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How much should Apple Watch cell service cost?

For me, run prep often feels more exhausting than the workout itself. That’s particularly true in wintertime, when cold weather demands a long list of layers: track pants, long-sleeve T, light jacket, gloves, fleece hat, and neck buff. Predawn runs require that I add a blaze-orange vest and a headlamp, for visibility’s sake.

Then there’s the tech gear: Apple Watch on the wrist, AirPods in the ears, Polar heart rate strap around my chest, and the iPhone, tucked into a “fanny pack” at my hip. It’s not an exaggeration to say that it can take me fifteen or twenty minutes just to get out the door, start-to-finish.

Given this overly complex arsenal, I’m glad for any change that speeds up workout prep or simplifies my running accoutrements. For example, I was thrilled to discover that the Series 4’s heart tracking is good enough to forgo the Polar strap.

Similarly, I’d rather leave behind the heavy iPhone, which bangs against my thigh in its fanny pack. But losing the iPhone’s cell connection has distinct disadvantages; I can’t change my “running soundtrack” on the go, and I’m on my own should I have a heart attack or get clipped by a car.

So why not just pony up for the cellular model? In short, it costs too much! Consider the “real” price:

  • $100 more up front for the cell-capable model (versus the GPS-only edition)
  • $15 extra per month for the AT&T service (once you figure for taxes and fees)1
  • An undetermined amount to change our base data plan. Dumping our grandfathered family package (which doesn’t support the Apple Watch) would require at least another $35 monthly.

All told, sporting a cellular Apple Watch means $50 or $60 more each month than I’m paying now. I’d love the added convenience and peace of mind, but are they worth that much?


Even if you accept the higher device price and ignore our particular data plan problem, you’ve still got that pesky monthly fee. So… what is a reasonable price for an Apple Watch cell connection? I polled my tiny Twitter audience:

Poll time. What’s a fair price for adding an Apple Watch to your cellular plan?

— Matt Hauger (@matthauger) September 18, 2018

Poll results notwithstanding, I don’t expect a free ride from AT&T for the Apple Watch. But $15 feels like too much. Ten bucks seems more reasonable—but that should include taxes and fees. ■


  1. Some carriers do better than AT&T on this. For example, U.S. Cellular (which actually has good coverage in my rural area) lets you add an Apple Watch for free on some cell plans. But their network is small, and their roaming agreements come with pretty severe data use restrictions. ↩︎
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Running on empty: the Apple Watch’s half-baked HIIT feature

When Apple unveiled watchOS 4 at its developer event in June, I was excited to see major upgrades to the Watch’s workouts app. In particular, the inclusion of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) appealed to me as a runner. HIIT alternates short, intense bursts of anaerobic exercise (“I’m going to die”) with periods of recovery (“Gasp. Gasp. Gasp.”). No, it’s not fun, but it is effective; research shows that HIIT can boost cardiovascular fitness, weight loss, and even brain power.

What should a HIIT app do?

A great HIIT app should include a great HIIT timer. You tell the app your interval length goals. How long should the intense intervals be? The rest periods? The warm-up and cool-down?

Then, once you actually start your run, the HIIT app should alert you every time the intensity level changes. “Beep, beep! Thirty seconds of all-out sprint! Go, go, go!” Then, just when you feel like your heart’s going to explode, finally, blessedly, you get another alert: “Beep, beep! Jog for a minute and rest.” And then the whole cycle starts again; you scale your effort up and down, while the app does stopwatch duty. Maybe it even tracks your effort level via heart rate and taunts you if you’re slacking. The app is the coach, barking orders to you, the athlete.

Apple’s HIIT feature

Apple has access to APIs that third-party developers don’t, so I was eager to see how they would implement these HIIT features. As the long summer of Apple Watch developer betas crawled by, I waited impatiently for the opportunity to test the new workout app for myself. Finally, yesterday, I got my first chance, here on vacation at the beach.

