NordicTrack Is Making Its Own Connected Fitness Mirror

Illustration for article titled NordicTrack Is Making Its Own Connected Fitness Mirror

Screenshot: NordicTrack

At-home fitness is having a moment due to the global pandemic, and connected gym equipment makers are struggling to keep up with demand. While you probably know NordicTrack best for its treadmills, the company is launching one of a smart workout mirrors—sort of like the Lululemon-owned Mirror, but with a slight twist.

The NordicTrack Vault is like if Mirror and JaxJox’s Interactive Studio had a child. Essentially, it’s a connected mirror that displays on-demand iFit workouts, that then opens up to reveal a carbon steel locker that can hold a bunch of dumbbells, kettlebells, yoga blocks, and resistance bands. The Vault itself has a 60- by 22-inch rotating mirror, inside of which is a 32-inch HD touchscreen.

Advertisement

There are two versions of the Vault. The Complete version is a whopping $3,000 and includes a year of iFit family membership, an exercise mat, two yoga blocks, three loop bands, three super resistance bands, 5- to 30-pound dumbbells, 20- and 30-pound kettlebells, premium shelves, hanging shelves, and a cleaning towel. There’s also a Standalone version, which is slightly cheaper at $2,000. While it includes the same one-year subscription, it lacks the rest of the equipment, aside from a towel and hanging shelves. Both versions also require a $200 delivery fee, and are available for preorder now with an expected shipping date of Feb. 12.

This is definitely a shift for NordicTrack, as it’s most commonly associated with cardio equipment. It’s not the company’s only announcement for CES, however.

iFit, the fitness streaming platform on connected NordicTrack equipment, is also introducing automatic heart rate training. The software is dubbed iFit ActivePulse and will basically adjust the speed and incline on a treadmill based on a user’s heart rate. This is most useful for folks who are into heart rate zone training, and iFit says its algorithms will “gradually learn” a user’s behavioral patterns over time. The feature will come via a software update this month and will work on all iFit-compatible NordicTrack, ProForm, and Freemotion treadmills. The feature is planned to roll out to stationary bikes, rowers, and ellipticals “soon.” Obviously, ActivePulse does require some sort of heart rate monitor. iFit says it’ll be compatible with its own heart rate monitor, the iFit SmartBeat, as well as third-party Bluetooth monitors from Polar, Garmin, Wahoo, and Whoop.

This is an interesting update as it adds a bit more oomph to otherwise fairly basic treadmills. NordicTrack and Echelon are often go-to options for “cheaper” fitness equipment that still come with their own on-demand subscription, while also allowing users the possibility of choosing other on-demand services like Peloton’s app or Fitness+. (After all, who, in this economy, has the $4,000 to drop on Peloton’s Tread+?)

Advertisement

In any case, it doesn’t look like the at-home fitness trend is going away any time soon.

We’re live from our couches covering CES 2021! Click here to read our complete coverage.

Advertisement

Apple, This Isn’t What I Meant When I Said Fitness+ Needs Goals

Illustration for article titled Apple, This Isnt What I Meant When I Said Fitness+ Needs Goals

Screenshot: Fitness+

When Fitness+ dropped a few weeks ago, we were pretty impressed by the launch, but the service isn’t perfect. One of our gripes was that you could only filter workouts by music, length, and trainer—those of us hoping to browse by goal (i.e., run a 5K, working your way to a pull-up, etc.) or intensity were out of luck. Which is why when I opened up the Fitness+ app today to peruse the new workouts that drop every Monday, I was pleasantly surprised.

Advertisement

A video message from HIIT trainer Kim Ngo greeted me at the top of the app, with a description that read: “Goal-setting workouts and new Limited Edition Award.” My eyebrows flew into the stratosphere. Obviously Fitness+ is still being built out, but this had to be record speed for a fitness app implementing early user feedback. In the video, Kim—who despite her bubbly personality is a cardio murder machine—pointed out two workouts this week that are part of a “goal-setting series.” Oh, there’s a new limited edition challenge for Apple Watch owners in the New Year (close all three rings for seven days straight at some point in January.)

This workout vaguely hints at ways for you to progress toward a full-body pushup. But you wouldn’t know that from the description.

