In the Shadow of Apple Fitness+

Never have I been gladder that my company’s fitness app is zombie-themed. Somehow I don’t see Tim Cook signing off on an Apple-branded fitness service where you’re chased by the undead – it doesn’t quite fit with their relentlessly-positive vibe and so, for now, we’re immune from being sherlocked.

But Apple’s announcement of their new Fitness+ subscription service has undercut a whole swathe of apps like Peloton, Sweat with Kayla, Centr, Nike Training Club, Fiit, Yoga Studio, Asana Rebel, Zova, Fitness Coach, Planet Fitness – I could go on. They’re literally undercutting the price, since the marginal cost of getting Fitness+ for many Apple users is likely to be lower than that of a standalone fitness app, but Fitness+ also cuts out the legs of competitors that cannot reasonably be expected to match it on promotion, features, and bundling:

Promotion

Fitness+ will be advertised to all iOS users, just as Apple Arcade, Apple News, Apple Music, and Apple TV+ are. Even if you never search for a fitness app, you’re likely to see Fitness+, if only as part of the Apple One bundle. And this promotion is not some ethereal advantage – competitors would need to spend tens or hundreds of millions of dollars to match its reach and effectiveness.

Features

I’ve never seen any app stream real-time workout data and Activity Rings onto secondary screen. I’m not saying it can’t be done without the use of private Apple-only APIs, but if it is possible, it’s extremely challenging for even the best developers. Real-time communication between the Watch and the phone, let alone Apple TV or iPad, is notoriously buggy and it behaves in unpredictable, undocumented ways – and I speak from bitter experience. The Fitness+ team, however, will have had a direct line to Apple’s iOS and Watch teams, something that third parties have only rarely.

Bundling

Peloton could team up with Spotify, the New York Times, Microsoft Xbox, Disney, and Dropbox, and offer a comparable bundle to Apple One. I think we know that’s not going to happen.


Apple’s behemoth status is old news at this point. We all know that a $2 trillion company can dismiss mere billion dollar unicorns without a backwards glance. And we know that its unquestionable supremacy in hardware – I’ve already ordered the Series 6 Watch for its blood oxygen sensors – is thanks to its tight integration with its software platforms. This, in turn, leads to a level of ecosystem lock-in that Microsoft in the 90s could have only dreamed of: I like the Apple Watch, but it’s not as if any other smartwatch is capable of integrating with iOS in the same way.

But I didn’t expect Apple to make a fitness service. Nor for it to be so much more technically advanced than competitors.

Tonight, those competitors will be messaging each other in panic. Tomorrow morning, they’ll be desperately researching whether they can replicate Fitness+’s features int heir own apps. Maybe this is bloody glory of competition, but to me, it’s appalling.

Some of those competitors will die. Most will survive, after taking a hit. And those survivors, once they dust themselves off, will still have to pay Apple 15-30% of their total subscription revenue for the privilege of working their land.


Follow me on Twitter: @adrianhon 

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Photo by Jongsun Lee on Unsplash

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