In this series, I focus on an OS or hardware feature that seems easy to improve. How and why should it be improved? Is it easy to do? Is it, in fact, 'low hanging fruit'?
I should preface this all by saying that I'm aware Fitness+ is only one month old. Generally this series is aimed at things that could have and maybe should have been fixed a long time ago, so this might seem harsh. It's not meant to be.
Let it be said that I believe Fitness+ is a fantastic service and one of Apple's best version 1 releases in many years. It's straightforward to use, aesthetically tremendous and is very much using the best of Apple's positive talents. I've been doing rowing, core, strength, HIIT and mindful Cooldown workouts and my girlfriend has tried yoga as well. If you've investigated the dance workout, let me know; that looks intense and way beyond my drunk wedding-dance skills!
However, I think there's some great things Apple could add to make this service a world-beater. I wanted to look at how they might do this without changing the service's fundamental drive, which is 'everyone welcome'.
starting off on the right foot
So let's start with the positives. I've been using Fitness+ every day to keep active while London is in yet another lockdown. We live in a flat without a garden so it's very easy not to do anything day to day. The ease of being able to turn on the TV or open the iPad, open the app and with only a few taps launch a workout, cannot be understated.
The wide variety of workouts are fantastic. As are the trainers. I wondered, as a classic lowkey Brit, whether the trainers would be a bit too ‘positive’. They are certainly smiley and cheerful, but in your face and annoying they are not. Some are genuinely funny and really make you feel part of the team. Oh, and Kim is from my area of London! They also cameo in each other's workouts. I’d be interested to see who does it most (my money’s on Greg), and how they organise it. Is there a sign up sheet at the Fitness+ Studios?
The music is also good. As a bit of a music snob I was worried I'd have to listen to a lot of annoying pop or mind-numbing dance but it's all been good vibes so far. And you can't beat a rowing sprint to Song 2 by Blur!
The integration with the watch is also good. The trainers call out your heart rate, Burn Bar or rings quite often which gives you a great push and as a competitive person, that Burn Bar is a great addition.
As someone who's pretty fit (or used to be before COVID!), most of the workouts a quite challenging and allow me to push myself. I say 'most of the workouts' - I'll get into that later. For someone who is less fit the modifications by the other trainers on screen are a great addition.
The trainers are closing their rings too! I've spotted several in the background tapping their watches just before they start.
All the trainers use American Sign Language at beginning and end. While hard of hearing users will have subtitles on, this isn't even needed, it's just another great addition to make you feel part of the 'crew'.
While they have a set workout, there doesn't seem to be a script. They’re very relaxed with what they say. It doesn’t feel awkward and silent but also doesn’t feel forced. They have natural charisma and are great to have with you.
They sweat! This helps as being shouted at by very attractive, smiling, toned people is not fun if they don't struggle too. Knowing they're going through what you're going through really motivates you. Rowing trainer Josh (my favourite trainer) often has to stop speaking for a few seconds to catch his breath!
well that's a surprise
I think the biggest surprise (mostly since they've thought about including ASL gestures) is that there are no workouts for users that are less able-bodied. Every single workout requires the use of your arms and legs. Apple has made fantastic progress for accessibility on iOS and Mac over recent years so this surprised me. It surely wouldn't have taken much to do some wheelchair/seated workouts.
areas of improvement
The first thing I came up against was difficulty levels. I like to be challenged. If I don't feel like I'm being pushed during a workout I get frustrated. All the rowing and HIIT workouts are doing that, which is excellent. What's not so consistent are some of the other types of workout, which can be quite variable.
Another limitation is knowing what parts of the body you're working out. The workout’s descriptions are often just a sentence, and the preview video doesn’t show much more. This is ideal if you're starting out, but after that you will probably want to target more specific areas.
The most problematic are for me are cooldowns. Fitness+ offers the option for a 'Mindful Cooldown' after each workout. These are great and my girlfriend has taken to doing one of these 5/10 minute sessions before bed. But accompanying a full workout they are a bit generic. What is missing are specific stretches for certain workouts. The trainers rarely do stretches as part of your session. Injuries are horrible but easily avoidable.
possible new features
So this is where we get into the nitty-gritty of HOW to improve the service.
As I mentioned at the top, Apple is positioning this service as 'everyone welcome'. This is great, and what makes it so approachable and easy to use. The challenge then, is how to improve and expand the service without moving away from the motto.
First up let's talk about workout descriptions.
Of course, I'm not suggesting Apple add long lists of muscle groups for each workout but what about simplistic icons of the body highlighting the areas used. Apple does exceptional symbol design, this should be easy and would be very useful.
For cooldowns Fitness+ could suggest specific types after workouts that match with what you've just done, or the trainers could make sure they do a proper Cooldown and stretch within each workout session.
It would be fantastic to have more courses like the 'Absolute Beginner' section. Going from amateur rower to pro or from nothing to 5K runner. The service seems to target general, easy to access fitness and it's doing it very well, but I suspect we will eventually see this. The 'Absolute Beginner' workouts are separate from the rest of the app so the same could happen for these specific courses.
How about going even further. What about an advanced section? For those users who are already really fit and want to keep pushing themselves. Those who want a punishing HIIT workout or a competitive level 5K. It's also important to point out that if some users commit to this service they will continue to get fitter and fitter. Apple won't want people to outgrow the service. An advanced section could be another tab you unlock after so many workouts or maybe another filter like 'time'; how about' standard/advanced'?
This fit's in with the point on courses but Fitness+ could generate a weekly plan for you. Monday is rowing with Josh to blow away the weekend's cobwebs. Tuesday is HIIT with Kim to keep that momentum going. 'Coach Kyle!' On Wednesday with a strength workout. And so on. If there's one thing that helps you get fitter it's structure, variety and consistency (just ask Coach Greg!). Fitness+ doesn't have that right now so this would be a great optional benefit. It could just auto-generate based on your preferences and use existing workouts.
One of the coaches, Betina, announced a couple of weeks ago on her Instagram that she was pregnant. Many people like to keep fit and workout while they go through pregnancy and I imagine Betina will be no different. Creating workouts and mindful cooldowns for people as they go through pregnancy would be a real draw for users and a unique benefit to the service.
In summary, while Fitness+ really is an excellent service and is off to a fantastic start, there's always room for improvement. Proper cooldowns and workouts for users who are less able-bodied are, in my view, the most important things to fix right now. Telling you more about what areas of the body you will be working out would also be very handy. Past that, I expect Apple will introduce more and expand the service over time. How quickly they improve Fitness+ and introduce new sections or features remains to be seen, but I hope they don't wait to start.
And remember, stay active, close your rings, see you next time. 😊