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What Apple's new smartwatch means for cyclists + video

As Apple launches the Apple Watch, we look at how it might be useful for cyclists

Wearable tech is one of the hottest buzzwords in the technology sector at the moment and last night Apple unveiled their much anticipated Apple Watch, a wearable device that can monitor and measure your health and activity levels.

The new Apple Watch can monitor the wearer’s movement and activity via heart rate and built-in sensors, and relay that information to a new Health app on the iPhone or iPad. A Workout app will let you set goals for cycling or running activities. Of course, there’ll be a suite of apps for less active tasks, like Twitter and Facebook.

“Apple Watch is the most personal device we ever created,” said Tim Cook, chief executive of Apple, at a press conference. “It works seamlessly with iPhone and is also a comprehensive health and fitness device.”

It’s undeniably a sleek looking thing, and uses a ‘digital crown’ which can be turned to adjust functions and also works as a home button. The screen is a curved sapphire touchscreen that can tell the difference between a gentle tap or touch. It has a speaker and can vibrate alerts. Charging is said to be easy, an inductive charging pad magnetically connecting to the rear panel of the watch so it’s cable-free.

An appealing feature is the optical sensor to detect your heart rate that's built into the rear panel. That means you can monitor your heart rate without having to wear a heart rate monitor chest strap.

The Apple Watch uses a gyroscope and accelerometer to measure movement and can use the GPS signal from the iPhone to provide distance and speed data for compatible apps. That means you can leave your smartphone in your jersey pocket and use the Apple Watch on your wrist to monitor your ride. Maybe you could even mount it on the handlebars like we used to do with Polar watches back in the day.

Apple will offer three versions: stainless steel Watch, aluminium Watch Sport and 18c gold Apple Watch Edition, with prices set to start from about $350 (no UK price has been confirmed at this stage). It will be compatible with iPhone 5, 5C, 5S, 6 and 6 Plus and will be available early next year.

Health and fitness is really the big focus for devices like the Apple Watch, with the idea that wearing it all day and every day will allow it to keep track of calories burned and steps walked. It’s still early days for the Apple Watch but we don’t reckon it’ll be too long before there’s a good cycling app such as Strava or MayMyFitness tailored for the Apple Watch.

Already more and more people are using smartphones to record and track bicycle rides, because a smartphone packs all the computing power you need to run apps like Strava or Garmin Connect. There are vast array of cases designed to mount a smartphone on the handlebars, but obviously not everyone is keen on the idea of sticking a £500 phone on their handlebars. So a small device that acts as a relay to the smartphone’s connectivity is quite appealing to a lot of people.

According to research firm CCS Insight, 9.7m wearable devices were sold in 2013, with over 22m expected to be sold in 2014, so it’s a big market and one that is only set to grow. None of these devices are cycling-specific as such but the Apple Watch is clearly intended to appeal to cyclists, if the video up top is anything to go by. It can only be a matter of time before suitable apps become available to make them a viable alternative to other methods of recording and tracking rides.

As well as providing health monitoring services, the Apple Watch will be able to provide directions with a map, but it’s not clear how well this will be enabled for cycling instead of the primary purpose of walking.

The release of the Apple Watch follows the launch by Samsung of their Gear 2 smartwatch that we took a look at earlier this year. As with Apple, fitness is a primary aim with the Gear 2 and follows the growth of the simpler Fuelband-style devices popular with runners and recreational cyclists.

Garmin also have their £99 Vivofit, a very simple fitness tracker compatible with a heart rate monitor strap via ANT+. And there are many more similar devices from the likes of Nike and Pebbe.

We’ll be trying to get a closer look at the Apple Watch when it launches next spring to see how useful it could be to cyclists.

David worked on the road.cc tech team from 2012-2020. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds, and you can now find him over on his own YouTube channel David Arthur - Just Ride Bikes

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