This workout vaguely hints at ways for you to progress toward a full-body pushup. But you wouldn’t know that from the description.
Screenshot: Fitness+

Advertisement

I was stoked. I did the two highlighted workouts—a 20-minute strength workout and a 10-minute HIIT workout. I got sufficiently sweaty. What I didn’t realize is what Apple meant by “goal-setting” wasn’t a type of fitness program…so much as the instructors encouraging me to get a running start on my New Year fitness goals. Because, have you heard? It’s apparently a new year.

In the strength workout, trainer Gregg mostly talked about how I should notice what my weak points and strong points were, and that I should focus on what areas I wanted to get stronger in the coming year. Well, yeah. But getting fairly obvious advice and pep talks wasn’t exactly what I meant when I said Fitness+ should include goal-oriented programs.

Other fitness apps often include a few programs that let you work toward something. In running apps, it’s often structured classes like a Couch to 5K or improving your pace for a specific distance over the course of 8-32 weeks. In Aaptiv, there are programs themed around “getting stronger, which is a collection of classes that range from goals like “muscle gainz, learning how to use kettlebells, or perfecting your pushup. While Fitness+ does have an Absolute Beginner program to help ease complete newbies into various types of workouts, that’s about it.

Advertisement

The Apple Service Universe is well underway.

The Apple Service Universe is well underway.
Photo: Apple Music

This doesn’t mean Fitness+ is bad—it just highlights that this platform is built around the idea of hooking you further into Apple’s ecosystem. A dumb part of my lizard brain definitely went, “Ooh! Limited Edition badge that ultimately means nothing? Sign me up! What a cool integration!” Do I feel more incentivized to do Fitness+ workouts with each notification I get on my wrist, saying that a friend just completed a Fitness+ workout? Sadly, yes. I am a fitness lemming. Poking around in Apple Music, sometime since launch there’s now a Apple Fitness+ Studio Series—a group of playlists that are curated by the instructors for various genres and workout types. If you browse the accessories in Apple’s online store, you’ll now find links to the products the instructors use in the videos—including a $120 Manduka yoga mat.

Advertisement

What Apple is doing with Fitness+ is basically taking a page from Marvel’s playbook and building out a universe of interconnected products, services, and personalities. It’s not dissimilar to what Peloton has done, but it does have a lower cost of entry as, even if you bought an Apple Watch, iPad, and Apple TV, it’s still possible to get it all for less than the price of one Peloton bike. (But unlike Peloton, Fitness+ does require at least some hardware—you can subscribe to the Peloton app without plunking down cash for a bike.)

Cynically speaking, you could make a convincing case that Fitness+ is an Apple ad first and a fitness app second. That’s a bit harsh, considering there are things that Fitness+ does really well. The service is really thoughtfully designed and inclusive. But a lot of that thoughtfulness is in how it ties into Apple hardware and services. Just ask the dozens of people complaining in forums that Fitness+ is not compatible with AirPlay 2 for beaming workouts to a bigger screen. It’s not something that was ever built to stand alone or to play nice with other ecosystems. If it was, I don’t think I’d be sitting here longing for some missing features like more goal-oriented programs, options for varied equipment, a focus on intensity and difficulty, and the ability to cast a workout from my phone to my Apple-free TV.

Advertisement

Fitness+ Is Hands Down the Best Apple Service

Illustration for article titled Fitness+ Is Hands Down the Best Apple Service

Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

Apple’s services aren’t terrible—it’s just the competition is usually better. Despite Apple’s best efforts, Spotify is most people’s music streaming app of choice. TV+ is nowhere near the best TV streaming service. Apple Arcade just doesn’t have much appeal to die-hard gamers. There are a bazillion other cloud storage services besides iCloud. But the newly launched Fitness+? Now here’s a service where Apple can actually compete.

Advertisement

Fitness+ is inevitably going to be compared to Peloton. Both are connected fitness platforms, both offer a library of on-demand classes featuring a stable of diverse instructors, and both have you buy an expensive gadget or two to get the best experience (though Peloton’s requirements are much less specific than Apple’s). We’ll get into the differences between these two services in a bit, but the sales pitch for Fitness+ is: “What if you could get the most seamless connected fitness experience anytime and anywhere you go?”

