Apple Watch users will at last be able to connect to Bluetooth-enabled cycling accessories such as speed and cadence sensors, heart rate monitors, power meters, and indoor trainer software apps like Zwift with the newly announced Apple watchOS 10 software update.
The announcement was made during Apple's World Wide Developers Conference, and a production version of the update is expected to be available for download this fall/autumn. Along with the Bluetooth connectivity there are a few other potentially useful additions, one that will transform your iPhone, and give it similar functionalities as the best cycling computers.
An iPhone as a head unit?
One of the main feature announcements is the ability to transform an iPhone into a head unit and although it sounds like it could potentially kill off the need to have a separate cycling computer, the fragility of an iPhone out front on a mountain bike in comparison to the robustness of a cycling computer would have many a mountain bike rider on edge.
For those brave enough to risk their expensive iPhone, Apple says that with the new update, all cycling workouts started on an Apple Watch will automatically appear as a Live Activity on your iPhone’s lock screen. However, Apple also fails to mention if the notoriously short battery life on an iPhone and the Apple watch will be affected while tracking rides.
The function does seem to work similarly to a cycling unit with a tap of the workout screen opening into a full-screen view. This then shows a display of all the stats riders would have on their bike computer, like current and average speed, distance and heart rate, as well power meter data. Apple also says it will use power data to estimate FTP (Functional Threshold Power) and calculate personalized power zones, enabling riders to judge their efforts over a long period more efficiently.
A lack of Bluetooth connectivity to power meters and especially heart rate functionality on the likes of Zwift has frustrated users and has previously separated the Apple Watch from other brands in the best cycling smartwatch market.
Rolling out in the US first, the Apple Watch will now have the ability to show 3D topographic maps that include contour lines and allow users to easily find nearby trails. Additionally, the updated mapping feature has the ability to drop a pin at the last location where a cellular signal was detected and another at a location where an SOS call can be made with any network provider. This feature can be especially useful when mountain biking and backpacking in the wilderness.
The watchOS 10 update improves the already cycling-specific features included, such as Fall Detection. This capability utilizes accelerometers to detect if an accident has occurred and automatically notifies emergency services if you fail to get up within a minute.
When will watchOS 10 be released?
The new software has only just been released to developers, so we are yet to see how cycling apps such as Strava and Komoot will develop the added functionality. A public beta version will be available next month which you can sign up for at beta.apple.com. The full version of watchOS 10 is expected to be available for download in fall/autumn 2023.