5 ways the Apple Watch can become a better Fitbit rival

A wish list for how Apple can up its activity tracking game
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I've been living with the Apple Watch Series 2 again since I first had to put it through its paces last year for our big review. It's the Nike+ edition of the Watch, which I like to think is the best looking of the new Apple smartwatch options on offer and have really enjoyed wearing it.

As far as the features that I use on a daily basis, it's the vastly improved notification support that gets most of my attention. But the GPS support and the swim tracking come in handy when I've forgotten to throw in a dedicated sports watch to my bag in the morning.

Read this: Apple Watch Activity and Workout app explained

One feature I was really hoping to make good use of was the Watch's fitness tracking features and find out how Apple is stealing away those Fitbit and Xiaomi tracker sales. It would also save me strapping on another wearable to do the job as well.

Disappointingly, it's not quite worked out like that and I'm finding it difficult to be convinced by Apple's approach to activity tracking as it stands right now. It's definitely going in the right direction and has improved since the last major watchOS upgrade, but it could definitely do with 'borrowing' a few features from its rivals to make the whole experience a better one.

If Apple asked me what I'd like to see added to make its smartwatch a better fitness tracker alternative, here's what would be top of my list that I'm sure a software tweak here and a sensor addition there could surely fix.

Monitoring bed time

5 ways the Apple Watch can become a better Fitbit rival

Judging by the recent acquisition of sleep tracking company Beddit, this is something Apple is finally addressing and that's adding sleep monitoring to the activity tracker mix. Beddit has already built an Apple Watch app and its mattress monitor is able to track a host of data including heart rate, respiration, bedroom temperature and even snoring.

While I'm not expecting Apple to deliver all of those same metrics from a smartwatch, I still think it can strike a good balance between serving up reliable data that is both meaningful and can be insightful. One obstacle of course here is Watch battery life. Yes, it's better on the Series 2, but it'll need to improve beyond a couple of days if you're planning to use it the following morning and hope it gets you through the rest of that day.

Track those stairs

5 ways the Apple Watch can become a better Fitbit rival

One of the most notable omissions is a fitness tracking staple that you can find on most Fitbit, Garmin or Misfit devices and that's an altimeter to record elevation. That's a big deal because climbing the stairs instead of taking the lift at work is a much better way to burn calories. It's also big miss for anyone that wants to use the Watch for outdoor pursuits like hiking and I'm sure adding in this extra sensor that's commonly found in so many other trackers should be a relatively straightforward issue for Apple to address.

Don't forget about resting heart rate

5 ways the Apple Watch can become a better Fitbit rival

Apple's Watch does let you take on-the-spot heart rate readings and can record and display bpm readings during workouts, but its Activity app doesn't currently let you view resting heart rate information. There are third party Watch apps that can solve that problem like HeartBeat and Cardiogram, but I'd like to see it incorporated into Apple's own software as well.

Why is resting heart rate important information to see? We've explained all in our resting heart rate guide, but essentially the lower the number of your resting heart rate, the fitter you are. Rival trackers from the likes of Fitbit and Garmin offer up this information to provide a better overview of your health and it's a HR feature that should be on the agenda for Apple.

Picking up the pace

5 ways the Apple Watch can become a better Fitbit rival

One of the activity tracking features I really like on Samsung's wearables is the auto recognition, specifically around walking. I walk pretty fast when I'm getting around, and when I do, the Gear Fit2 and the Gear S3 are quick to spring into action and realise when you're not just out for a leisurely walk. There's no Samsung or Fitbit-like smart recognition tech on board the Apple Watch, and it feels like it's a no brainer that it'll be something to add in the future. Let's just hope we are not waiting too long for it.

Give me a stress score

5 ways the Apple Watch can become a better Fitbit rival

I'm talking about HRV or heart rate variability, a heart-rate based measurement, which is commonly used in cardiology departments and with elite athletes to monitor performance and recovery. It's now starting to find its way into wearables including fitness trackers like the Fitbit Charge 2 and Garmin Vivosmart 3 where it's used to deliver more features around keeping the mind as well as the body healthy.

There are some iPhone and iPad apps that can offer up this insightful data when paired with an external heart rate monitor, and while Apple's Watch does take a more mindful approach to activity tracking with its guided breathing, it's not really taking full advantage of its heart rate hardware to tackle the issues of stress. Granted, it's a bit of new phenomenon for fitness trackers, but with Garmin's wearables giving us a glimpse of what can be done, I'd like to see Apple make an even bigger mindfulness push.

What else do you think Apple should add to make the Apple Watch a better fitness tracker? Let us know in the comments below.

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Michael Sawh


Michael Sawh has been covering the wearable tech industry since the very first Fitbit landed back in 2011. Previously the resident wearable tech expert at Trusted Reviews, he also marshaled the features section of T3.com.

He also regularly contributed to T3 magazine when they needed someone to talk about fitness trackers, running watches, headphones, tablets, and phones.

Michael writes for GQ, Wired, Coach Mag, Metro, MSN, BBC Focus, Stuff, TechRadar and has made several appearances on the BBC Travel Show to talk all things tech. 

Michael is a lover of all things sports and fitness-tech related, clocking up over 15 marathons and has put in serious hours in the pool all in the name of testing every fitness wearable going. Expect to see him with a minimum of two wearables at any given time.

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