Advertisement

It’s a damn good pitch. Provided you have at least an iPhone and an Apple Watch Series 3 (or newer), you can open the Fitness app and stream workout classes from your home, gym (once those reopen), or even while traveling. The app works with your Apple Watch so you can see your rings—red Move for calorie burn, green Exercise for active minutes, and blue Stand for, well, standing—and metrics on screen in real-time. You can also start/pause/resume the workout straight from your wrist. And if you prefer a bigger screen, you can use Fitness+ with the iPad or Apple TV. The workouts encompass a variety of genres, including treadmill, cycling, rowing, core, HIIT, strength training, yoga, dance, and mindful cooldowns. All this will cost you a fairly decent price of $10 a month, or $80 a year.

Fitness integration with the Apple Watch isn’t new to Fitness+. Apple’s GymKit, which third-party exercise machine manufacturers can integrate in their hardware to connect with the Apple Watch, has been around for a while. Boutique fitness studios like Orangetheory have also actively embraced the Apple Watch. However, unsurprisingly, Apple does it best with Fitness+.

One of the biggest selling points for Fitness+ is its incredibly thoughtful design. Unlike many other exercise apps, Fitness+ is extremely careful to ensure everyone—except Android users—feels welcome and has the most intuitive experience possible. For example, if you choose to work out with the Apple TV, it can automatically detect the total number of Apple Watch users in the house and will prompt you to choose who’s currently exercising. You’re also able to edit the metrics you see on-screen, so if you’d prefer the timer to count down rather than up, you can tweak that. If you don’t like the burn bar—a bar that shows you where you stack up to everyone else who’s done a particular cardio workout—you can turn it off. The metrics you see are also dynamic. If an instructor talks about your heart rate, you’ll briefly see a highlight of your current, highest, and lowest heart rate for that workout. If you close one or all of your rings, you’ll see that animation pop up on the screen.

Advertisement

You can start, pause, and end your workouts from the wrist regardless of device.

You can start, pause, and end your workouts from the wrist regardless of device.
Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

This solves a lot of annoyances found in other fitness apps. It’s so much better to not constantly glance at your wrist or an app to check your heart rate or how much time you have left to suffer. Also, you can’t underestimate the convenience of easily hitting pause from your wrist instead of having to run over to grab the remote, phone, or laptop. (It’s a minor pet peeve, but why do fitness instructors only give you 5 seconds to grab another set of dumbbells or switch to a resistance band or cable? Who, who is that fast?!?) Another neat feature is that if you like a featured song in the workout, it not only pops up on the screen with the artist and title, you can also easily find it afterward in the class description and import it into Apple Music.

Advertisement

But what about the content itself? Collectively, three of your dedicated Gizmodo reviewers have done upwards of 20 Fitness+ workouts in the two weeks since it launched. The workouts range from 10 to 45 minutes, and you will sweat, regardless of your individual skill level. There are always three instructors in each workout, one of whom will always be showcasing modifications. If, say, yoga instructor Jessica is slightly misguided and asks you to do crow pose during a yoga workout when you absolutely cannot, you have options. In real life, yoga teachers tend to tell you to chill if you can’t do an advanced pose, or you have to flag them over for any modifications—which isn’t always what you want and can be embarrassing. Likewise, if you have a knee injury but still want to do a HIIT workout, there’s always lower-impact options that are still challenging. The instructors also offer ways to make workouts harder, but you overachievers can keep that to yourselves.

At this point, the limited content selection makes filtering by specific workout a little tough. “Core,” for example, is a crapshoot of Pilates, strength training, and weights—though it’s fairly easy to see what you’re in for, thanks to a Preview feature for each workout. It’s also possible Apple will expand its Fitness+ categories down the line when its library is large enough to support more targeted workout filtering.

Advertisement

Adding music from workouts to Apple Music is easy. But while you don’t *need* Apple Music for Fitness+...it’s better if you do have it.

Adding music from workouts to Apple Music is easy. But while you don’t *need* Apple Music for Fitness+…it’s better if you do have it.
Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

Inclusion is also a big part of Fitness+. The instructors are ethnically and physically diverse. For example, Jessica is willowy like you might expect a yoga instructor to be, but Sam and Betina could both crush me with their thighs and biceps and I’d thank them. Strength and core instructor Amir is an amputee; he’ll also pop up in some HIIT workouts and absolutely crushes it. You’ll notice that most instructors use ASL during workouts as well. (One glaring exception at launch is prenatal workouts, a feature of rival live and 0n-demand services like Peloton and Obé.)

