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Why fitness apps have been slow to adopt watchOS 2

Caitlin McGarry | Nov. 10, 2015
Few running apps are taking advantage of watchOS 2 yet, but they should.

The Apple Watch doesn’t have built-in GPS, so if mapping your mileage is important to you, you’ll still need to take your phone along to see maps in your running apps. But if maps are unimportant, you can sync Apple Music or iTunes playlists to the Apple Watch and take a pair of Bluetooth headphones on a run and leave your phone behind.

Where have all the watchOS 2 updates gone?

Apple’s upgraded watch platform was supposed to be a gamechanger. Developers can now build native apps for the watch instead of mirror limited functionality from iPhone apps to the watch’s tiny screen. They can tap into the watch’s heart rate sensor, accelerometer, Taptic Engine, Digital Crown, speaker, and microphone.

But few apps have been updated to take advantage of all those capabilities. Nike+ Running and MapMyRun, which I tested back in May, are still chugging along on watchOS 1. Strava, the biking and running app the Apple heralds on its watchOS 2 promotional site, also has yet to be updated (though we hear the app is currently being beta tested and is expected to roll out soon).

strava watchos 
Strava's watchOS 2 update will let the app track your heart rate on runs and bike rides. Credit: Strava

So what’s taking so long?

“It was a large amount of work,” Runkeeper cofounder and CEO Jason Jacobs said via e-mail. “It involved a complete rewrite of our watchOS 1 app. We had to figure out the communication between the watch collecting data and the iPhone collecting data, and how to handle discreprancies.”

Nike is a long-time Apple partner, but its app also remains stuck on watchOS 1. Millions of Nike fans bought in to the fitness brand’s own activity-tracking ecosystem with Nike FuelBands, which the company discontinued, and have been clamoring for Nike to add its proprietary NikeFuel measuring system to its Apple Watch app. That could be coming down the line with a watchOS 2 update, but the company didn’t respond to my request for comment.

The thing about running apps is that if you’ve been using one to track your mileage for any length of time, you won’t want to switch to something else. Few will choose an app to track their runs based solely on Apple Watch performance, but the watch is being marketed to fitness enthusiasts who want their favorite activity-tracking apps on their wrist, and to do things that their phones can’t (like track heart rate). We’re still waiting for apps to live up to those expectations, but the future looks promising.

 

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