I had imagined myself streaking down the sand, like that famous opening scene from Chariots of Fire. Splashing through the foam. Feet pounding the sand. Eyes closed, face lifted skyward, arms outstretched. My Apple Watch would coach me to a lofty runner’s high; it would command me, and I would fly.

Only… as I quickly discovered, that’s not really how the Watch’s HIIT feature works. Inexplicably, the HIIT workout doesn’t actually do any of that. In fact, it doesn’t really seem to do anything. The workout app includes no interval timing functionality whatsoever. You’re apparently expected to track your progress in your head somehow by watching the clock. That’s problematic. You’re left asking, “Did I start this interval at the 5:15 or the 5:30 mark?” Or “How many intervals is that? Have I finished three or four?”

HIIT requires ruthless timekeeping. You need someone (whether a person or a digital companion) to order you around. Run now. Rest now. Don’t think about it. Just do it. Don’t count the ticking seconds. Focus entirely on your effort level. Apple’s “You’re on your own” approach just doesn’t cut it.

Wrap-up

Until Apple adds an interval timer to the workout app, its HIIT feature is pretty useless. Its calorie-counting algorithm may be more accurate than previous workout types, but it does little to help you reap the benefits of high-intensity training. For now, HIIT nerds are better off using a third-party HIIT tracker like Seconds. You’ll lose the official workout app’s perks (like its convenient ‘Now Playing’ pane), but at least you’ll know when to bust your butt and when to take a break. ■


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Apple Watch Series 3 review: podcast problems undermine the marquee features

Selling my old Watch

Over a week ago, I reluctantly listed my old Apple Watch for sale online. My Series 3 wouldn’t arrive till Friday, and I dreaded going watchless for the better part of a week, but I also hoped to eke out the best return I could, so I posted my space gray Series 1 to Swappa.

Selling it proved harder than I expected. Days passed, and no serious buyer even nibbled. I dropped my price: $180. $170. $160. Still, no takers. Finally, at $150, a Swappa user bit; I netted about $128 after subtracting the listing fee and my shipping costs. That’s about $100 less than I spent when I bought the device last December. I’m not thrilled with its steep depreciation, but $0.37 per day seems pretty reasonable to lease a device with the Watch’s feature set.

The Series 3 arrives

I didn’t buy the LTE model (see my earlier post. Even if I had wanted that feature, I didn’t have enough cash set aside to afford its $80 price premium. (I save for these purchases very intentionally!)[1]

My 42mm, space gray, non-cellular model arrived via UPS on Friday. As a quick aside, I’m amazed at the logistics required to deliver a state-of-the-art gadget to my rural doorstep on the first day of its worldwide availability. We live in a little log cabin in the remote mountains of West Virginia, an hour from the nearest big box retailer and nearly three hours from the closest Apple retail store. Yet when I finished work on Friday and stepped out onto my porch, there it was: a long cardboard box, fresh off the plane from China.

First impressions

Over the course of my nine months with the Series 1, I grew bored with my black sport band. It looked okay, but it didn’t have a lot of character. This time around, I opted for gray. I know, I know; that’s not very flashy, either, but it was the only other option.

In short, I like the new band; its shade includes a hint of brown, and it’s a bit brighter than the Watch’s aluminum case, but the two pair well. Hopefully, this sport band wears better than the last, which had started to flake by the time I sold it last week.

Based on my earlier comparison, I had worried that the Series 3 would feel significantly thicker than my old Series 1. But I’m happy to report that I haven’t noticed a major difference—it feels identical on my wrist, and I don’t notice its added bulk when I glance down. Now, that doesn’t mean that this Watch’s thickness is “ideal”; it’s a little chunky, and I hope Apple can break the 10mm barrier in the not-too-distant future.

New (to me) features

Compared to the Series 1, watchOS 4 feels snappier on the newer device. Apple claims 70% better performance; for me, the gains are just enough to make third-party apps feel consistently responsive. Dumping the honeycomb (a new option in watchOS 4) helps tremendously. Whereas finding and launching an app could take thirty seconds or more before, now it takes just a few seconds.

