With the Apple Watch X, Apple needs to ditch the rings

The rings must go if Apple wants to regain its market lead as the top health wearable provider

Apple Watch Series 9 displaying Activity Rings against abstract background
(Image credit: Apple)

The Apple Watch debuted back in 2015, and while Apple’s messaging around it changed (it’s no longer a luxury-minded wristwatch alternative), the device itself is relatively unchanged. 

Both from the outside and within, the Apple Watch Series 9 isn’t all that different to the Series 0 which feels so long ago already, and one through line that has persisted all the way is the “activity rings”.

The red, green, and blue circles for calories burned, activity, and standing each hour are still present, even as the Apple Watch’s sensors have grown more plentiful and more ambitious. And yet, they’re arguably lagging behind the competition now.

Here’s why, with the rumored Apple Watch X, it’s time for Apple to make some changes to the activity rings. 

Apple Watch Series 8 review

(Image credit: Matt Kollat/T3)

Ring it to win it 

I should preface this argument by saying I’ve loved the activity rings. The way they nudge you gently through the day is appreciated on most days when I need to be reminded to get up and move around—especially after spending hours at a desk.

There’s also a certain satisfaction in seeing Apple’s slick animations as you hit the next milestone or rack up a streak or other achievement.

The activity rings are a great starting point, but they don’t go far enough to promote balance. They’re a “one size fits all” solution to a problem that requires much more nuance.

By making the activity rings so easy to understand, Apple has almost dumbed down one of the most important aspects of fitness – rest and recovery.

Take it slow

Recovery is often underappreciated. After all, muscles don’t grow or repair themselves without taking time to rest post-workout, and for all of the importance placed on exercising correctly and regularly, not enough is said about the time between workouts.

If, like me, you enjoy lifting weights, you’ll know it’s easy to plateau when you lift weights for seven days a week, but taking a day or two out of the gym to repair torn muscle fibres is very, very important.

That may not be a typical use case for the average Apple Watch user, but with fitness programs for ‘Functional Strength Training’ and the like, Apple needs to be careful it doesn’t keep nudging users to work out day after day, regardless of their chosen discipline.

That’s how injuries happen, and an injury can stop a workout regimen in its tracks and also stop a user from wanting to push themselves.

Thankfully, Apple has plenty of inspiration to take from other manufacturers already.

Oura Ring Gen 3 review

Oura offers a more sophisticated activity-tracking system

(Image credit: Matt Kollat/T3)

Set a new score

Apple’s nudge to get you out of the door is great and all, but it really only factors in your activity on any given day. It’ll remind you of yesterday’s rings, sure, but it won’t use that information to tailor anything to your body’s exertion levels.

Thankfully, there are third-party options that give you a more holistic view of your body’s current well-being. I use Fitbod, a workout planner and tracker that tracks not only what exercises you do but also how they affect your muscles.

It’s not uncommon for the app to show certain areas as being overworked and adjusting your next couple of workouts to take that into consideration.

On the other hand, other trackers have leapfrogged Apple in this regard - and many offer much cheaper products.

Take Fitbit, for example, which offers a Daily Readiness Score as part of its premium subscription service. This takes into account your sleep, activity from the day before, and your heart rate to help you know how hard you should push yourself on any given day.

By tying these things together in an easy-to-read number, you know whether today’s the day to push for a new PB or if it’s better to rest instead.

Fitbit isn’t the only one, either. Garmin watches offer a recovery time metric as soon as you save an activity, while Oura Ring Gen 3 goes a step beyond and has multiple readiness scores and can even advise you when you might be getting sick—adding a fresh detail you may otherwise have missed.

If Apple can implement something like a readiness score for the Apple Watch X and the next iteration of watchOS, it could be a massive step forward in fitness tracking within its ecosystem. Until then, I’ll keep closing my rings.

Lloyd Coombes
Freelance writer

Lloyd Coombes is an experienced freelancer from Essex, UK, specialising in consumer and fitness technology. His work can be found across the internet, including TechRadar, iMore, and plenty of other Future sites. A keen weightlifter, he's also editor-in-chief of GGRecon by day. When he's not writing or working out, you'll find him spending time with his son or playing Magic The Gathering.