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What Apple's new smartwatch means for cyclists + video

As Apple launches the Apple Watch, we look at how it might be useful for cyclists

Wearable tech is one of the hottest buzzwords in the technology sector at the moment and last night Apple unveiled their much anticipated Apple Watch, a wearable device that can monitor and measure your health and activity levels.

The new Apple Watch can monitor the wearer’s movement and activity via heart rate and built-in sensors, and relay that information to a new Health app on the iPhone or iPad. A Workout app will let you set goals for cycling or running activities. Of course, there’ll be a suite of apps for less active tasks, like Twitter and Facebook.

“Apple Watch is the most personal device we ever created,” said Tim Cook, chief executive of Apple, at a press conference. “It works seamlessly with iPhone and is also a comprehensive health and fitness device.”

It’s undeniably a sleek looking thing, and uses a ‘digital crown’ which can be turned to adjust functions and also works as a home button. The screen is a curved sapphire touchscreen that can tell the difference between a gentle tap or touch. It has a speaker and can vibrate alerts. Charging is said to be easy, an inductive charging pad magnetically connecting to the rear panel of the watch so it’s cable-free.

An appealing feature is the optical sensor to detect your heart rate that's built into the rear panel. That means you can monitor your heart rate without having to wear a heart rate monitor chest strap.

The Apple Watch uses a gyroscope and accelerometer to measure movement and can use the GPS signal from the iPhone to provide distance and speed data for compatible apps. That means you can leave your smartphone in your jersey pocket and use the Apple Watch on your wrist to monitor your ride. Maybe you could even mount it on the handlebars like we used to do with Polar watches back in the day.

Apple will offer three versions: stainless steel Watch, aluminium Watch Sport and 18c gold Apple Watch Edition, with prices set to start from about $350 (no UK price has been confirmed at this stage). It will be compatible with iPhone 5, 5C, 5S, 6 and 6 Plus and will be available early next year.

Health and fitness is really the big focus for devices like the Apple Watch, with the idea that wearing it all day and every day will allow it to keep track of calories burned and steps walked. It’s still early days for the Apple Watch but we don’t reckon it’ll be too long before there’s a good cycling app such as Strava or MayMyFitness tailored for the Apple Watch.

Already more and more people are using smartphones to record and track bicycle rides, because a smartphone packs all the computing power you need to run apps like Strava or Garmin Connect. There are vast array of cases designed to mount a smartphone on the handlebars, but obviously not everyone is keen on the idea of sticking a £500 phone on their handlebars. So a small device that acts as a relay to the smartphone’s connectivity is quite appealing to a lot of people.

According to research firm CCS Insight, 9.7m wearable devices were sold in 2013, with over 22m expected to be sold in 2014, so it’s a big market and one that is only set to grow. None of these devices are cycling-specific as such but the Apple Watch is clearly intended to appeal to cyclists, if the video up top is anything to go by. It can only be a matter of time before suitable apps become available to make them a viable alternative to other methods of recording and tracking rides.

As well as providing health monitoring services, the Apple Watch will be able to provide directions with a map, but it’s not clear how well this will be enabled for cycling instead of the primary purpose of walking.

The release of the Apple Watch follows the launch by Samsung of their Gear 2 smartwatch that we took a look at earlier this year. As with Apple, fitness is a primary aim with the Gear 2 and follows the growth of the simpler Fuelband-style devices popular with runners and recreational cyclists.

Garmin also have their £99 Vivofit, a very simple fitness tracker compatible with a heart rate monitor strap via ANT+. And there are many more similar devices from the likes of Nike and Pebbe.

We’ll be trying to get a closer look at the Apple Watch when it launches next spring to see how useful it could be to cyclists.

David worked on the road.cc tech team from 2012-2020. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds, and you can now find him over on his own YouTube channel David Arthur - Just Ride Bikes

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30 comments

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mike the bike | 9 years ago
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Believing, as I do, that the happiest lives are often the simplest, I shall not be buying one of these. In fact it has been many years since I owned even a conventional watch. If I need to know the time I look for a church tower as I pedal along.
Cycling suits me because it is engineering on a human scale; whatever breaks I can fix. As soon as electronics are introduced that admirable principle disappears, taking with it a large proportion of the joy.

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hirsthirst | 9 years ago
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Brilliant how everyone's become both an expert engineer & marketing guru this week!

I appreciate the blanket media coverage is a bit dull, but basically a firm that sells stuff made some new stuff* to sell - when it comes out (and not before) I'll read some reviews from trusted sources, decide whether I want one & whether I want to spend the money. If not, I won't & I'll forget about it.