Advertisement

During a hip-hop-inspired dance workout with LeShawn, there were definitely some relatable missteps and awkward hip motions from the other instructors following along. None of them are quite as HYPE as Peloton’s instructors (to be fair, few people can be that hype), but generally, they tend to be on the warm and encouraging side. If overly smiley instructors aren’t your thing, some are more stoically calm. Basically, you have options; you’re bound to find at least a few favorites.

That said, Fitness+ does perhaps err on the side of simplicity and caters to beginners. It’s not that you don’t get a good workout if you’re a veteran—it’s just the workouts may not use more advanced equipment or techniques you prefer. This depends somewhat on the workout type. For instance, none of the strength workouts we tried required more than a set of dumbbells and a mat. If you’re looking for workouts that utilize barbells, punching bags, jump rope, pull-up bars, weight benches, cables, or resistance bands, you’ll be left wanting. The same is true if you’re looking for goal-based training programs, like a Couch to 5K or training for a marathon. Likewise, while Peloton and Aaptiv both offer audio-only workouts for outdoor runners, with Fitness+ you’re limited to the treadmill.

Advertisement

The burn bar doesn’t kill your self-esteem in quite the same way as a leaderboard.

The burn bar doesn’t kill your self-esteem in quite the same way as a leaderboard.
Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

This beginner focus isn’t necessarily bad. The absolute beginner program is a welcome addition, and it’s great that Fitness+ includes some instructional videos on how to properly use equipment like a rower, stationary bike, or treadmill. It just means you might not be able to get rid of some of your other fitness apps. For example, avid outdoor runners probably won’t be able to fully replace apps like Strava, MapMyRun, or RunKeeper.

Advertisement

The same goes for folks who rely on apps like Peloton for things like guided meditation. The 10-minute mindful cooldowns manage to scratch this itch for the time being, but it would be great to see Apple expand on this category down the line. A dedicated Pilates section would also be welcome, as would more descriptive titles on individual workouts.

From an app design standpoint, it would also be nice if Fitness+ let you sort by workout intensity, required equipment, or areas of the body a particular workout focuses on. For instance, if you’re traveling, it would be helpful to sort strength workouts that require bodyweight only, or if you’ve got sore legs, perhaps mindful cooldowns that target the lower body. As of right now, you can only sort by instructor, duration, and music genre. The descriptions of each workout generally go into more detail, but that means you have to do a bit more sifting before you choose.

Advertisement

Apple’s Fitness+ algorithms take into account workouts you’ve already done—either in Fitness+, on your Apple Watch, or in third-party apps connected Apple Health—to recommend workouts to try next. The app should offer workouts that are more like ones you’ve already done, or workouts that are brand new. But the recs so far are a tad basic. While it quickly figured out the types of workouts I do, I haven’t necessarily gotten cross-training recommendations as of yet. For the most part, I’ve just gotten suggestions to try other instructors within the exercises that I already do. One Giz staffer primarily does a lot of cardio—outdoor runs and Peloton rides—so she was expecting more strength-training and stretching recommendations. Instead, the app told her to take a treadmill class because she enjoys walking.

Fitness+ has limited social features, which depending on your preference, can be good or bad. The most visible social aspect is your friends with Apple Watches can easily see and access which workouts you did.

Fitness+ has limited social features, which depending on your preference, can be good or bad. The most visible social aspect is your friends with Apple Watches can easily see and access which workouts you did.
Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

Advertisement

Fitness+ also has limited social features compared to other fitness apps. You can share workouts to social media and any friends you’ve connected with on the Apple Watch can see exactly which Fitness+ workouts you’ve done, but that’s about it. If you want to do a dance session with a friend in person, you can, but they’d have to record that workout manually. There’s also no such thing as competing in real time with leaderboards, and there are no instructors shouting out your birthday because all these workouts are prerecorded. This may or may not be a con, depending on your preferences. Personally, the burn bar let me feel competitive without wrecking my self-esteem.

