We all know the Apple Watch is as much a health and fitness device as a wearable that tells time, delivers notifications, plays music, makes calls and chats to Siri.
Health and fitness tracking is arguably the device's biggest feature — not least since the newest Apple Watch will be able take an EKG. But until that particular feature is switched on through an upcoming software update, there are plenty of apps that make the Watch a solid health device.
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You can, of course, use Apple's own heart rate monitor app and the Health app, which records movement and exercise, and sends this data to your iPhone. But there is a huge range of third-party apps which use the same hardware to provide even more data.
A suite of apps I've been using recently come from an Australian developer called Tantsissa. The apps are called Auto Sleep Tracker, AutoWake, and HeartWatch. They can be bought separately for $2.99 each, or as a pack of three for $6.99.
To be clear from the start, these are not medically-certified applications and cannot offer specific medical advice. However, they can track your heart through the day and night, notify you if your heart rate falls particular low, and provide useful data on the quantity and quality of your sleep.
All three apps run on both your Watch and iPhone, sending data from watch to phone, where it can be viewed in more detail.
AutoSleep for Apple Watch and iOS
First, I'll look at AutoSleep. As the name suggests, this app automatically detects when you fall asleep by analyzing the movement of your watch. Alternatively, you can manually control sleep tracking — useful if you read in bed at night, which can trick watch apps into thinking you're asleep.
The next morning, the iOS app gathers the data from your watch and displays it in a detailed circular graphic. This can look confusing at first, but it is logical once you spend a minute taking it all in. The graphic shows how long you were in bed, how long you were asleep, and at what times you were in deep sleep, light sleep, and awake during the night.
There's a second graph to show how your heart rate (taken every few minutes) varies during the night, and an icon to show how much you 'recharged' during the night, based on your usual sleep habits.
I already knew I usually fall asleep quickly — in as little as two minutes, according to the app - but what was new to me was how little deep sleep I have been getting.
Despite sleeping for eight hours a night during the week, I often feel tired during the working day - and now I might have an answer, with Autosleep telling me that on some nights I'm only getting 90 minutes of deep sleep, half what the app says I should be getting. I'm now researching ways to improve this, from altering my diet and exercise routine, to limiting blue light and screen time before bed.
All of the data gathered by AutoSleep can be adjusted if you feel the app has made a mistake — like recording an hour of reading as sleep.
HeartWatch for Apple Watch and iOS
The second app of this trio takes a reading of your heart rate every few minutes, using the Apple Watch's monitor. After each day, the iPhone app shows how your heart responded in four scenarios; Waking, Regular, Workout and Sleeping.
As the developer says on its website: "Each of these views are isolated because, while you may want a higher heart rate during a workout, if your heart is racing when you aren't doing any exercise then this is likely not a good thing and probably something you might want to show you medical practitioner."
Not being a certified medical product, HeartWatch can't directly tell you to see a doctor, but instead the app can give a general idea of what's healthy and what might not be. The more blue or green in the icons the better, while more red could be cause for concern.
At night, the app continues to record your heart rate and the next day what's healthy and what might be the sign of a problem. The app has told me on a couple of occasions that, during the previous night, my heart rate fell quite low — to 47 — before recovering to an average of 54.
Although I feel fairly healthy, knowing this data is being collected every night and stored safely on my phone means that, if I decided to see a doctor (or was asked by one about my heart's performance) I have the data on hand and ready to show.
That said, I wonder if sometimes the app makes mistakes. For instance, while writing this article the app claims my resting heart rate fell from 64 to 42 in about eight minutes, then recovered to 61 one minute later. Perhaps I moved my watch at this point and disrupted the reading.
Like I said earlier, this is not medically-certified advice, but offers a means to keep an eye on your levels.
AutoWake for Apple Watch and iOS
Finally, AutoWake is a dynamic alarm clock that uses the vibrating Haptic Engine of the Apple Watch to wake you up when you are least asleep, within a predetermined time of your morning alarm.
I have the alarm set to wake me up within 15 minutes of 7am. That way, if the app thinks I'm ready to be woken as early as 6:45am, then the watch will tap and buzz until I respond and switch off the alarm.
Interestingly, however, the app tells me that this morning I was most active between 15 and 20 minutes before my alarm time, then stopped moving for the final 15 minutes. As such, I should adjust the alarm window to 20 minutes; that way, tomorrow I might be woken up when I am more awake than I was this morning.
The app requires you to have the AutoWake complication running on your Apple Watch throughout the night. Because the watch face I use can't accommodate that complication, I have to swipe across to the next face, which has the complication. This is a small inconvenience but the app can be set to remind you to do this if you settle into bed and forget.
As well as waking you up when you are least asleep, the app can also buzz your wrist gentle every five minutes within 15 or 30 minutes of your alarm time. This is claimed to help stop you from falling into a new sleep cycle, thus preventing you from reaching deep sleep just a few minutes before the alarm drags you back to consciousness.
The theory goes that, if the Watch gently keeps you out of deep sleep in these last few minutes of the night, then you will wake up more easily and feel more alert for the start of your day.
AutoWake can be switched on manually each night, but I've found it works well when left to its own devices.
Finally, the app has HomeKit support, meaning it will automatically run any 'scenes' you have setup through Apple's Home app for iOS. You can, for example, have a scene switch off all the lights and lower the heating when you enable AutoWake (when you go to sleep).
You can also have a scene run to switch the lights back on when you wake up, or switch a lamp on to a dim setting when you snooze your AutoWake alarm.
I have always liked the idea of having a smart alarm wake me when I am least asleep, and with a history of heart problems in my family I'm also interested in keeping an eye on that aspect of my health. These three applications combine my needs in a way which is comprehensive without being overwhelming, and uses a system which runs almost entirely in the background.
All I have to do is swipe once at the screen of my Apple Watch each night to enable the correct watch face, and the rest of the system looks after itself. All the data gathered by these apps can be sent to Apple's own Health app, and I could create some custom Home scenes to get even more out of this trio of apps.
It's easy for apps like this to overwhelm and make their users wonder why they are bothering to collect so much data about themselves. But with these I feel a benefit — and, being a fan of traditional watches too, I can just use the apps for sleep monitoring and my morning alarm if I fancy wearing a different watch during the day.