* other stuff is also available.

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MisterB | 9 years ago
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Here's smart and beautiful (if you don't mind chunky)  19 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ndycU_dUHNQ

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steviewevie | 9 years ago
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Bear in mind that the Apple Watch is not waterproof, just water resistant.

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notfastenough | 9 years ago
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@Cooks - haha, very good! Actually, re-arranging the letters left over gives you "tw@t charms", even better!

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Cooks | 9 years ago
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You can't spell smartwatch without twat.

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Colin Peyresourde | 9 years ago
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Jack of all trades, master of none. I can't see a point in getting it at the moment as it doesn't surpass anything I've already got (including my iPhone). The Samsung watch has been out there for a while and that hasn't exactly taken off.

I'm sure that, like the iPad, iPhone and iPod the technology will become better. But it's not sparking my interest.

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KiwiMike | 9 years ago
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The critical point here is: COMPANION.

You have to have your phone there with you.

So those sleek women in crop-tops? they had a larger-than-ever iPhone 6 somewhere, I'm guessing in a hidden pocket in their shorts. Likewise that guy in the gym.

Anyone who's run long distances or worked out in a vigorous manner instead of just sitting on a bench or standing will tell you having a phone on you (that cost £600 and will *definitely* need to be in a sweat-proof case) is a huge pain in the ass. Let alone a relatively large, chunky watch. No way I'd want to do kettlebells or rope stuff with a watch on, let alone one that cost £350 and stuck out that much.

And any mugger seeing you out with an Apple Watch knows there's an iP6/6s on you someplace. Hand that £900 worth of kit over, fanboy...

If it did a better job than the Wahoo RFLKT or suchlike, showed 3rd-party app navigation as well as stats and was less than half the likely price, then maybe I'd see it on the bars somehow. Maybe. But I would then need a HRM strap.

...and useless for camping/long rides/races as it's inductively charged. Chance of that being battery-powered? zip.

So all in all, eye candy. Some fools will rush in. But as many top mobile industry pundits are saying, this is not a smart move.

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twowheeltoys | 9 years ago
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Careful you lot, are you cyclists or geeks.
Remember you first got on your bike to get out the house, forget about work, get fitter or face a new challenge.
It is great that technology is there to measure more than just time, speed, distance covered, etc and for those who wish to compete the scientific measurements available today are incredible but not really needed for 90+% of riders.
Get out, have fun and buy a new bike or a new set of wheels if you feel you really must spend some money (admittedly not as easy to hide from the other half as tech stuff though).

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notfastenough | 9 years ago
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I think this could prove to be the next catalyst. Heckle Apple all you like, but release of the iphone and ipad were similar in many ways:

"What's it really for?"
"It's overpriced"
"It's taken them long enough to include feature x"
"My Nokia/Samsung etc has been doing that for 2 years!"
"It doesn't even do cut and paste!"

Yet regardless of what features are out there and at what price, it's when Apple does it that the technology takes off. Who remembers when tablets were "pointless" and a non-physical keyboard was a "barely usable gimmick"? Let's see if wearable tech and NFC payments finally starts to gain some traction.

Anyway, I'm unlikely to respond the flames I get for this, just because I can feel an xbox/playstation kiddie spat coming on.

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TheFatAndTheFurious | 8 months ago
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//

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Beatnik69 replied to TheFatAndTheFurious | 9 years ago
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neildmoss wrote:

I've not actually seen Apple say that it tells you what time it is.....

A bit like smartphones...aparently you can use them to make phone calls, not just send text messages/update Facebook status/tweet/gamble...

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RobD | 9 years ago
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Little bit worried about how many people will try to use this whilst driving, it'd be much easier to hide than using a phone while driving (and I see a lot of that during my commute)

I'm looking forward to the day when phones and gadgets can be charged just by being in range of a mobile phone mast, the tech's out there, but it's far too bulky at the moment, but it could make things more interesting.

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nowasps | 9 years ago
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I'm disgusted and angry.

Who do these people selling stuff think they are?

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hectorhtaylor | 9 years ago
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I have a Pebble. It's no threat to Apple (it is also a lot cheaper)but it vibrates and displays the relevant information when a call, text or email comes in. A quick glance is enough to tell me I don't need to stop and sort out British Gas. My Garmin does everything else I need.

