Apple Watch-Activity TrackeR


To understand in-depth the functional and design aspects of the Activity Tracking feature (Activity & Workout app) offered by Apple Watch from a UX perspective and suggest ways for improvement.


Personal, Hobby, Summer Project, Inspiration

  • My photography skills, even with the best of the cameras, are questionable at best.

  • After speaking to a number of Apple watch users and reading comments online, I realized people often talk about the Workout and Activity applications as one single feature or interchangeably. This is the reason I decided to run the study on both the applications, independent as well as an integrated unit.

  • I am still learning about UX Research and Design, and I find feedback a very useful and important tool in improving my skills and myself as a person and UX professional.


I have been an Apple product loyalist for the past 7 years, and my journey began with the purchase of iPhone5s - my first iPhone. While I can go on and on about why I love Apple products, I will not. Jumping directly to the product of the hour, I have been using an Apple Watch Series 3 for over 2 years, and I would say I have a stable and loving relationship with my watch. We start our mornings together, stay together the whole day through, and then by the EOD lie next to each other tired out and ready to be put in the charging mode for the next day's work. The things that my watch helps me achieve daily include:

  1. Pinging my iPhone after I have casually forgotten in the last place I was in.

  2. Helping me stay on top of my work via important meeting and mail notifications

  3. Keeping me focused by informing me that the last notification was an Instagram DM and I need not reach out for my phone for that.

  4. Helping me stay fit and achieve my health goals every day.

If I were a little less forgetful of my phone, I would say that fitness tracking is my favorite and most used feature of all, hands down. But because I am (YET) not everything I want to be and because the iPhone pinging feature works just fine, an in-depth analysis of the Activity Tracker seems inevitable.


I drafted a survey that I sent out to people across social media platforms, friends, colleagues, and family members to get an insight into their relationship with their Apple Watch and its features. In addition to collecting demographic data, this survey is basically a starting point for me to validate my assumptions mentioned below:

  1. Activity Tracker is one of the most used features offered by Apple Watch.

  2. People believe the Activity Tracker does a decent job.

  3. People also believe that Activity Tracker can do a lot better.

I generated 2 word-clouds based on two open-end response questions in the survey. The word-cloud in blue represents answers to the question "Which one feature offered by your smartwatch (Apple Watch) do you like the best?" and the word-cloud in pink represents the answers obtained for the question "Which one feature offered by your smartwatch (Apple watch) would you improve?"

As is visible in the word-cloud on the left Activity Tracker is the most liked feature offered by Apple Watch. The word-cloud on the right is swarming with words like sleep and calories. While activity tracker ha snot been mentioned directly in the features requiring improvement, most of the suggested improvements point in the direction of health-related apps. The survey also required the participants to rate some of the features offered by the Apple Watch in terms of usage and satisfaction. 

Satisfaction rating given by users for the features offered by Apple Watch

User Satisfaction Ratings collected via survey

Usage ratings of the features offered by Apple Watch

1: Most Used, 5: Least Used feature; Feature Usage Ratings collected via survey

It was not totally surprising that while Activity Tracker is the most used feature and people are satisfied with the application, most improvement suggestions focussed on health-related features. More details about Activity Tracker features requiring improvements are explored in the contextual inquiry section of the Problem Space research.


I received a limited number of responses to the survey, the reason being this is a solo, independent project, and even after posting it time and again on social media for over a week, people did not respond. Moreover, the demographic is quite skewed in the direction of the younger crowd aged below 34 years as that is the age group I personally am most connected with on most social media platforms. 


Participants distributed by age group


Participants who own any smartwatch distributed by age group


Participants who own Apple Watch distributed by age group

Another interesting approach to interpret the data summarized by piecharts above is by exploring the consumer market for smartwatches and analyzing age as a factor for the sale trends of smartwatches. This might lead to a better understanding of user experiences for various user age-groups. However, this is not something that we are focussing on in this particular project.


To conduct background research and to get to know the application better, I chose to do the following things:

  1. Spent more time fiddling with the applications on my watch and interacted with each signifier to understand what all affordances are provided.

  2. Watched YouTube videos on the Activity Tracker application posted by the Apple channel and other YouTubers.

  3. Read articles online and spent a lot of time poring over the Apple website and blogs to scavenge for anything related to the applications.

While talking about the activity tracking features offered by Apple watches users often talk about two different apps interchangeably, and not because they are so alike but because they are so well integrated and complement each other in a way that they appear as a joint unit to users. The two applications are:

  1. Activity: the 3 famous rings are offered by the Activity app which serves as an evaluation metric of the users' activities.