The tight integration between Fitness+ the app and Apple’s hardware is excellent—until it isn’t. It’s hard to work out with the iPhone unless you have a phone holder or stand of some type. The iPad is a better option, but again, you might find yourself having to move the tablet around to see during certain workouts or positions. It also impacts how much information you see directly on-screen when browsing through workouts. Also, while the Fitness+ tab/app should pop up automatically once you update your iPhone or Apple TV, you’ll have to manually download the Fitness+ app on the iPad. And Fitness+ can’t be cast to a TV via AirPlay 2. To get workouts on the TV, you must own an Apple TV set-top box. This probably has something to do with the Apple Watch component of Fitness+, but it is a bit of a bummer as the TV is really the best way to experience the workouts.

Advertisement

The Apple TV can auto-detect who in your house has an Apple Watch in proximity. It will also ask you to confirm which watch wants to connect before starting a workout.

The Apple TV can auto-detect who in your house has an Apple Watch in proximity. It will also ask you to confirm which watch wants to connect before starting a workout.
Image: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

But even if you own an iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV, you can’t subscribe to Fitness+ without an Apple Watch. Sure, there are discounted options with the Series 3 (but seriously, don’t buy a new Series 3) and the Watch SE, but you’re still talking about dropping a few hundred dollars on a smartwatch. To sweeten the pot, Apple is offering a free one-month trial for existing Apple Watch owners, as well as a three-month trial if you buy a new watch between Sept. 15, 2020, and March 31, 2021. It’s smart on Apple’s part, and great if you’re already in the Apple ecosystem, but otherwise, it’s much pricier than subscribing to a hardware-free fitness app.

Advertisement

That brings us to Apple’s biggest competitor, Peloton. The company offers its library of on-demand workouts for $13 a month if you don’t own one of its bikes or treadmills, and the classes are extremely good. You won’t get the same seamless Apple Watch integration, though Peloton does have apps for Apple Watch and Apple TV, as well as on other TV platforms, which makes it accessible to more people. Peloton also offers a wider variety of workouts (including ones that Fitness+ lacks, like Pilates and barre), and many of the classes are much more advanced than the ones Apple offers.

Ultimately, Fitness+ is best for beginner and intermediate levels, people looking to restart a fitness routine, or folks who are intimidated by fitness/gym culture. If that’s you, you’ll probably really enjoy Fitness+. I actually wish Apple would double down on this and add classes specifically targeted toward folks who are elderly or who have mobility issues. The Apple Watch is already a compelling purchase for seniors due to its heart health features, blood oxygen-tracking, and emergency fall detection. Fitness+ could complement that with chair exercise classes, for instance.

Advertisement

Fitness+ is incredibly inclusive, but at the end of the day, it’s best for beginner or intermediate levels.

Fitness+ is incredibly inclusive, but at the end of the day, it’s best for beginner or intermediate levels.
Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

Fitness+ is still being built out. It’s got a decent number of videos, but its library is still much smaller than some competitors and it doesn’t offer some more niche exercises that you can find in other workout apps. This isn’t really a huge problem, unless your preferred form of exercise isn’t offered, because new classes drop every Monday. It’s virtually impossible to run out of classes unless you’re doing 6-7 workouts per day. We’ll have to see if Apple addresses issues like AirPlay 2 compatibility, adds new workout types and difficulty levels, or extends the service to non-Apple Watch owners. But Fitness+ is still off to a promising start. This is one of the best services Apple’s launched thus far, and one that might actually go the distance.

Advertisement

README

  • Apple’s on-demand fitness subscription service costs $10/month or $80/year, and can be used with an Apple Watch Series 3 or later, as well as the iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV.
  • Lots of different workout types, but best suited for beginner or intermediate levels. (That’s not a bad thing!)
  • Probably not enough content to be a one-stop app for hardcore fitness nerds.
  • One of the most diverse and inclusive fitness apps.
  • While reasonably priced, you do have to invest in Apple hardware.

Advertisement

How Smartwatches, Workout Apps, and Connected Bikes Dominated 2020

Illustration for article titled How Smartwatches, Workout Apps, and Connected Bikes Dominated 2020

Graphic: Gizmodo (Photo: Scott Heins, Getty Images)

Year In ReviewYear In ReviewWe look back at the best, worst, and most significant moments of the year, and look forward to next year.

