When Fitness+ dropped a few weeks ago, we were pretty impressed by the launch, but the service isn’t perfect. One of our gripes was that you could only filter workouts by music, length, and trainer—those of us hoping to browse by goal (i.e., run a 5K, working your way to a pull-up, etc.) or intensity were out of luck. Which is why when I opened up the Fitness+ app today to peruse the new workouts that drop every Monday, I was pleasantly surprised.
A video message from HIIT trainer Kim Ngo greeted me at the top of the app, with a description that read: “Goal-setting workouts and new Limited Edition Award.” My eyebrows flew into the stratosphere. Obviously Fitness+ is still being built out, but this had to be record speed for a fitness app implementing early user feedback. In the video, Kim—who despite her bubbly personality is a cardio murder machine—pointed out two workouts this week that are part of a “goal-setting series.” Oh, there’s a new limited edition challenge for Apple Watch owners in the New Year (close all three rings for seven days straight at some point in January.)
I was stoked. I did the two highlighted workouts—a 20-minute strength workout and a 10-minute HIIT workout. I got sufficiently sweaty. What I didn’t realize is what Apple meant by “goal-setting” wasn’t a type of fitness program…so much as the instructors encouraging me to get a running start on my New Year fitness goals. Because, have you heard? It’s apparently a new year.
In the strength workout, trainer Gregg mostly talked about how I should notice what my weak points and strong points were, and that I should focus on what areas I wanted to get stronger in the coming year. Well, yeah. But getting fairly obvious advice and pep talks wasn’t exactly what I meant when I said Fitness+ should include goal-oriented programs.
Other fitness apps often include a few programs that let you work toward something. In running apps, it’s often structured classes like a Couch to 5K or improving your pace for a specific distance over the course of 8-32 weeks. In Aaptiv, there are programs themed around “getting stronger,” which is a collection of classes that range from goals like “muscle gainz,” learning how to use kettlebells, or perfecting your pushup. While Fitness+ does have an Absolute Beginner program to help ease complete newbies into various types of workouts, that’s about it.
This doesn’t mean Fitness+ is bad—it just highlights that this platform is built around the idea of hooking you further into Apple’s ecosystem. A dumb part of my lizard brain definitely went, “Ooh! Limited Edition badge that ultimately means nothing? Sign me up! What a cool integration!” Do I feel more incentivized to do Fitness+ workouts with each notification I get on my wrist, saying that a friend just completed a Fitness+ workout? Sadly, yes. I am a fitness lemming. Poking around in Apple Music, sometime since launch there’s now a Apple Fitness+ Studio Series—a group of playlists that are curated by the instructors for various genres and workout types. If you browse the accessories in Apple’s online store, you’ll now find links to the products the instructors use in the videos—including a $120 Manduka yoga mat.
What Apple is doing with Fitness+ is basically taking a page from Marvel’s playbook and building out a universe of interconnected products, services, and personalities. It’s not dissimilar to what Peloton has done, but it does have a lower cost of entry as, even if you bought an Apple Watch, iPad, and Apple TV, it’s still possible to get it all for less than the price of one Peloton bike. (But unlike Peloton, Fitness+ does require at least some hardware—you can subscribe to the Peloton app without plunking down cash for a bike.)
Cynically speaking, you could make a convincing case that Fitness+ is an Apple ad first and a fitness app second. That’s a bit harsh, considering there are things that Fitness+ does really well. The service is really thoughtfully designed and inclusive. But a lot of that thoughtfulness is in how it ties into Apple hardware and services. Just ask the dozens of people complaining in forums that Fitness+ is not compatible with AirPlay 2 for beaming workouts to a bigger screen. It’s not something that was ever built to stand alone or to play nice with other ecosystems. If it was, I don’t think I’d be sitting here longing for some missing features like more goal-oriented programs, options for varied equipment, a focus on intensity and difficulty, and the ability to cast a workout from my phone to my Apple-free TV.