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The Apple Watch and Resting Calories

I’ve highlighted how the Apple Watch isn’t very accurate as a fitness tracker, and I’ve shown that my Apple Watch’s heart rate sensor doesn’t work correctly, which is leading Apple to exchange it.

But one thing I find surprising is the way the Apple Watch – or, more correctly, the Activity app on your iPhone – calculates resting calories. This is another term for basal metabolic rate, or BMR, the amount of energy your body expends just to keep you alive. If you did absolutely nothing during a day, other than sleep, your body would still burn a certain number of calories. In fact, your active calories only represent a small part of the amount of energy you use.

Like many such measurements that are difficult to measure, the BMR varies according to the way it’s calculated. But one such calculator tell me that may BMR is 2008 calories. Another one, at myFitnessPal, tells me my BRM is 1894 calories.

Resting caloriesNot Apple. According to the Activity app, my resting calories for the full day yesterday was 3184, or 50% more than a BMR calculator. As such, the Activity app tells me that I burned 3829 calories yesterday, with 645 of these being active calories. Yesterday, I took two brisk walks: one on my treadmill, for 30 minutes, which counted as 178 calories, and one outdoors, for about 20 minutes, which clocked 83 calories.

It’s interesting that the 20-minute outdoor walk only counted for about half as much as the 30-minute indoor walk, which measured calories based on my heart rate, and, presumably, the frequency of my steps.

No matter how you slice it, these numbers are wrong. I’ll give Apple a pass on the active calories; there’s no way to get those numbers down precisely. But the BMR, or resting calories? I’ve entered my data in the health app – age, height, weight and sex – so, unless online calculators are way off the mark, Apple has some tweaking to do.

What’s also surprising is that this number isn’t the same every day; it ranges from 3172 to 3195. This is a fixed number, that has nothing to do with my activity. There’s not a big difference between the top and bottom of the scale, but they should be the same every day. Only the active calories should change.

And this is particularly worrisome. This number is based on a very simple calculation, and isn’t skewed by the way you move your arms, or your stride when you walk. It’s the one number that they should get right.

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This Is What Happens When an Apple Watch’s Heart Rate Sensor Doesn’t Work Correctly

Heart rate1A few days ago, I wrote about how the Apple Watch may not be very accurate as a fitness tracker. Many of the issues I’ve encountered are widespread, and many users have reported similar problems. Seemingly ridiculous calorie calculations, the exercise ring not recording exercise, and more.

Apple issued an update to the Apple Watch software a couple of days ago, which seems to have fixed some of these issues, for some users. In my case, the watch is still screwy.

After contacting Apple’s technical support, and doing a number of things to try and determine if this was a software problem – applying the 1.0.1 update, and resetting the watch – it’s clear that this is, indeed, a problem with the heart rate sensor. Apple will be exchanging the watch.

Here’s the kind of thing I was seeing. In the first example above, I was walking outdoors in the evening, with the Workout app recording my walk as a workout. You can see that my heart rate jumped from 111 at 20:32 to 150 a few seconds later. My pulse was not that high; this was simply that the watch was recording it incorrectly.

Heart rate2In the second example, to the left, from another evening walk, my heart rate was around 112-113, then it jumped to 122, before dipping to the low 80s. Again, my pulse was stable.

I’ve also seen examples where the watch simply stopped recording my heart rate for one to three hours: the Health app data shows that there are no readings for a long time.

So, if you’re having issues with the Activity app, check what heart rate has been recorded. To do this, go to the Health app on your iPhone, tap Health Data, then Vitals. Tap Heart Rate, and then Show All Data. You’ll see every reading that your watch has recorded. You can check to see how reliable it is.

One thing I have noticed is that if I have the Heartbeat glance active, the watch forces a reading when I switch to it, and that reading is usually accurate, and tends to somehow force the automatic readings to be correct again. So, if I see that my heart rate, when walking, is around 150, I switch to the Heartbeat glance, and the new reading seems to reset the sensor to the correct values.

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The Committed Podcast Looks at the Apple Watch Again, and More

The Committed Podcast Icon 1400x1400 01In this week’s episode of The Committed podcast, Ian Schray, Rob Griffiths, and I talk about my new Apple Watch, and my issues with accuracy using its fitness tracking features. We also discuss traveling with an iTunes library, the teaser for the new Steve Jobs movie, the X-Men, and Frederic Rzewski. Oh, and Shakespeare, again.

Listen to The Committed, Episode 81: “Do We Need a Spoiler Alert for Shakespeare?”.

If you like The Committed podcast, you can subscribe or leave a rating or review on iTunes, or with your favorite podcatcher.

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How To Back Up, Wipe and Restore Your Apple Watch

I’ve found my Apple Watch to be very inaccurate as a fitness tracker, and I’ve been in touch with Apple. They’ve given me several things to try, to see if accuracy improves, and, just today, there was an update to the Apple Watch software, which claims to improve some of the issues I’m having. I applied the update, but, after a first outdoor walk workout, I see that there are still issues with the heart rate data.

So, the next step is to wipe and restore the device. If you use an iOS device, you’re probably familiar with the process of restoring it using iTunes. With the Apple Watch, you don’t use iTunes, but rather your iPhone. Here’s how.

To restore an Apple Watch, you must unpair it. When you do this, the iPhone saves a backup of your data. The backup contains the following data:

  • General system settings, such as your watch face, known Wi-Fi networks, brightness, sound, and haptic settings
  • Language and time zone settings
  • Settings for Mail, Calendar, Stocks, and Weather
  • App-specific data and settings, such as Maps, distance, and units
  • Health and Fitness data, such as history, achievements, and user-entered data

The backup does not include the following data:

  • Workout and Activity calibration data
  • Playlists synced to your Apple Watch
  • Credit or debit cards used for Apple Pay
  • Your passcode

Unpair apple watchOpen the Apple Watch app on your iPhone, and tap My Watch > Apple Watch, then Unpair Apple Watch. The Apple Watch app will perform the backup. After the watch is unpaired, you’ll see the Start Pairing message on the watch.

Follow the instructions to pair the watch to your iPhone, and restore from the backup.

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How to create good queries in Yosemite’s Spotlight

On the surface, searching with Spotlight is pretty straightforward. In my previous article, I explained how to perform basic searches, and how to access other Spotlight features. But if your search involves multiple terms, or if you need to narrow down your results to dig up a particularly elusive file, knowing how to put together a good search query will pay off.

By mastering a few simple tricks, such as using keywords to limit your search to specific dates, authors, or file types, you can narrow down your search to specific types of data, exclude terms, and more, helping Spotlight to locate exactly what you need.

Read the rest of the article on Macworld.

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Writings about Macs, music and more by Kirk McElhearn