I’ve been enjoying the Series 3’s improved water resistance (versus the Series 1, which was splash-proof but couldn’t be immersed). I don’t really want to wear my smartwatch in the shower, but I love being able to rinse off the Watch every time I wash my hands. A clean device is a happy device, right?

Another improvement: the Series 3 screen apparently gets far brighter than that of the Series 1. But I never found the Series 1 to be too dim, and I keep my brightness level too low for this to matter much to me.

Then there are the location-based features; the Series 3, like the Series 2, includes standalone GPS. In addition, it boasts a barometric altimeter for tracking elevation. As a runner, these features appeal to me. But there’s a problem.

Podcasts: the Apple Watch’s Achilles heel

Stated succinctly: the inability to play podcasts from the Watch severely limits its utility. For whatever reason, Apple has declined to build an official Apple Watch podcasts app, and the dearth of audio-related, developer-facing APIs in WatchKit means that third party apps can’t fill the gap. Even the workaround that some podcast apps leveraged in watchOS 3 has been deprecated.

When I run, I listen to podcasts. I don’t have a commute, so that half-hour of exercise is often my only chance to catch up on my favorite shows. A great episode of ATP or Upgrade transforms my workout from a boring slog to a tolerable jaunt. Yes, if I listened to music on my runs instead of podcasts, the Watch could work as a playback device. But that’s not my thing. Podcasts are my thing.

So I’m forced to bring the iPhone, slung into its fanny pack, along for the ride. I feel the its dense heft with every stride, and the running belt somewhat restricts my breathing. Together, these irritating sensations serve as a constant reminder that I’ve got a $700 computer jostling around at my waist.

This podcast drawback effectively means that I’ll never go anywhere with my Watch without bringing my iPhone, too. The Watch’s GPS and altimeter are superfluous, since I’ll always have a phone that includes the same features. And buying the LTE version wouldn’t have made sense (why pay for another cellular connection, when my phone is always in my pocket?).


If Apple ever fixes the podcast problem, everything would change. I could leave the phone at home, and the Watch would suddenly be the perfect running companion. It’s maddening that that Apple is so close here and yet has gone another year without closing the gap. ■


  1. Saving for a potential Apple Watch Series 4 starts now.  ↩

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Justifying an LTE Apple Watch

Tech rumormongers claim that Apple will announce an LTE-equipped Apple Watch at its September event. I’m intrigued to see how Apple makes the case for adding the cell radio. What is a cell-equipped Watch for? Or, put another way, when would I be willing to leave behind my phone?

For me, the only answer is, “When I’m working out.” I hate bringing my iPhone on runs. There’s no good way to carry it; arm straps are awkward, and hip belts make the phone’s heft hard to ignore.

Theoretically, an LTE-enabled Watch could make it easier to leave my iPhone on the dresser when I go running. I could still send and receive urgent messages. If I were an Apple Music subscriber, I could stream any song on the go—not just the playlists I presync to the Watch.

But there are other reasons I bring my phone along on runs—things that even a cell-connected Apple Watch couldn’t do. For example, I occasionally stumble across something interesting while I’m out: a glorious sunrise, a gnarly snapping turtle, a dew-starred spider web. I whip out my phone and snap a photo—a nice reward for my exercise efforts. What happens when the “camera that’s with you” is no longer with you?

Another problem? Podcasts. There’s currently no good way to play podcasts from the Apple Watch itself. Apple inexplicably continues to ignore podcast playback as a potential Watch feature. Meanwhile, third-party apps, hindered by the platform’s limited APIs, haven’t filled the gap. If I want to catch up on my favorite shows while I run, the iPhone needs to come along for the ride.


For me, then, an LTE-equipped Apple Watch seems to create as many problems as it solves. That makes it tough to justify the added cost, particularly if the carriers charge a per-month fee (which is likely).

To be fair, Apple hasn’t made their pitch yet. There may be a use case here that I can’t think of—a benefit that would outweigh the drawbacks of running phoneless. Or maybe they’ll find ways to replace more of the phone’s functionality than currently seems possible. In any case, I’m looking forward to hearing their argument on September 12.