  2. Workout: this is the application that tracks the activities or exercises in real-time and provides a detailed summary of what the workout session looked like.

The images below provide an overview of what the two applications essentially do.

Rings Explained
Rings Explained

Choose & Track
Choose & Track


Rings Explained
Rings Explained


When the user tracks activity using the watch, the calories and minutes of the workout are added towards the appropriate ring afforded by the Activity app. Apart from tracking various workouts, the Apple Watch provides lagniappes, including but not limited to the following:

  1. Get notified when a friend finishes a workout, earns an award or completes a challenge

  2. Check how your friends are doing on their daily goals (Move, Exercise & Stand Rings)

  3. Compete with friends in a 7-day competition and earn points by filling your Activity Rings. The winner gets an award.

  4. Participate in monthly challenges to earn awards.

  5. Earn awards for workout streaks or setting a personal record for an activity.


To draw a quick comparison between the popular smartwatches available in the market, I took the help of my most intellectual friend the world wide weband some of my lesser intellectual but more human friends who use or have used these watches in the past. I narrowed down the features of interest and grouped them together in broader categories that seemed relevant to the focus of my research - Enhancing and simplifying the user experience offered by the Activity Tracker application of Apple Watch.

To understand the table better please refer to the points mentioned below:

  1. Feature-category column or Column-1 is left unnamed because of a lack of better and comprehensive word

  2. Each feature-category in Column-1 has an associated explanation or tip (rounded rectangles in blue) wherever the phrasing seemed fuzzy.

  3. Green Dot implies feature is Available, Yellow Dot implies feature is offered but is limited in scope using the watch or has been just (a month or two back) announced, and Red Dot implies that the feature is Unavailable.

  4. By # , I tried to imply the word 'number'.

  5. I have consciously not added a version name or number for the smartwatches as the focus is to analyze the features offered by the activity tracking application in the smartwatches, and not the smartwatches themselves.

  6. The Garmin watch column might have some incorrect data as all the information was retrieved from the Garmin website which does not have the best feature documentation.

Screen Shot 2020-07-23 at 3.37.08 PM.png

The data is taken from an article published on The Wirecutter website. The % values show how far off is the smartwatch value is from the pedometer count.

According to an article on The Wirecutter, an experiment was conducted to test the accuracy of the different smartwatches. In the experiment, the steps were tracked using a pedometer as well as each of these smartwatches, and then a comparison was drawn between the count reflected on the pedometer and the data on the smartwatch. The article explains

"The percentages in the first column of the table below show the daily average of how much each tracker differed from our pedometer’s count. We also wore each tracker for a mile-long walk on a treadmill (again, wearing the wristband ones on the nondominant hand). The percentages in the second column show how far off each tracker was from our pedometer’s counts on the treadmill. The third column is how far off each tracker was in measuring the distance (1 mile) that we walked in the treadmill workouts."


Jake Knapp in his book SPRINT - how to solve big problems and test new ideas in just five days talks about this exercise and suggests starting with it on the very first day. Why I chose to do this particular exercise is because:

  1. I wanted to understand and explore the Problem Space better before moving on to the Solution Space.

  2. It was a little hard for me to pinpoint and prioritize the pain points I had been collecting, and not be biased by my own preferences and choices (given this is a solo project).

  3. I find it very interesting and every time that I do it, it gets my brain juices flowing.

As a part of this exercise, I gathered my Mini Easel Pad, a Black Sharpie, some colored pens, a cup of coffee, and a fresh uncluttered brain. I sat down and wrote some long-term goals that I wish to achieve at the end of this project. Below each of the goals, I wrote some of the major sprint questions that I could think of at the moment and then drew a map of how the user goes through the process using the product.


Following Jake Knapp's strategy in his book on 5-Day Sprint, I took notes based on the map created and the rest of the information on the board. Instead of getting bogged down and boxed-in by specific problems and pre-maturely jumping onto solutions, I went with an optimistic approach of writing open-ended notes, which I then created into questions that will pave the way for a more clear and objective view of the Problem Space. Continuing on with the optimism, the questions were framed following an HMW format - How Might We simplify a particular step? How Might We make users involved in a process?


To understand the user better, I chose to do the following things:

  1. Found articles online that mentioned reviews, feedback, ratings, or user experience stories related to using the Apple Watch and looked for the mention of words like Activity, Tracking, Health, etc.

