The Apple Watch has become an almost indispensable fitness device over the last several years.
Updates like heart-rate tracking, blood oxygen monitoring and extra sensors effectively turn the watch into a health lab on your wrist.
This week, the Silicon Valley tech giant has launched watchOS 8 (the latest version of the Apple Watch operating system) which is available to download for free.
There are a number of changes, like evolving the Breathe app into a more rounded Mindfulness app and adding a couple of new workout types in Tai Chi and Pilates.
But the most attention appears to have been lavished on cyclists. Apple has finally addressed some of the biggest requests from those of us on two wheels.
For starters, the Apple Watch will now automatically register when you’ve started a bike ride and prompt you to start recording it. Secondly, during your cycle it will also automatically pause and resume the workout if you need to stop – like if you hit a red light or a traffic jam.
Making these actions automatic is a big help for cyclists who may be wearing gloves, have sweaty hands or are just concentrating too much on the world around them (or getting somewhere on time!) to remember to reach down and start recording their exercise.
‘In watchOS 8 we just wanted to do more to make the experience better,’ explained Julz Arney, Director of Fitness for Health Technologies at Apple.
While simply automating the process may sound like a straightforward endevour, there’s a lot that has to go into it.
‘The way we do it is with advanced algorithms that analyse the data from the sensors: GPS, heart rate, accelerometer, gyroscope, to find out when you’re riding a bike. Some things we look for, such as an elevated heart rate due to pedalling can help distinguish if you’re riding a bike rather than pulling out of your driveway and travelling in a slow-moving car,’ Arney told Metro.co.uk.
‘We also use the magnetometer – basically, the compass – to detect any change in orientation, like when you’re on a bike and there’s a subtle sway.’
‘And we have some great experience with this going back to when we put auto-start reminders into gym equipment and the elliptical machine in particular, that looks like a lot of other everyday activities. So we have experience with parsing out signals and making sure we have pretty high confidence that you’re doing the thing that you’re doing.’
All of which means the Apple Watch is able to understand the difference between cycling and, say, pushing a shopping trolley around a supermarket with an elevated heart rate because the wine’s on offer.
Once riding, the Apple Watch will hit you with a reminder to record your cycle around three minutes after it detects that you’re on the bike. If you don’t want to record the workout, you can dismiss the reminder and also mute them for the rest of the day.
Alternatively, if you accept and start tracking the workout, the Apple Watch will know to backdate your credit from when you started riding. Crucial when it comes to closing those rings.
Finally, the new watchOS 8 update introduces fall detection for cycling. The feature Apple hopes you’ll never need has been in place for other workout types, like running and hiking, but not for cycling before.
Stories have emerged of people’s lives being saved by the feature and as anyone who’s taken a tumble will know: falling from a bike is no small thing.
What’s interesting is that to get the feature right, Apple used data from real falls that took place in the real world. That gives the company confidence it can distinguish between genuine falls and, for example, going over jumps and landing with a thuddering impact.
‘It was really important to us that we didn’t use mannequins or fake falls from stunt people,’ Arney explained to Metro.co.uk.
‘We actually ran longitudinal studies where people lived their life and then if, sadly, a fall were to happen we were able to pick up the signals and analyse them as real-world falls.
‘So, as you can imagine, that probably took some time because people don’t fall every day, but that was really important that we understood the difference between a slip and a trip when you’re walking – those are two very different signals – and when it happens during workouts.
The watch is looking for a couple of things to trigger Fall Detection, it’s looking for the trajectory you’re travelling before you fell to know you were in motion and then it’s looking for the impact of the fall itself, which has to be quite hard.’
If Fall Detection is activated, the Apple Watch will sound an alert that the wearer can either dismiss or initiate a call to the emergency services right from the notification. If the watch detects that you’re not moving, then it plays an audio message when the call to the emergency services connects so you can get help.
‘Of course it’s a feature we hope you don’t ever need, but one that can give you peace of mind knowing that it’s there,’ Arney said.
These features come as part of the watchOS 8 upgrade which is compatible with all Apple Watches from the Series 3 onwards.
But of course, Apple also has a brand new Apple Watch coming later this autumn.
The Series 7 version of the wearable has a smaller bezel and larger screen in the same rounded body. Apple says it offers 20 per cent more screen area and 1.7mm borders that are 40 per cent smaller than those on the Series 6.
The larger display means that for the first time the Apple Watch can display a QWERTY keyboard for tapping (or swiping) out messages on your wrist.
The Series 7 boasts the same 18-hour battery life as the Series 6, but will now charge up 33 per cent faster. In an effort to make it tougher and more durable, the Apple Watch Series 7 boasts an IP6X certification for dust resistance and a WR50 water resistance rating.
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