Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Fitness apps on Apple Watch

I have been using the Workout (native app) and Runkeeper app on the Apple watch for the last five weeks (4runs a week). Workout app is a full feature running app and logs every possible parameter of your run. And the best thing about it is that it can log your run accurately even if you are not carrying your phone for the run (but you do need to initially pair and train the workout app to work independently). The huge negative about the app, its a battery guzzler, so if you have a three hour plus run planned its best to keep the HRM feature switch off (i wish they build a feature to manage the frequency/intervals of HRM logs, to preserve battery life, instead of having just an on or off button).

Runkeeper on the other hand is an absolute embarrassment, other than start and stop and yes save feature there is nothing to it. And it obviously cant be used without the phone (independently), so I don't really see any real compelling reason to use it. Another issue, if you start the app through the watch, you can't stop or pause it from the phone, which is very weird and inconvenient. So its best to not operate the runkeeper app from the watch, atleast that way you will conserve some much needed battery life on the watch.

I have been reading a lot of good things about Apple watch OS2 wrt fitness apps. You will soon be able to request Siri to launch workouts by instructing to start a 10km or 30minute run. Also 3rd party apps will be able to use some of the other data collected by your watch. 

Third party apps on Apple Watch

I have been experimenting with a lot of native and 3rd party apps on the Apple Watch, over the last two months. And I have been disappointed with most of the third party apps, including those from bigger digital brands, most seem like lame attempts, very basic with start and stop features on the watch extension of the app. I hope to review different third party Apple watch apps in the coming weeks, I will start of with banking apps first.

Most Indian apps (pure play and mainstream brand apps) have stayed away from Apple watch extensions. This is quite understandable, especially given the fact that Apple has not even bothered to officially launch it in India. Utility app category has seen maximum noise, some banks have already made announcements, about their intention to launch wearable banking extensions. HDFC bank has been the first off the block, but I am sure Citi, ICICI and Axis won't be too far behind. I can only review the HDFC app as I already have a banking relationship with them. And there is no way I can genuinely test/review other bank apps (as no banking relationship with the other two banks), just going through a presentation deck with screen shots does not cut it for me.

What I liked about the HDFC bank apple watch app is that it's not a mere (view) extension of the bank account, it does a whole lot more. It already allows one to connect & view all my relationship with the bank (credit card, mutual fund, savings account, FD and more) but also pay for your mobile & DTH recharge and soon they will launch bill pay directly from the phone. Personally the killer feature is something totally unintentional from HDFC bank, it's the fact that I can access my bank account with just one 4digit passcode, instead of a painful customer id plus alphanumeric password for the mobile banking app.
I would like to see a few changes in their next update, password input currently is with full screen digital numeric keypad (ref. Picture) which is quite painful to feed into, it needs to be replaced by four + & - keys each to input 0 to 9 numbers. And I would like them to start notifications on the watch as soon as some payment is received or account is debited for some amount. These two feature would go a long way in improving the utility of their Apple watch app.

The next challenge will be for HDFC bank to launch for Android, which is not going to be so simple and easy as there are 3/4 large wearables (watch) players who need to be catered too. But this wearables space is going to see a lot of excitement. 

It is these convenience features on wearables which is going to make or break the category. So lot of development work has to happen through third party apps for these really cool wearable devices to transcend beyond the hipster quotient for the user.