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FlatBattery | 9 years ago
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I bought the Sony Xperia Z Compact when it first came out with 'FREE' Sony Smart Watch. The Watch went onto ebay as soon as I recieved it along with several hundred other Sony smart watches. Like most people, it was 'whats the point of a smart watch?' 6 months on and Apple think they've released something new that will only work with Apple Phones. I think they've come too late to the market to grab a large share except Apple Fanboys who have to have every Apple gadget going wether it helps thier life or not

Smart watches in general need a few more iterations before they become mainstream, starting with a smart watch that does something useful please.

my 2¢ worth

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bikebot | 9 years ago
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By the standards of smart watches, it's nice, but it's not exactly a new paradigm in the way the iphone was at launch (compared to the then dominant blackberry). The reaction to this watch has naturally been fairly mixed, although the slide in Apple's share price overnight suggests the concerns run a little deeper.

My thoughts though again turn to Garmin. Look at the prices (quoting RRP):
- iWatch, ~£250 ($350).
- Android Wear, £150->£200
- Garmin, basic FR15 £140, high end Fenix 2, £360

Apple seem to have decided that the major selling point of a smart watch is health and fitness. They'll sell the message, and then Android will mop up with ever cheaper commoditized hardware.

The only future I see for Garmin is either a massive reduction in market reach or profit margin.

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Dlow | 9 years ago
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I like the watch, I like the idea, I like the potential, but with key features lacking like bluetooth/Ant+ connectivity, 24 hour charging requirement..I will likely divvy up for the new Garmin 1000 instead. This watch, while I love the potential, is numerous generations away being useful to me on the bike.

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Binky | 9 years ago
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Never buy the first model. Apart from the battery drain (they always lie about battery life) there will be a whole heap of issues that will have you pulling your hair out.

There are already watches that are linked to phones that end up being left at home as soon as the 'New Toy' glow wears off.

Maybe it's me! but i can't see the point of using it for cycling as it will still be a big battery drain, plus developers will need to create compatible programs and pass through apples approval system before it is compatible with the the phone as well as the watch.

If you do want it, wait for the next version to come out, it will be better (if only slightly) than the first version

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CXR94Di2 | 9 years ago
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Companion watches are pointless, you need the phone to get the most from it.

I have the Omate fully independent watch, telephone. Gps. I have used it for recording my cycling using Sportstracklive app. It works very well at recording my outings. If I need to call home I can whilst not needing my phone in my pocket

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Mountainboy | 9 years ago
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What I really hate is the way Apple make you buy this stuff, hence the need for unfavourable comparisons with other (completely different) kit out there.

I mean, it's not like it's good to have another piece of kit to use if one chooses to eh!

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handlebarcam | 9 years ago
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Here's what it means: one more gadget for morons to be distracted by, instead of paying attention to their driving (and cycling, of course, but such people are realistically only risking their own life.)

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truffy | 9 years ago
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Quote:

An appealing feature is the optical sensor to detect your heart rate that's built into the rear panel

Will this optical sensor be as inaccurate as the others already on the market, compared to electrical sensors?

I cannot get excited by this, in any way whatsoever. And I generally like Apple's stuff.

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theCiSCOkid | 9 years ago
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I was just thinking the same...
Apple re-invents the wheel...
innavation.
 24

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Maggers replied to theCiSCOkid | 9 years ago
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theCiSCOkid wrote:

I was just thinking the same...
Apple re-invents the wheel...
innavation.
 24

Apple? The wheel?

http://www.theonion.com/video/apple-introduces-revolutionary-new-laptop-...

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paulrbarnard replied to theCiSCOkid | 9 years ago
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theCiSCOkid wrote:

I was just thinking the same...
Apple re-invents the wheel...
innavation.
 24

Actually I don't think it will work as a wheel. Think I'll stick with my Zips in the wheel department. Though if they have reinvented the wheel for $400 then thats actually quite reasonably priced. On thing you can be sure of is they will be thin  19

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bendertherobot | 9 years ago
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That means you can leave your smartphone in your jersey pocket and use the Apple Watch on your wrist to monitor your ride.

Or you could leave monitoring your ride till your home.

Or you could monitor it using a device that links to your iPhone that's cheaper.

Or you could spend that money on a Garmin and monitor your ride.

FFS.

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jmaccelari | 9 years ago
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So Apple have just released what everyone else already has on the market with a lot more bling and a much higher price tag? And the media gets into a frenzy (again)? Ho hum...

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RG | 9 years ago
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If all you're doing is tracking distance and speed (which is all I do) what's the point of the watch, since you can do that already with your phone? Most of us are probably carrying phones anyway in case of emergencies.

The heart monitor might be an attractive feature, but not enough to make me splurge ~£300 on a watch that'll be obsolete in three years.

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