watchOS 10 is great – but it’s ruined the Apple Watch Fitness app

Olympic swimming gold medalist Amy Van Dyken using the Fitness app on an Apple Watch.
(Image credit: Apple)

Apple’s watchOS 10 hasn’t been out long, but I’ve already found a ton of things I love about it. From little features like the clever widget stacks revealed by scrolling up on the Digital Crown to more substantial changes like being able to set multiple timers (just kidding), it’s a great little update – especially considering it undoubtedly lost engineers to the Vision Pro headset along the way.

One of the main things I use my Apple Watch for is keeping fit and recording my workouts, and watchOS 10 has seen some pretty hefty changes here too. Yet I’ve enjoyed these alterations far less – in fact, I’d almost say Apple has managed to ruin the Fitness app. Logging workouts and checking my progress is now much more cumbersome than it ever was, and there’s not much to show for it.

Death by a thousand cuts

Three Apple Watches side by side, showing the Fitness app in watchOS 9.

The Fitness app in watchOS 9. Ring progress can be compared on one screen and the scrolling is smooth and uniform. (Image credit: Future)

There’s not one major change I can point to and say “this is what broke the Fitness app.” Instead, it’s more like a death by a thousand cuts, with lots of small tweaks that add up to a much less pleasant experience.

For example, fitness summaries are now far less informative. You now see unlabeled graphs and have to tap a button to get more detail, but even there, there’s vastly less info than the summary used to show. When you’re done exercising, meanwhile, Apple has moved the End Workout button, so you’ve got to retrain your muscle memory all over again.

I’ve got a Fitness complication on my Watch’s home screen so I can quickly tap it to see if I’m on track to close my rings for the day. Previously, after tapping the complication I could scroll down to see my activity progress for every ring in one Watch screen. For example, Move 47%, Exercise 50%, Stand 83%, all visible without any swiping. It was a quick way to compare everything in one go.

Three Apple Watches side by side, showing the Fitness app in watchOS 10.

The Fitness app in watchOS 10. It looks pretty, but each ring takes up a full screen on the Watch, and scrolling has a degree of physical resistance. (Image credit: Future)

Now, Apple has separated each ring onto its own screen. That means more scrolling to get to the information you need, when previously it was all right there in front of you.

Worse, Apple has used a flipboard-like animation for scrolling to each ring, complete with haptic resistance. As you move the Digital Crown, the information on the screen starts blurring, before suddenly flipping to the next screen. If you let go too soon, it reverts to the original screen. Spin the Crown too fast, though, and you end up whizzing past the data you wanted to see. This resistance is very different to the smooth, easy scrolling of watchOS 9.

That means Apple has both reduced the amount of info on-screen and introduced a learning curve for something as simple as viewing your fitness metrics, which seems pretty ridiculous. And because the text blurs as you spin the Digital Crown, you can’t read it as you scroll – something you used to be able to do before.

Design is how it works

watchOS 10

(Image credit: Apple)

I know this might seem petty, but design is important, and getting it right (or wrong) can make a big difference. The Fitness app in watchOS 9 and before was simple and clear, with plenty of information available with minimal scrolling required.

Sure, the new version of the app is definitely prettier. The screen for each ring takes on the color of the ring itself – the Exercise page has a green background, for example – and that looks undeniably snazzy. But the way you navigate through the app has gotten way worse.

It’s particularly egregious because it violates Steve Jobs’ own dictum on design. When discussing how Apple came up with the iPod’s look and feel, Jobs decried those who thought design was just slapping a pretty face on a terrible product. “It’s not just what it looks like and feels like,” Jobs explained. “Design is how it works.”

If that’s true, then the Fitness app is a pretty clear violation of the Jobs adage. It looks great (better than before, even), but it works much worse. In my opinion, the trade-off isn’t worth it.

So, while there’s a lot I really like about watchOS 10, its redesign of the Fitness app (something I use every day) has me nostalgic for the old look and feel of watchOS 9. Here’s hoping Apple fixes it quickly – and pays a bit more attention to Steve Jobs’ famous saying.

Alex Blake

Alex Blake has been messing around with Apple tech ever since he caved to the pressure and bought an iPhone 3G “just to see what all the fuss was about.” He’s spent the subsequent 15 years prattling on about Apple and has somehow managed to do so professionally. Don’t ask him how.

  • devonair
    For me, the biggest frustration with watchOS 10 was removing the customizable Dock -- which was also how I accessed the Fitness app. I prefer to not have many complications on my watch face, as it was too easy to accidentally launch those apps with an unintended tap. The Dock was the perfect way to quickly access the handful of apps I most often used -- but now that's gone in favor of mapping the side button to the quick settings menu (something that used to be easily brought up with a swipe).
  • oprospero
    Great article! Captures the essence of the problem.

    I agree that watchOS 10 Fitness app feels like a step backward and no longer intuitive. Why remove the depth of information. As the most used app on my watch I feel like they need skins or a way for us to go back… This felt like a change for the sake of change to make a more colorful display, not a more usable app.
  • Annie_M
    I completely agree that it's "clunky". I do miss the dock, and I've found that starting a workout has gotten more difficult than in previous versions.
  • EdwinG
    I really wish they would revert to the previous design’s behaviours for the Fitness and Workouts apps.

    I loved having more information and the ability to easily finish or add a workout.