Back in January 2019, as I huffed and puffed on the Peloton Tread (now Tread+), I thought to myself, “This thing is really nice, but I don’t know in what world the average person would fork over $4,000 for this.”

Advertisement

The answer is one in which a global pandemic leaves gyms and boutique fitness studios across the country shuttered. Without daily commutes, access to public fitness spaces, and a clear sense of when everything would return to “normal,” expensive fitness equipment started to look less like ridiculous playthings for the rich and more like sensible investments. You only have to look as far as Peloton to see just how dramatic the shift has been.

Just a year ago, Peloton was the butt of everyone’s jokes thanks to a terrible commercial in which a husband buys his already thin wife a Peloton Bike for Christmas. While most of the criticism was lodged at the fictional husband, some of the outrage was at Peloton’s roughly $2,200 price tag when you can find regular stationary bikes for several hundred dollars cheaper. But by September, Peloton announced its first-ever quarterly profit thanks to a 172% increase in sales and more than 1 million subscribers. Impressively, according to CNN, most people who took up the 90-day free trial Peloton offered at the beginning of the pandemic stayed with the app—just 0.52% of users unsubscribed in the second quarter of 2020.

Advertisement

But this phenomenon wasn’t limited to Peloton, though it’s probably the device most people are familiar with. Earlier this year, Lululemon—purveyor of overpriced, kind of sexist and racist yoga pants—bought Mirror, maker of a $1,500 connected fitness mirror, for $500 million. The apparel company took a hit when stores were forced to close during lockdowns, and suddenly the prospect of acquiring a pricey at-home fitness platform seemed like a smart idea. In an investor call, Lululemon CEO Calvin McDonald stated that “the opportunity of covid is that it’s brought the future closer to the present” and said the company expected Mirror would be profitable by 2021.

But it’s not just the hardware. The fitness tech boom extends to apps and live-streaming, too. The first thing my go-to, in-person yoga studio did once lockdowns began back in March was to send several emails noting that instructors would be holding classes on Instagram Live. Gyms like Orangetheory, Blink Fitness, Planet Fitness, Crunch Fitness, and many, many others also began live-streaming free classes to adjust. Apps like ClassPass also made that shift. Fitness app downloads jumped by 46% worldwide during the first half of 2020 alone, with video-based workout apps benefitting the most.

Strava recently released its annual Year in Sport data report, providing yet more evidence that this year’s fitness tech boom was explosive, to say the least. More than 1.1 billion activities were logged in the popular cycling and running app, a 33% increase from 2019, with 2 million new users per month. According to Strava, indoor workouts more than doubled, while outdoor walks tripled. And despite the fact that in-person races were canceled, Strava noted that participation in its virtual challenges and clubs skyrocketed, with 30,000 new clubs created and “hundreds of thousands” of solo marathons run in 2020. Any which way you slice Strava’s incredibly detailed report, the numbers are extremely up.

Advertisement

All of this makes sense when you think about it. In just the last five years, there have been huge advances in health tech, particularly smartwatches. This year we saw Fitbit and Samsung catch up to Apple in offering FDA-cleared smartwatches. Fitbit’s flagship, the Fitbit Sense, even added a very timely electrodermal activity sensor and a body temperature sensor for helping you manage your stress. Both the Apple Watch Series 6 and the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 added the ability to measure SpO2 levels directly from the wrist, while also improving ways for users to evaluate their VO2 Max scores. This is notable because no one cares about their VO2 Max score unless they’re athletes or hyper-obsessed with monitoring their cardio fitness levels—a thing that perhaps more people will start caring about now that major companies are shoving it in their faces.

Advertisement

The health and fitness tech wave has been slowly building for a long time. The pandemic just obliterated many people’s reservations about buying in. Personally, I have gone through no less than five fitness apps in search of the perfect one that’ll help me do yoga, strength train, and spice up my outdoor runs. I went from someone who hated working out at home to someone who owns four sets of dumbbells, three mats, a connected kettlebell, smart running insoles, and foam roller. (In a studio apartment, mind you.) I’m on my third pair of connected running sneakers this year. Some of my coworkers have become Peloton stans; another has a connected rowing machine. I know four others who finally caved and bought themselves a smartwatch or fitness tracker for the very first time. At least one has become somewhat of a smartwatch evangelist.

