Witness the Fitness+

One hope to target the home workout market

Last week saw the launch of Apple’s new Fitness+ subscription, the latest offering in the world of stay-at-home exercising. The platform gives users access to a range of guided workouts, including high-intensity interval training, yoga, core workouts and strength training. On top of this, users with a more advanced home gym can take advantage of classes for their treadmill, indoor bike or rowing machine. Once they’ve signed up to pay $9.99 per month or $79.99 for the year, owners get access to as many classes as they like, from a wide range of professional personal trainers.

On that note, Apple has smartly cherry-picked well-known influencers from social platforms like Instagram and YouTube, immediately raising awareness of Fitness+ among those who already follow these trainers for home workouts. It has also made a huge fanfare of the diversity of trainers present here — heavy emphasis has been placed on making this a welcoming experience. Apple Fitness+ is aimed at everyone from beginners to experts, and also strives to include everyone, thanks to additions such as sign language instructions.

In the Covid-19 era, this entire approach makes a lot of sense. In many regions, gyms and exercise classes have been closed or at least restricted, with social distancing making intense, indoor exercising an obvious no-no. The trend in home workouts, which had seen offerings like Zwift and Peloton performing strongly before the pandemic, has enjoyed a strong boost this year, making it an attractive market for Apple to tap into. And as we head into the golden window of exercise created by New Year’s resolutions, Fitness+ will undoubtedly tempt some newcomers into the fold.

For Apple, this is also a manoeuvre that meshes beautifully with its hardware offerings. Fitness+ promises to work seamlessly with iPhone, iPad and Apple TV devices, with the Apple Watch playing a key role at the centre of the system. Thanks to the Watch, metrics like current heart rate, calorie burn and Apple’s Activity rings all appear on screen, giving users live insight into the intensity of their workout without missing a beat.

However — and it’s a big however — this is a double-edged sword. Not only does Fitness+ work seamlessly with Apple hardware, but it also requires it. And it’s not just one piece of hardware either; users will need an Apple Watch along with an iPhone, iPad or Apple TV, and all of these devices will need to be running a recent version of their operating system. What this means is that Fitness+ is very much a walled garden exclusively for those who are already invested in the Apple ecosystem or are comfortable with the expense of joining.

Apple will of course have done the sums and worked out that this is a risk worth taking — but it raises the question of how much money is being left on the table. I’m sure there are millions of Android users out there who’d love the idea of a well-curated selection of workouts and would be happy to follow along even without the hyper-optimized Apple hardware experience, but for now, this is impossible. This might be because Apple wants to nail the user experience for its loyal customers first and make Fitness+ more widely available later, but there are no guarantees.

This decision is indicative of broader tension within Apple. Services drive hardware, so it makes sense to keep them exclusive. But services are also an increasingly meaningful source of income in their own right: they now contribute to 22% of total company revenue. The result is that some services, like Apple Music, have gone horizontal while others remain strictly vertical. Given Apple’s desire to control and optimize the user experience, Fitness+ is an obvious candidate for tight integration exclusively with Apple hardware, but this will limit its appeal elsewhere.

How you view Apple’s new fitness product — and its availability — is likely to be dictated by how you view Apple as a whole. Existing customers will see Fitness+ as an exciting new subscription offering, with typical high-quality delivery and perfect integration with their devices. For Apple, this should also prove a very handy means of selling more Apple Watch devices (which are already a hugely successful revenue stream in their own right).

But for those outside the ecosystem, a cynic may argue this is a sign of further introspection from a company that consistently seeks its own routes. The decision to exclude people who aren’t able to afford Apple’s premium hardware products but would love to access its software services jars with the branding of Fitness+ as an inclusive platform.

Either way, Apple Fitness+ is further verification of the trends we’ve witnessed this year as technology and health and fitness become more intertwined. Placing the Apple Watch at the heart of this offering underlines the strides that wearables have taken as important companions for people focusing on wellness.

Smartwatches have weathered the Covid-19 storm comparatively well as people have prioritized their health this year, and we’re expecting to see a strong fourth-quarter sales spike ahead of a strong 2021. I’m confident that the overlap of tech and wellness will continue to prove fruitful, and I expect to see the race continue to pick up pace.