Apple's watchOS 4 Workout & Activity Updates Are Awesome. Here's Why They Don't Matter.

Apple Watch fans have much to look forward to in the fall release of watchOS 4. The Siri watch face has the potential to transform the Apple Watch into a truly useful digital assistant with its ability to show users what they need to know based on time of day and location. The Music app will finally support multiple playlists and some of those playlists will be automatically synced to the Apple Watch. But the most exciting updates are to the Apple Watch's fitness and health monitoring, from more workout tracking options and gym equipment connectivity, to smart coaching notifications and better Music and Workout app integration. I use my Apple Watch almost exclusively as a fitness tracker; here are the new watchOS 4 features I'm most excited about and the one upgrade I'd trade all of them for.

Related: Can Apple's New 10.5-inch iPad Pro Replace Your MacBook? Plus, iPad-Only iOS 11 Features

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Most Exciting Fitness Features of watchOS 4

More and Better Workout Tracking

Once watchOS 4 is available in the fall, Apple Watch users will be able to better track high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts with a new workout category in the Workout app. Apple says the workout will use custom heart rate and motion monitoring for the most accurate tracking of users' interval training. The swimming workout was also revamped with the addition of the ability to track sets and rests and stroke types. Users will also have the ability to quick start any type of workout and Do Not Disturb will turn on automatically when a workout is started to prevent the exercise session from being interrupted.

Gym Equipment Sync

In watchOS 4, the Apple Watch will be able to sync with gym equipment such as elliptical machines, stationary bikes, treadmills, and more, via NFC, in order to share information and more accurately track heart rate, active calorie, distance and other metrics of a workout. This feature will of course only be available if your gym happens to have equipment that is compatible with the feature.

Track Multiple Workout Types in a Single Session

Anyone who likes to do some cardio before heading to the weight room or follow a run with a yoga session will be happy to know that watchOS 4 will finally allow them to track more than one type of workout in a single session and see a single summary of all the metrics such as heart rate, calories, etc. for that session.

Personalized Activity App Notifications

Those little achievement badges and notifications can be surprisingly motivating for some people. (OK. For me. They are very, very motivating for me.) And now they'll be customized and more exciting. In addition to new "celebration effects" when an Apple Watch wearer closes their activity rings, there will also be personalized monthly challenges and notifications letting the user know things like how many steps they need to take to close their activity ring that day and when they're close to setting a new move record.

Better Music Integration in the Workout App

Instead of attempting the amazing feat of coordination required to double tap the Digital Crown or open the Dock in order switch between the music app and the Workout app without stopping their workout, users will now be able side swipe in order to access music while tracking exercise.

Additionally, watchOS 4 will finally allow Apple Watch users to sync more than one playlist to the watch. Currently, listening to any playlist beyond the single one allowed on the watch requires the user to stream the music from the iPhone. One of the most exciting things about being able to sync multiple playlists to the watch is the ability to associate individual playlists with specific types of workouts and have those playlists start automatically when the workout starts. When watchOS 4 becomes available to the public, this feature will mean that the Apple Watch will be one crucial step closer to offering everything necessary for truly iPhone-free workout tracking. 

All These Updates Are Cool. But None of Them Matter without Better Battery Life.

For fitness-minded Apple Watch fans, watchOS 4 promises to address a lot of pain points they currently experience when tracking workouts and activity. So why do I say that none of these awesome updates actually matter? Because Apple has so far failed to address the biggest fitness-tracking pain point of all: the poor battery life of the device itself.

Apple says the Apple Watch battery will last up to eight hours when used for workout tracking. In practice, the Apple Watch Series 2 will probably get about five hours. The original  Apple Watch gets about three hours. And battery life is even worse for those who wear the smaller 38mm Apple Watch, since the battery is smaller than the one in the 42mm Apple Watch. 

No software update will significantly change the fact that tracking workouts drains the Apple Watch's battery in a matter of hours. Anyone who does long workouts or more than one workout a day will need to charge their Apple Watch at least once during the day in order to make the battery last to the end of the day. Even when not deliberately tracking workouts, a user who is unusually active will find their watch battery may not last the whole day.

I know I will enjoy using the new watchOS 4 features when the software update is released in the fall, but I would trade all of them for an Apple Watch with significantly better battery life. I'm hoping the rumored Apple Watch Series 3 has a much more powerful battery and is released sooner rather than later  

What's your experience with your Apple Wach battery? Take the poll and tell us more in the comments!

 

Do you track fitness with your Apple Watch? If yes, how often do you charge it?
Less than 1 time per day
1 time per day
1–2 times per day
More than 2 times per day
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Sarah Kingsbury is the Senior Web Editor of iPhone Life magazine. Previously she wrote for savvyvegetarian.com and was the Associate Editor of the Iowa Source for many years.