The new device, called the Series 2, has a built-in GPS radio that comes standard. But I’m particularly intrigued by a version the company developed with Nike, called the Apple Watch Nike+. In addition to looking like a Nike Watch — it’s available in four sporty color combinations, all variations on black, gray, white and green — it comes loaded with Nike’s own running app. As you might be aware, though Nike itself has dabbled in hardware, including the FuelBand fitness tracker and a dedicated running watch, Nike’s real asset is its software — both its app and the community of runners that has grown up around it.
Upon closer inspection here at Apple’s iPhone 7 launch event in San Francisco, I learned that the watch features two faces, each of which has so-called “complications” that make it easy to start a run a quickly. Do that and the watch will start tracking every stat that a runner like me could hope for: pace, distance, calorie burn and heart rate. What I like, too, is that all of this information is displayed on a single screen, so that you don’t have to swipe or press a button to cycle through them, which is what you have to do on many competing running watches, not to mention the original Apple Watch. That’s especially impressive how small the display is: You’d think the UI would be cluttered, with all those stats crammed in, but they’re easy to parse, even at a glance.
It helps as well that Nike’s app design is just so slick. The whole “easily cramming lots of info onto one screen” thing is just one example. The black-and-gold color scheme is — ugh, I hate this word — sexy, and even after a quick demo here at the event, the app felt intuitive. It wouldn’t take long for any of you to master it either.
Meanwhile, Nike’s competition leaves a lot to be desired. Even Apple’s own Workout app (on the current version of watchOS) involves a lot of taps to start a workout, and further taps and swiping to either pause the workout or cycle through stats. You always had the choice of third-party running apps, but they obviously didn’t come pre-loaded on the Watch, and even after you went through the trouble of adding them, third-party apps weren’t always as fast or as capable on the Apple Watch. Garmin, though an expert at running hardware, has never had a memorable app, website or even watch interface. The fact that Nike’s app is good-looking and easy to use counts for a lot.
The one feature that I really want, and that the Apple Watch Nike+ doesn’t have, is interval training. I know many of you have heard me say this before, but I prefer run-walk intervals: They help me stave off injuries, and I actually achieve a faster overall time than I probably would have otherwise. The Apple Watch still doesn’t do that, at least the Nike+ app doesn’t, but I remain hopeful that a software update could fix that. And besides, I realize I’m not just writing this assessment for myself — I’m writing it for Engadget’s readers, many of whom, presumably, are runners. No doubt most of you don’t bother with walk intervals like your hobbling friend Dana anyway.