On more than one occasion, Apple chief executive Tim Cook has stressed how he envisions his company’s greatest contribution in the future will be in health and wellness.
A self-professed “fitness nut”, Cook has walked the talk over the years, ramping up Apple’s technological offering in that space, starting with the launch of the hugely successful Apple Watch in 2015.
In December 2020, the company introduced Apple Fitness+. The subscription service offers studio-style workouts featuring top instructors, guided meditation classes and even a star-studded audio experience called Time to Walk. The pre-recorded podcast-style feature has everyone from singers Shawn Mendes and Dolly Parton to supermodel Naomi Campbell sharing their stories as they walk, prompting users to take that extra step and stay active.
Initially available in six countries, Apple Fitness+ has launched in an additional 15 as of Wednesday, including the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
Jay Blahnik, a fitness industry veteran and Apple’s vice president of fitness technologies, tells The National the idea for Fitness+ was spurred by the success of the Apple Watch, a product he helped to build when he joined the company almost nine years ago.
“One of the key insights from the very beginning was people love their metrics on their Apple Watch. They love to see when they close their rings. They love to see how far they've gone on a run. So, the idea that Apple Fitness+ could also bring those metrics to life in an actual session with a coach was really one of the core tenants,” he says.
Accessible on the iPhone, iPad or via Apple TV, Fitness+ integrates real-time data from the Apple Watch. The idea is to give users, irrespective of their fitness levels or how busy they are, that little push to stay healthy, says Blahnik.
“We've seen people really respond to it. It's lovely to see how you're doing on the screen. It makes it more immersive, more engaging than just regular video content.”
The debut of Fitness+ in December, when home workouts were all the rage globally in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, was just coincidental, says Blahnik.
“A lot of people think because we were all kind of trapped from March until December that we had sort of really feverishly worked on it during that period to bring it to market. But we had been spending time on it for many years prior to that,” he says. “We were thrilled that it was actually launched at a time when maybe more people could use it than ever before and that it became even more important … but really, it wasn't planned around it at all.
“In fact, one of the things that's interesting is if you take a look at the workout types that we offered – indoor cycling, treadmill and rowing – prior to Covid, our assumption was that most people don't have those pieces of equipment at their home, and that they would actually be using part of Fitness+ when they go to the gym.
“So we've always felt like Fitness+ should be a great service to use in your home, in the gym, on the go and even outside when you need it and want it. That's been a key part of how we've designed it from the very beginning. And Covid just happened to intersect with that.”
Here’s everything else you need to know about Apple Fitness+:
Do you need an Apple Watch to use Fitness+?
Yes and no. Fitness+ is built around Apple Watch, meaning all your workout metrics, including your heart rate and calories burned, will be measured on the watch and displayed on screen in real time. You can still have a subscription and join a workout on your iPhone or iPad without an Apple Watch, but you you will not see a summary of your workout metrics.
There is, however, no option to do workouts on Apple TV without a synced watch because of the Apple Watch’s on-screen integration. You can AirPlay Fitness+ from your Apple device to other smart devices, but the metrics won't be displayed on the screen.
What kind of workouts are available?
Workouts currently available include high-intensity interval training, strength, yoga, dance, core, cycling, Pilates, meditation, treadmill (for running and walking), rowing and a mindful cool-down, with new content from each instructor added every week.
Programmes have also been designed to help users reach their specific goals, from Workouts for Pregnancy, Workouts for Beginners, Meditations for Beginners and even Get Ready for Snow Season, featuring and designed with two-time Olympic gold medallist and five-time world champion skier Ted Ligety.
A feature called Artist Spotlight, where the entire playlist for a workout is dedicated to a single musician, is also available. The series so far features music by Alicia Keys, Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban and Lady Gaga, with new artists appearing every week.
Those short on time can also select the duration of their workouts, which can be as short as five minutes or as long as 45 minutes, and Fitness+ will offer up suggestions for what's best suited to you.
All workouts are conducted in English, and subtitles are available in Brazilian Portuguese, English, French, German, Italian, Russian and Spanish.
Fitness for everyone
Blahnik is keen to stress that Fitness+ was designed for everyone, irrespective of their fitness levels, abilities or age.
“We wanted it to be an experience that was really fitness for all. So it didn't matter whether you were a beginner or if you were more advanced, we wanted you to feel welcomed” he says. "And that meant we needed to ensure that the workouts could be modified and adapted regardless of your experience.”
And it goes even further than that, he explains, bearing in mind different users’ personalities, body types and backgrounds.
“We really leaned into this notion of a diverse and welcoming trainer team and that included a lot of things. The trainers also come to the table with all different degrees of empathy and really understanding that they're not just there to provide the best workout, but also to make people feel included and welcome in all the ways that might mean,” Blahnik says.
“We have trainers in their twenties, thirties, forties, fifties and sixties. So we also pushed even in the notion of age diversity we thought that was really important as well.”
What is Time to Walk?
An audio experience, it features guests and celebrities from around the world who encourage people to walk more often while they share stories, photos and even songs. Episodes available so far include the voices of Mendes, Parton and Campbell along with British boxing champ Anthony Joshua, singer Camila Cabello, neurosurgeon and CNN correspondent Dr Sanjay Gupta, and British actor and writer Stephen Fry.
Audio for the service was recorded on location with each guest as they walked, Blahnik says, giving users a feel of what it might be like to take a stroll with them.
How much does Apple Fitness+ cost in the UAE?
Subscriptions are priced at Dh36.99 per month or Dh149.99 per year. The service will be available free for a month for all Apple Watch users upon launch, and free for three months for those who purchase an Apple Watch Series 3 or later.
Apple has also launched the Apple One Premier plan in the country, which gives customers a package deal of Apple Music, Apple TV+, Apple Arcade, Apple News+, and iCloud+ with 2TB of storage for Dh84.95 per month.
In which countries is Apple Fitness+ available now?
When it launched in December, the service was available in six countries: Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the UK, and the US. As of Wednesday, it is available in 15 additional countries: Austria, Brazil, Colombia, France, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Malaysia, Mexico, Portugal, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Switzerland and the UAE.