Apple Watch Series 4 transforms the original smartwatch into the perfect fitness buddy

Five watches on from the first release in 2015, Apple has continued to innovate its health and fitness monitoring capabilities, and last month released the redesigned and re-engineered Apple Watch Series 4, featuring several new running functions.

If you've heard anything about the latest Apple Watch my guess is that it was about the new hardware features that can detect hard falls, and an electrical heart rate sensor that can take an electrocardiogram (ECG) using the new ECG app. While these much talked-about features are groundbreaking, there are many other new additions that runners will appreciate.

An Apple a day

Jay Blahnik, Senior Director of Seaworthiness and Health technologies for Apple Inc. says the face on the Apple Watch 4 has been redesigned with an edge-to-edge display that fits more on the screen.

"Users really like the watch being sleek and slim. While both sizes in the Series 4 are 2mm bigger, the watch is thinner and the bezel-free, curved display area is 35 per cent larger on the smaller watch than the Series 3 equivalent," says Blahnik.

"This new display technology allows us to fit more on screen, making important running information like distance and pace easier to see, and making the touch screen's tap targets easier to use when exercising."

Noise control

An upgrade that I'm personally pleased about is the increase in speaker volume. Apple says the speaker is 50 per cent louder, optimised for phone calls and Siri. The microphone has also been relocated, to reduce echo for better sound quality. This is a must for when you're running and need to take a quick phone call or want to hear alerts such as your running splits.

The watch also features an upgrade to the wrist haptic (taps) for alerts and notifications. Again, I'm pleased to see improvements here because previous haptics for kilometre markers and pace alerts were barely recognisable when running.

Double tap that

Blahnik says that for workouts, Apple created haptics that are not only more powerful but have specific sequences of taps to make the haptic more prominent, reducing the need for runners to keep raising their wrist to check their progress.

"It's much easier as a runner to get a gentle wrist tap alert and note it without having to look at your watch," says Blahnik.

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"We understand that it's important to know you've hit a kilometre marker because it's no different to a sign in a race.

"We had to be careful about adding too much haptic, because it could disrupt the heart rate sensor or affect battery life.  We've had a lot of our elite runners test this improved feature and feedback has been great," he says.

The workout watch

The new fitness tracking capabilities build on the already impressive third-generation Apple Watch. The Series 4 retains its essential running functions such as recording average pace, current pace, elevation gain, calories, distance, duration and splits, and allows users to view a detailed route map (thanks to GPS) that shows your average, below average and above average pace.

Fresh features include automatic workout detection. Blahnik says Apple Watch will sense when you're moving and alert you to start the running option in the Workout app.

"It even gives you credit for the exercise you've already done. It will also remind you to end your workout, in case you get distracted when you're cooling down."

A gift to runners

Other new running features that show Apple is striding out in front of its competitors include the introduction of cadence recording for indoor and outdoor runs and pace alerts. The latter being a great feature for runners wanting to maintain pace.  Simply choose a target pace and the Apple Watch will tap you on the wrist to let you know if you're behind or ahead of where you want to be. There's also rolling pace – a new metric that constantly updates, allowing you to see your split for the preceding kilometre at any time.

These features combined with improved battery life – now six hours when running outdoors – as well as the ability to stream songs via Apple Music to wireless headphones, and the soon-to-be introduction of Podcasts, means it capable of going the distance.

In comparison

When comparing the Series 4 to other GPS running watches there's still several running features that didn't make this latest redesign, such as the ability to record ground contact time, vertical oscillation and stride length, measure VO2 max and use Heart Rate Training Zones.

Initially, I was a disappointed with these exceptions, but I've realised that this is a deliberate and smart move by Apple. It's clear Apple wants more and more people to benefit from health and fitness features of the watch, and so they've thoughtfully omitted the dazzling yet often confusing features many runners think they need, but rarely ever use because they aren't quite sure what to do with the data once they've recorded it. Instead, Apple have kept it simple and included functions that most runners will find helpful.

The goal of one day completing an ultra-marathon inspires running fanatic Laura Hill to clock up the kilometres each week. With a day job in the corporate world, Laura loves nothing more than lacing up her runners and hitting the pavement to clear her mind and challenge her body.

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