Apple is targeting Garmin’s jugular vein with the latest Watch OS update, so is it game over for sports watches?

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If you happen to be running, swimming or doing any other sport, chances are you own a watch, and not just any watch: chances are you own a sports watch! Yes, one of those watches that look a lot like classic watches and all seem to have one thing in common: they are NOT made by the big tech companies.

In the running and triathlete community, the names Garmin, Coros, Suunto and others are far more popular and loved than your traditional luxury smartwatches from Apple and Samsung. These sports watches often don’t even have a colorful screen or fancy animations, but they share a few common features: they survive harsh conditions, their batteries last forever and most importantly, they give you a lot of useful activity data.
On the other hand, you have the Apple Watch. It is without a doubt the most popular smartwatch out there, worn by millions of people, but until a few days ago it was far from the perfect sports watch.

So what has changed overnight? Well, WWDC 2022 took place, Apple’s annual developer conference where the company unveiled the latest watchOS 9 software update and that update is a game changer. It delivers a lot of very useful sports stats that even premium sports watches often don’t have. Plus, in typical Apple fashion, this update will be rolling out to some older devices as well, so even your old Apple Watch Series 4 will suddenly become a much more powerful sports watch!

New sports stats galore

If you’re a runner, there are three new metrics Apple introduced in watchOS 9 that you should care about: stride length, ground contact time, and vertical oscillation.

It’s amazing how Apple can calculate all those things by using smart algorithms that measure the movement of your wrist, but it all seems to work.

However, the most impressive has to be Running Power. This stat is actually incredibly useful for runners as it shows your effort in real time and helps you speed up your runs properly, rather than pushing too hard too early. It is measured in watts and the greater your running power at a lower heart rate, the more efficient you are. And this stat is actually quite complex to come up with because it combines your pace, vertical oscillation, and can even take your local weather into account. Even more advanced running watches like the Garmin Forerunner series don’t have this stat, or to be more specific, it only works with the help of a separate accessory that you have to wear on you.

Swimmers are also not left out with the important SWOLF stat arriving on the Apple Watch. SWOLF is a metric of swimming efficiency and it’s useful because it combines both your stroke length with the time for each stroke, so you can’t easily “cheat” it with a longer or faster stroke.

Is this game over for sports watches like Garmin’s?

While this is a big step from Apple, it’s not quite the death knell, of course.

Sports watches still have one big advantage in the form of a much longer battery life, and most also have navigation buttons which I personally find much more useful when you’re on the go.

It is clear that Apple is closing the gap and this should be a concern for the sports watch industry. Remember, rumors persist that Apple is working on a power-saving mode for its watches that would significantly extend battery life. Even doubling it would be quite an achievement, but at the moment all that remains just a whisper rather than reality.

At the end of the day, though, it’s Apple improving by leaps and bounds, while we don’t see Garmin Cupertino catching up when it comes to software and smartwatch features. The reality could be that this kind of competition should push the sports watch maker to deliver even better products in the future, something we can all benefit from.

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