its competitive edge?

Apple Fitness+ benefits from three distinct advantages that really set it apart:

  1. Integration with the Fitness app: Formerly known as “Activity,” this is a very popular app and a great place to promote the new service.
  2. Integration with Apple Watch: Metrics from your watch are displayed live on the big screen, including celebrations when you close your Activity Rings. That’s just not possible for third-party fitness apps.
  3. Privacy: Unlike competitors that must rely on the cloud to store data, Apple keeps all Fitness+ data encrypted on your iPhone, without needing to associate it with your Apple ID, thus ensuring unrivaled privacy.

Perfect timing for a home workout solution

The timing couldn’t be better for Apple’s home workout solution as we face the prospect of a second wave of COVID-19 infections and more lockdowns.

That said, Fitness+ is competing in a very different category than the rest of Apple’s Health & Fitness offering. As a streaming video service, it’s more in the territory of Apple TV+. And the jury is still out whether Apple will become successful as a content creator. We’ll only know for sure when Apple Fitness+ launches later this year.