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Apple's pushing into gyms with GymKit: What you need to know

The Apple Watch can now tap-to-pair with new connected fitness machines. Here's how it works.

Apple GymKit

GymKit can tap-to-pair with fitness machines. Its display mirrors the Apple Watch.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Apple just made connecting to treadmills and ellipticals as easy as tapping your Apple Watch on a piece of gym equipment.

GymKit, a feature built into WatchOS 4.1, enables seamless tap-to-connect tech. It's like CarPlay, but for fitness machines. Apple announced GymKit as a feature for Apple Watch back in June at its WWDC keynote, promising it would arrive this year. It's just now becoming available.

I tried it, and it's great. But it's only rolling out at one North American gym at the moment, in New York: Life Time Athletic at Sky. It's coming to Equinox as well in 2018.

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Simple syncing for workouts

I tried it on my first GymKit workout and it worked just fine. One tap, and I was speed-walking. The treadmill's display mirrored what my watch would normally show me, with extra data. Basically, the treadmill became a massive paired fitness device.

GymKit works with a simple tap-to-pair process: Tapping a ready piece of equipment starts the process, and the Apple Watch brings up a confirmation screen. With treadmills, it asks if you want to record a walk or a run. From there, everything on the Apple Watch and the fitness machine's readout are synced: heart rate, pace, active and total calorie estimates, and machine-specific data such as elevation and flights of stairs climbed. Connecting your watch also means the machine shows calorie estimates calculated from your own height and weight data on Apple Health, without adding any extra setup steps on the machine.

Heart-rate data comes from the Apple Watch itself, or from any connected heart-rate device that's also paired to your Apple Watch, such as a chest strap.

Workouts can be paused on the connected machine, and your watch autopauses, too.

Retroactive pairing

If you happen to miss pairing at the beginning, pairing later on (or even when the workout is finished) will still sync and record the workout into Apple's Activity app and Apple Health. It's designed to work with just one tap, like Apple Pay. I tried it on several treadmills, and it was extremely easy to connect.

Workouts saved on watch or phone

When GymKit pairs, info gets sent from Apple Watch to the gym equipment, and erased after that session, while the data also gets sent to your Apple Watch and iPhone where it shows up as a workout, labeled with the brand of equipment used. (It showed up as TechnoGym for me.)

A future of tap-to-pair connected things?

What's fascinating about GymKit is imagining where this type of connectedness could end up next. For now, GymKit works with professional fitness machines, specifically cardio. Between TechnoGym, Life Fitness, Matrix, Star Trac, Schwinn, Cybex and Stairmaster, Apple claims it will eventually cover 80 percent of the fitness club equipment market.

There's no reason why this idea couldn't translate into tap-to-pair for home fitness equipment or sports gear, or maybe even hotel rooms or stores. GymKit works quickly, and exactly like I'd like to have iPhones, iPads and Apple Watches connect for other accessories, too.

But good luck finding a gym that has it right now

Life Time Athletic at Sky in Manhattan is the first gym in which machines have been upgraded to work with GymKit: TechnoGym ellipticals, treadmills, stationary bikes and stair-climbers will work, and currently there are 13 machines that are GymKit-enabled. Life Time plans to expand to 130 other locations over time, starting next year with locations opened in 2017, but don't expect to find a GymKit-ready gym around the corner immediately. And, of course, it's unclear how many other fitness clubs will make the move to upgrade for GymKit.

Equinox is expected to have GymKit locations in 2018 using Life Fitness equipment, with a new New York City location being the first early next year. In Australia, five Fitness First centers will be GymKit-ready.

For now, it'll be a matter of retrofitting existing equipment with new GymKit-ready NFC and Bluetooth support modules (at a cost that was unclear, based on my hands-on time with it). Future TechnoGym machines going forward will all work with GymKit out of the box, which could mean more compatible gyms over time... provided those gyms bother to upgrade.