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iOS 13 health and fitness updates: will they be enough to get me back on track?

Apple may finally be starting to improve its coaching and health insights.


Activity Trends in iOS 13's Apple Watch Activity app are an overdue start to more robust coaching.

James Martin/CNET
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I made an unfortunate discovery in the past year: I've gained weight. And yes, I did this while still wearing an Apple Watch throughout. I admit the blame falls squarely on me and not with the Apple Watch. Even though I weighed myself every day on a connected scale, I lost the thread on proper lifestyle and health practices. I let it go.

That's why the improved features on Apple's fitness and health platforms for WatchOS 6 and iOS 13 sound very compelling to me. Specifically, revamped tools in iOS 13, which live in Apple's Activity and Health apps, look like they may start delivering on some overdue tools that give a more comprehensive picture of my physical activity and alert me of interesting data.

Activity Trends: 365 days of perspective

Apple's Apple Watch-specific Activity app has been mostly just a repository of how many times I complete the three rings of activity every day, not much more. But a new Activity Trends feature will show graphs of progress in a number of categories over time, giving a more cohesive perspective on when things are doing well...and when they're not.

Unfortunately, these trends won't show up on the Apple Watch. Instead, you can only access them on your phone running iOS 13. Apple also requires 365 days of previous Apple Watch use (can be non-consecutive) before trends start to show up at all on the phone app. That's because the trends feature needs to look at the last 90 days of stats, and compare it against the last 365. It's unclear how Apple will apply these trends on your phone or Watch, but Apple promises coaching in the form of motivational nudges and guidance, to put these trends in perspective. What exact form that'll take though (a pop-up notification? a weekly summary?) has not been disclosed.

The categories in Activity Trends include Stand Minutes, Stand Hours, total Move points, total Exercise minutes, distance and VO2 Max (a measurement of maximal blood oxygen intake during exercise, a key indicator of aerobic endurance).

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Health Highlights may alert me to my ups and downs

Meanwhile, Apple's Health app for iOS 13 will surface a different set of data, which is being called Highlights. The app's redesign will help surface health information and, hopefully, be a useful hub for guidance, instead of the current data repository it currently is. Apple aims to deliver highlights using machine learning, emphasizing categories that may have had more recent data entries. More frequent data sets could end up ranking higher (say, you've been taking a bunch of blood pressure measurements, or weighing yourself routinely). These are meant to illustrate current condition changes, but it's less clear how Apple will deliver this information.

It's also unclear how Health Highlights will help you if you've avoided taking a measurement for a while. The highlights won't necessarily surface if you haven't been taking measurements recently, which could be an issue if you've lapsed on blood pressure readings, for instance (this is what happens to me). I'm extremely curious to see how health data ends up being served up and surfaced, and I'd hesitate to judge it until I can test it in iOS 13.

When will it all interconnect to be a smart coach and wellness advisor?

Apple's focus on health and fitness data trends suggests more coaching and health guidance down the road, but in iOS 13, it's more like first steps. It's also a huge drag if this new curated information can't be accessed on the Apple Watch at all, because that's when I'm most likely to glance at data for encouragement.

What's really interesting to me, though, is whether this indicates Apple's interest in coaching and guidance will be pushed even further down the road next year, and in the years to come. To me, that's still the biggest missing piece that fitness watches and trackers lack, so it'd be very interesting to see Apple take a step forward in this direction. But the lack of connected dots between things like weight, sleep, activity and health metrics like blood pressure and ECG mean it's not the full guidance tool I'm looking for yet.

Maybe it could be.