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With running power and triathlon mode, could the Apple Watch replace your Garmin?

Man and woman checking smartwatches after a run
(Image credit: Getty)

Apple has just revealed a raft of new sports tracking tools that are coming soon to the Apple Watch – and if you were thinking of investing in a new sports watch like the Garmin Forerunner 255, they might make you pause and reconsider.

Apple announced at its annual WWDC  (Worldwide Developer Conference) event, where the company reveals what's in store for the next iteration of its desktop and mobile operating systems. The latest version of its wearable operating system, watchOS 9, will probably become available around early fall, and is set to bring some big changes on the fitness front.

The most interesting of these relate to running, and once your Apple Watch receives the latest update, it'll be able to show you a host of new metrics including running power and efficiency stats that you'd normally expect to get from a dedicated sports watch paired with a foot-mounted device like the Garmin Running Dynamics Pod (opens in new tab) or Nurvv (opens in new tab) smart insoles.

Although it's perhaps best known for the 'ring' interface that encourages casual wearers to stay active throughout the day and take a certain number of steps, Apple has been working hard to make its smartwatch tempting for athletes too.

It all started in December 2020 with the launch of Apple Fitness Plus (opens in new tab) – a Peloton-style workout-on-demand service that lets subscribers follow video workouts on their iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV, with live heart rate data streamed to the screen from their Apple Watch. Fitness Plus has expanded rapidly ever since, with new sports, activities and instructors joining the fray every few months, and more workouts added every week.

In January 2021, Apple added Time to Walk: a podcast-style set of programs to accompany you on a gentle stroll, but this was followed in January 2022 by the more energetic Time to Run, in which running coaches lead you through a virtual tour of their favorite routes with tips to mix up your training. Now it's taking things even further.

Advanced running metrics

When watchOS 9 lands, Apple Watches will also be able to calculate vertical oscillation, stride length, and ground contact time. Many watches can estimate stride length using their accelerometers, but the other two are stats that are usually gathered by a unit that attaches to your shoe. It's tough to say how accurate Apple's method of calculating them from the wrist will be, but we're interested to see how its measurements stack up against those from dedicated devices.

The Apple Watch will also be able to calculate running power from the wrist. This is something already offered by many of the best GPS watches, but is only available on Garmin devices with an additional Running Dynamics Pod or HRM-Pro heart rate monitor.

There's good news if you're a fan of heart rate  training as well, as the Apple Watch will soon provide alerts as you move between zones, helping you stay in the one you want and avoid accidentally pushing too hard during those long. slow weekend runs.

Finally, the Apple Watch is getting a dedicated triathlon option, which will switch between cycling, swimming, and running modes automatically. Although common for sports watches, this is very unusual for an everyday smartwatch, and shows that Apple has the likes of Garmin firmly in its sights.

However, there's one huge difference between an Apple Watch and a device like the Forerunner 255, and that's battery life. An Apple Watch needs recharging daily, whereas the Forerunner 255 can run for up to  two weeks in smartwatch mode. Of course, things could change in the future, and there's a chance that the Apple Watch 8 might shake things up when it arrives later this year, but we're not expecting a seismic change.

The Apple Watch's lack of physical buttons will also be off-putting for many athletes. While the Digital Crown works well in most conditions, it's not as versatile as Garmin's traditional five-button setup when your hands are cold, wet, or wearing gloves.

If you're interested in multi-day adventures then you'll want to stick with your dedicated sports watch, but runners and triathletes who prefer shorter events now have another option to consider. 

Cat is the editor of Advnture, She’s been a journalist for 13 years, and was fitness and wellbeing editor on TechRadar before joining the Advnture team in 2022. She’s a UK Athletics qualified run leader, and in her spare time enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the roads and trails (the muddier, the better).