fitness · trackers

Apple Watch Honeymoon Is Over (but our relationship continues)

Image description: Activity face of an Apple Watch on Tracy’s arm, showing three embedded rings of different colours and the time of 3:47.

I bought an Apple Watch right before the last major lockdown started back in February (or was it March? The entire pandemic has become a big blur). I loved it so much and wrote about the way it motivated me again here. Closing the rings was an actual motivator that didn’t feel oppressive to me. There was something about it that felt more like a carrot than a stick. I never felt shamed by the watch for not closing the rings and always felt sort of encouraged.

We have all had our struggles with gadgets and trackers. Elan wrote about her tracker ring just the other day. Overall, I think I have done better with the watch than I would have without it. That is, I have gotten in a bit more activity than I otherwise would. But whereas I used to feel almost fully positive about it, the honeymoon is definitely over. What happened to that beautiful time when the watch seemed like my new best friend, all supportive and helpful?

Well, a few things, mostly having to do with not giving credit where credit is due. Back at the beginning, my Apple Watch used to sense when we were outside walking and ask me if I wanted it to start tracking our walk as an activity. Somewhere along the way it stopped doing that.

A friend with an Apple Watch was visiting me a couple of weeks ago and her watch always asked her if she was going for an outside walk. So at the end of a day of being out and about together, she’d tracked many minutes of activity just “by the by,” whereas I only tracked the minutes that I consciously and explicitly asked my watch to track.

But lest you think that my Apple Watch gives me credit for every walking minute I ask it to, I can assure you that it does not. I will routinely walk to work, which takes anywhere from 45-50 minutes. Despite tracking a 50-minute outdoor walk, the Apple Watch will “log” only 28 minutes of “activity.” My daily activity goal is 45 minutes. Granted, I will hit that 45 on my way home, since having walked to work I need to walk home again. But still. Back to this same friend — we would track the same walk and her watch would give her full credit, whereas mine would discount my walking minutes.

My watch is similarly stingy with the “move” tracking. Again with my friend, we were moving exactly the same amount at the same pace. And yet her watch would credit her a way larger percentage of move points (it’s actually measured in calories burned) for the exact same activity than mine would credit me.

And finally, there are the mysterious Stand points. That is, the watch tracks the number of hours in a day you stand for at least one minute. This is a good one for those of us with sedentary jobs. I do not resent the little reminder at ten minutes to the hour if I haven’t stood. What I do resent are the times I get that reminder when I am already standing or when I have stood quite a bit during the previous 50 minutes. Really, the watch doesn’t track “standing.” It tracks standing and moving.

I don’t doubt that standing and moving is superior to standing in some overall health sense. But it can be frustrating to be reminded to stand when it seems as if you have been standing a good portion of the preceding hour already. And then to have to stand up and march in place or do the floss or something (I actually do that a lot!) can sometimes be awkward (I did the floss outside during a break from my graduate seminar the other day to get my “stand” credit and my students were amused).

Image description: still shot of the Apple Watch’s “closing of the rings fireworks of three rings of different colours embedded in one another with an animation effect of each of them bursting into flames like fireworks.

And then there was the time when my watch stopped giving me the fireworks animation when I closed all three rings. That was a dark period that I don’t want to revisit. I mean, the added carrot of the fireworks animation actually gets me going sometimes.

What’s the upshot? I’m still liking the watch. I still wear it every day and check it from time to time. My Intervals Pro running app is still incredibly user-friendly that I cannot believe that I was loathe to switch from my very old Garmin Forerunner for fear that whatever I replaced it with wouldn’t do run intervals as well. There is no comparison. The Apple Watch plus the Intervals Pro app is a fabulous combo.

I have not activated the call to compete with either of my two fitness friends and I never will. I like that we cheer each other on instead of feel like rivals. And one of the fitness friends and I like to send each other the cheesy messages the watch gives as options for when one of us finishes a workout or closes their rings. Things like: “Incredible” or “Rockstar” or “You really know how to hit those pedals” or the more chiding “is that all you’ve got?”

I still find closing the rings motivating, but I am also really comfortable saying out loud to the Watch “I don’t care!” and then going to bed. More likely is that I will throw on a short dance workout to close the deal for the day. I don’t feel that that watch shames me into action. I have to say, I do like the positive messaging. Instead of reminding me of what I failed to accomplish, the watch rewards me for what I have accomplished. There are little monthly challenges, for example, and if you hit them great! If not, there is no rubbing your face in it or anything like that. So it’s a kind of tracking that I don’t experience as oppressive. Does that mean my views about tracking have changed since I compared it to the panopticon? Maybe a little bit but it really depends on the manner in which it motivates. Tracking can still be oppressive if it motivates as a stick not a carrot.

Upshot: the honeymoon is over but I’m still satisfied with my relationship with the Apple Watch even though it occasionally lets me down.

How do you feel about your fitness tracker?

One thought on “Apple Watch Honeymoon Is Over (but our relationship continues)

  1. Love this post, largely because it shows that one doesn’t have to let one’s fitness tracker push one around… 🙂 I still have a fitful relationship with trackers (except for my meditation app, which I obey without hesitation), but it’s nice to countenance options. And the ring-closing thing (with fireworks!) is so tempting…

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