More apps on the watchOS 2 run natively, or directly on the watch.
More apps on the watchOS 2 run natively, or directly on the watch. (Photo: Apple)

Apple’s Software Updates Just Made the Watch Way Better for Athletes

You can now ditch the phone but still accurately track your workouts, thanks to watchOS 2

The Apple Watch Sport is a stellar device for those interested in tracking health. For those specifically interested in the device as a fitness tracker, it's more of a mixed bag.
Michael Frank

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When the Apple Watch debuted last spring, it was a good, if unexceptional, fitness tracker. It could measure basic stats (heart rate, distance, speed), but wasn’t capable of in-depth analysis. That changes starting September 16, thanks to watchOS 2, a software update announced Wednesday at San Francisco's Bill Graham Theater. 

The update allows third party Watch apps (think Runtastic) to run natively and access data from the watch’s accelerometer and heart-rate monitor. This will make the apps run much faster (no lag between watch and phone communicating), but more importantly, it means you’ll be able to ditch your iPhone when you head out the door to exercise*. The Watch will accurately track detailed stats such as max speed and heart rate via your favorite app. These native apps will also be customizable so you can choose which stats you want to see.

Don’t expect all of this to happen right away, however. We’ve spoken with reps from Under Armour, Strava, and Runtastic, and they won’t specify when their apps will get native functionality. They’re moving slowly to ensure everything works as advertised.

Additionally, watchOS 2 will allow third party Watch app data to merge into Activity. This lets athletes use specialized fitness apps like Strava for their workouts, but still rely on the Apple's Activity app—which measures exercise, movement, and stand time throughout the day—to track overall fitness.

Other smaller updates include the ability to start a workout using Siri and enabled WiFi connectivity.  

Of course, the Apple Watch is still only water resistant down to three feet (so no swimming), and it doesn’t have built-in GPS. These are hardware upgrades that can’t be solved with new software. We’ll just have to wait for the Apple Watch 2.0. 

*This article was updated to correct a point about how the apps will work.