Apple’s celebrity worship mangles their “Time to Walk” Fitness+ feature

The Apple Watch can be a great motivator for fitness. Closing rings and the hourly stand reminders can be just enough to nudge you into getting off of your ass once in a while, and that’s great. Since watchOS 4, there’s even been an end-of-day reminder to close your rings if you haven’t already:

If needed, toward the end of the day, they’ll be told exactly how long they should walk to close their Activity Rings before the day is over.

This notification will say something like, “You’re so close to closing your Move ring. A brisk, 11-minute walk should do it.” (Often, to many people’s chagrin, this will happen at 10:45 PM while it’s raining outside.)

What’s nice about this is that walking doesn’t seem as miserable as maintaining a 160 BPM heart rate while a Peloton trainer screams at you. It’s inviting! Why not take a walk around the block? The habit of daily walking is probably easier and more beneficial for most people than doing 20 minutes on a treadmill once a month.

I was excited when the reports of Apple Watch’s upcoming “Time to Walk” Fitness+ feature started circulating, and that they’d feature audio content. Cool! I need an excuse to listen to more podcasts anyway.

But that’s not exactly what they’re turning out. From their press release — emphasis on hyperbolic language mine:

Each original Time to Walk episode invites users to immerse themselves in a walk alongside influential and interesting people as they share thoughtful and meaningful stories, photos, and music.

“With Time to Walk, we’re bringing weekly original content to Apple Watch in Fitness+ that includes some of the most diverse, fascinating, and celebrated guests offering inspiration and entertainment to help our users keep moving through the power of walking.”

Each Time to Walk episode is shaped by the guest’s personal, life-shaping moments and includes lessons learned, meaningful memories, thoughts on purpose and gratitude, moments of levity, and other thought-provoking topics, recorded while walking outside or in locations that are meaningful to them.

Oh. Hm. Ok. What kind of “meaningful” “content” can I expect to hear?

Musician Shawn Mendes went viral on social media at 15, had his first platinum album by 19, and has toured the world. He shares how a slower pace has helped him personally and creatively. “Taking a walk is a great way to clear your mind,” Mendes says. “It’s the most simple thing you can do to calm the body and soul, reflect, and slow down. I hope people get to feel the same sense of calm I do while walking and can bring that to their own experiences.”

Oh brother. There are few things I’d care to listen to less than Shawn freaking Mendes trying to inspire me. Apple inexplicably loves celebrity, and it seems to infect their thinking at the oddest times.

What’s unfortunate is that this is such a missed opportunity to be such a better feature. As I mentioned above, why not make podcasts part of this? They could even be chosen based on the length of time you need to walk given your current ring progress, and selected both from podcasts you subscribe to and recommended podcasts as well.

Or how about News+ audio content? Apple News+ “pivoted to audio” last year, and their subscriber rate is still floundering. Feed me that Atlantic longread I’ve been meaning to get to while I walk.

Or Apple Books audiobooks! Like most people, when I do listen to audiobooks, they’re from Audible, but if “Time to Walk” integrated only with Apple Books, maybe that’d get more people to purchase them there? (I wouldn’t be crazy about that lock-in — but remember the alternative is Shawn Mendes.)

It’s still possible these additional audio sources could be folded into the feature, but somehow I’m not optimistic. As this is exclusive to Fitness+ subscribers, Apple probably believes that only *~✨celebrities✨~* will lure people in to that subscription tier.

It’s a fixation that sinks what could otherwise be a really compelling feature of Fitness+.

Some other details about “Time to Walk” that I find peculiar:

From the press release: “The narrative comes to life through photos that appear on Apple Watch, perfectly timed to amplify a corresponding moment the guest shares.” And from the intro video on the Fitness app: “You’ll even get photos form the guests that appear on your watch to bring it all to life.” Here are two examples of those photos that I positively can’t wait to look at on my watch while walking:

Also from the press release, these “episodes” are “recorded while walking outside or in locations that are meaningful to them.” This is just slightly bizarre to me, and “locations that are meaningful to them” really gets them off the hook from recording while walking, doesn’t it.

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