How Apple has turned its watch into an all-round fitness tracker
The new Series 2 is all about two things - swimming and GPS. Andrew Griffin reports
The new Apple Watch is here. But you might not be able to tell. The brand new watch - named the Series 2 - looks almost exactly the same as the existing one. And beyond a few small changes, you might not be able to notice when it's turned on: it uses the same software and packs in most of the same features.
Gradually, though, it dawns on you: the screen is a little brighter. Everything runs a little faster. And then you jump in a pool or you run around without your phone in your pocket. And that's when you realise - if you have need for it, this watch might be entirely different.
For people who swim (obviously), this was the most clearly lacking thing in the first watch. It claimed to be a fitness tracker, but it excluded one of the world's most popular fitness activities.
That's all fixed now - a combination of swimproofing that means the water won't kill the phone, and new software that can accurately track how you're doing, makes it into a great all-round fitness tracker.
The software works by watching for when the watch's sensors feel that it's been moved enough for one stroke. And other sensors watch for when a swimmer has turned around in the pool, meaning that it can know both how frantically a person is swimming and how far they're actually getting.
Georgie Bloy, swim manager at Virgin Active Broadgate, said that having that sort of information can prove especially useful to beginners.
"Fitness trackers are great for keeping tabs on progress and helping you reach your goals," she says.
"For those who are also looking to monitor calories, they also can help you monitor how many you burn during swimming."
Unfortunately, some of the more granular and useful information is lacking. As Ms Bloy indicates, it's very useful to know how much you're advancing, for instance, but the Apple Watch's Activity app doesn't give much information about how you're coming along.
It would be incredibly helpful, for instance, to know whether you're better at swimming in the morning, or at night; or if going for a swim before you go to bed helps you sleep better. Apple has all of that information - it can now even track sleep by watching how you use your phone - but it still doesn't feel like it's making the most out of it.
The other big feature is the addition of GPS. That's even less obviously there than swimming, but it's perhaps even more important.
The key fact is that the watch will now be able to tell where it is, even when it doesn't have the phone. That makes it into a genuine running companion on its own.
And the big worry in advance of the event - that battery life would die with GPS - doesn't seem to have happened. The GPS only switches on when the watch is away from the phone and the battery is much improved, so that (Apple claims) it can make it through an entire marathon.