  2. Talking to people (on phone calls or in-person) who own an Apple Watch. The conversation is mostly informal, trying to get the user to talk about their motivation behind buying the watch, and how do they use it.
    After these conversations, I usually take some time out to go over the conversation in my head and try to sketch a basic outline of the process. A pattern that I observed after speaking to about 5 users is shown in the sketch below.

  3. Conducting contextual inquiry to see in real-time (in person or on Zoom) how they use the watch for Activity Tracking, and then follow up with questions based on their actions.


I carefully went through the information collected during the contextual inquiry and talking to the users to extract all the information related to the applications - big or small. I then used this information to flush out my user personas. The personas aren't perfect as the users that I could talk to were not representative of the entire user base. However, I tried to include and represent as many diverse users as possible in my research and personas.

Screen Shot 2020-08-04 at 7.23.13 PM.png
Persona - Shanaya.png

I personally believe that Brainstorming/Ideation sessions are a great way to bring together all the ideas and collected data points, and organize them in a way that makes sense and is meaningful to everyone. But since this is a solo project, there was a bit of a challenge in successfully executing this. To overcome it,

  1. I asked my husband to participate in the process. 

  2. I asked a friend of mine to be a part of the process virtually via a zoom call.

I gave my husband some sticky notes and asked my friend to grab some sheets of paper or sticky notes that she had available. Then, I gave them a very high-level and vague overview of the goal by asking them to write about anything and everything they would want to see, add, remove or enhance related to the activity tracking feature offered by smartwatches. The reasoning behind doing this was:

  1. Both of these people are not in the field of anything software-related. They are electrical engineers. And they have not been a part of the previous research that I conducted and knew nothing of the project until I told them. It is both selfish and foolish of me to expect them to understand the exact goal and motivation that I, as a UX researcher, had in mind.

  2. Often, clients or managers box in the researchers/participants so much so that there is no room left for imagination. While this strategy in the shorter run leads to faster results and a satisfied client, it often ignores or fails to discover a large part of the problem space that even the client might not know exists.

  3. I wanted to take advantage of two people who are both smartwatch users themselves (not necessarily Apple watch) and use their intellect and experience to inform the research process.

I purposely chose to not go the electronic way for creating and organizing the Affinity Diagram board (even though using a pen & paper for organizing was more tiresome and time-taking), because lately, everything has been so virtual that getting our hands dirty was a good break for both I and my husband.

What my table looked like right after everyone was done pitching their ideas. For my friend, I acted as a mediator and wrote down her ideas on sticky notes, that she sent in the zoom chat and pasted them on the table.

I created two categories and divided and arranged the sticky notes  in each category.


Because I only had a Mini Easel Pad, I got rid of the sticky notes and jotted down all the content from the notes in each category in the form of small rectangular boxes (green-blue for Activity, and pink-red for Health). I then further organized them in sub-categories and also added explanations to each note that did not seem very clear.


I took the user personas I created, study them twice - one independently and then in the context of the product in question (Apple Watch apps). Based on the personas, I started creating scenarios where the user will be using the product to achieve a specific goal. The scenarios outline the steps taken by the user from the very beginning to the task completion. Each of these steps is scrutinized to flush out possible questions, problems that may arise, viable suggestions, and any ideas that may help the user in that particular stage of achieving the goal.

The images below depict 2 of the scenarios created based on the contextual enquiry and user personas.


Starting off with the scenarios as my reference, I got into fleshing out some ideas on a paper following the Crazy 8's technique. The lo-fi depictions provide a starting point for the redesign and new design of some of the features in order to fulfill the existing design gaps. For this, I redefined and broke down the problem statements into simpler and more executable parts and conducted a sample design exercise for each problem.

Problem Statement:  Users often end up clicking something while scrolling using the screen

Plausible Causes: Screen size is small​,  a habit of using the touch screen scroll over the crown button, (un)awareness of the affordance provided by the watch (like scrolling using the crown)

Existing Solution: Crown dial can be used to scroll through the screen

Suggested Solution: Usage of the bigger blank canvas, that is the hand itself for the purposes of scrolling (to start with)

Prototype: On your left


Problem Statement:  Creating and following an exercise pattern or a workout regime

Plausible Causes: Starting a new exercise end the ongoing exercise, no affordance to create a routine

Existing Solution: Switch from one ongoing exercise to another

Suggested Solution: Create a new workout by clubbing exercises, setting calorie or time goals for each, marking break-days fosters a more practical motivation, usage of haptics and sound to inform users of exercise switch and breaks

Prototype: On your left