Apple could already own the biggest fitness social network in the world but they’re blowing it

Overcoming the chicken and egg problem

Apple could already own the biggest fitness social network in the world but they’re blowing it

When you first get pair an Apple Watch to your iPhone an icon appears on your iPhone homescreen: Activity.

Activity is like the Fitbit app, but for the Apple Watch. It shows you your progress, your fitness history and your achievements. The basics.

With iOS 10 and watchOS 3 Apple added another feature to the Activity app: sharing.

Now, as well as storing your fitness data in a bright, colourful app that works on your iPhone and Apple Watch, Activity now allows you to share a little bit of data with your friends for some lighthearted competition. And since this bit of gamification is key to the success of other trackers like the Fitbit, this is a big step forward for the Apple Watch.

But with this new feature Apple also introduced a big chicken and egg situation.

One of the key selling points, for me, of a fitness tracker is the social aspect. If I’m in a rut that little bit of competition can be killer. But nobody owns an Apple Watch. They’re expensive and, for most people, unnecessary. Even worse everyone I know already has an $80 Fitbit.

So what could Apple do to fix this? Opening up the Activity app to iPhone users would be a pretty huge start.

I mean, it just makes sense. Every iPhone now has a motion coprocessor, which means every iPhone is already now a basic Fitbit. Fitbit even lets you use this chip to compete with your Fitbit-owning friends for free, and they’re doing this through Apple’s App Store.

But Apple, who added the chip to the iPhone in the first place, don’t use it at all. The Apple Health app, which is data-heavy and no fun, allows developers to access your activity data, but Apple doesn’t actually make a tracking app themselves.

The funny thing is the company could very easily own the fitness market if they took this motion data, mixed it with their already decent Activity app and allowed every iPhone user to compete with Apple Watch owners for a slice of the Activity leaderboards.

Like iMessage, an iPhone Activity app could keep people on the fence locked into the Apple ecosystem, and like the free Fitbit app it could showcase some of the basic Apple Watch features for free.

In my mind the only reason why Apple isn’t doing this is to bolster Watch sales, though for the company that killed the iPod with the iPhone that’s a dumb way of looking at it.

People who want to go for a run without their phone would finally understand what the fuss of competitive fitness tracking is about, and with the new Apple Watch Series Two, which now has GPS and swim-tracking, people more serious about fitness could be more incentivised to buy an Apple Watch to further their score.

Overwhelmingly this speaks to the stranger side of Apple’s health ambitions. The Apple Watch tracks alien kilojoules, not friendly figures like steps or a simple points system like the Nike Fuelband. And just in general using the Apple Watch for fitness tracking feels like using a spreadsheet app, not a simple, fun, competitive fitness tool for normies. If they’re going to sell the Apple Watch as a fitness device then it should be much more simple, and including iPhone users in the mix would be a good start.