As a wearable and health tech reviewer, my phone has been blowing up nonstop for nine straight months with friends and acquaintances asking for recommendations for apps, gadgets, and services to either stay fit, get more active at home, or help shed a few pesky quarantine pounds—whatever the goal might be. After years of folks scrunching their noses up at me asking why anyone would ever need a smartwatch, let alone expensive smart fitness equipment, this feels like stepping into an alternate universe.

Advertisement

As 2020 comes to a close, I can’t help but think of the texts and DMs I’ve gotten from friends about Apple’s newly launched Fitness+ service. It ranges from curious newbies, hype Apple Watch lovers, and skeptics who only want to know if it’s “worth the price.” But in any other year, I can’t imagine I’d get more than a few curious queries from my editor, let alone multiple friends who a week after launch are texting me about their favorite instructors, opining as to how it stacks up compared to Peloton and other fitness apps, and troubleshooting connectivity issues.

Whenever it is that we get widespread vaccinations and the gyms reopen, I can’t help but think the fitness landscape has irrevocably changed. Next year, companies won’t have to do quite as much convincing to get people to see the value in fitness tech. Now that we’ve gotten used to streaming workouts from the comfort of our homes, the whole gym experience may have to be completely rethought. Honestly, I’m not sure I’ll go back to the gym once this is all over—and I’m pretty sure that I’m not the only one who feels that way.

Advertisement

Maybe Now Peloton Orders Won’t Take So Long

Illustration for article titled Maybe Now Peloton Orders Wont Take So Long

Photo: Scott Heins/Stringer (Getty Images)

This year may not have started off so great for Peloton, but the company’s fortunes have since reversed thanks to a surge of interest in at-home fitness during the pandemic. Popularity can be a double-edged sword, however, as Peloton has struggled to keep up with demand, resulting in delivery delays and long wait times. But even that might soon ease up: On Monday, the company announced it’s plunking down $420 million to acquire Precor, one of the world’s largest commercial fitness equipment makers.

Advertisement

This is big news in terms of Peloton’s supply chain. By snapping up Precor, Peloton is essentially gaining Precor’s production facilities in the U.S., on top of its existing third-party manufacturers located in Taiwan. Last month, Peloton noted that despite a 232% increase in growth, the company would be operating under supply constraints “for the foreseeable future.” This acquisition, however, would mean that Peloton can now make its bikes and treadmills in the U.S., thereby reducing shipping delays from overseas manufacturers.

Advertisement

The deal also includes Precor’s 100-member research and development team, which signals we might start seeing some new Peloton hardware down the line. Earlier this year, Peloton began offering its new Bike+ and a cheaper version of its treadmill. Precor is known for producing both cardio and strength equipment, so it’ll be interesting to see whether Peloton uses this as a means of competing with other connected fitness gadgets like Tonal and Hydrow.

On another note, the announcement also hints at Peloton’s commercial aspirations—specifically, hotels, apartment complexes with fitness centers, colleges, and corporate campuses. According to the Wall Street Journal, once the deal closes in early 2021, “Peloton’s products will be made available to Precor’s commercial customers in Peloton’s existing markets.” As in, in one fell swoop, Peloton just got access to an extensive network of public fitness spaces. Generally speaking, this is a pretty ingenious way of hooking curious users onto its platform. Even if someone’s not fond of shelling out roughly $2,000 for a bike or treadmill, they can use one in their apartment’s gym and only have to pay the $13/month subscription for the app. Either way, it’s money, money, money for Peloton.

But what about when the pandemic is over and gyms reopen? It’s a fair concern, but it’s one that doesn’t seem to have put a dent in Peloton’s projections for 2021. At this rate, it’d take a holiday ad with unprecedented levels of cringe to knock Peloton off its stride. (And for the love of everything holy, 2020 doesn’t need another Peloton ad.) CNBC reports that the Precor deal could boost Peloton’s sales to $500 million, as Precor itself will still operate under its own brand name in addition to making Peloton products. In any case, the Precor deal very much looks like Peloton setting itself up to continue its momentum into the post-pandemic world.