Apple Fitness+ is getting a dose of Dolly. The iPhone maker’s relatively new subscription exercise service, which requires the use of an Apple Watch, is expanding to include outdoor walking exercises led by celebrities, one of whom is country music star and philanthropist Dolly Parton. The walks will range from 25 to 40 minutes, will only be available to people who have subscribed to the $10-per-month Fitness+ service, and will incorporate Apple Watch in an unusual way: The wearable will display photos, curated by the guide, throughout the walk.
The move is part of an effort by Apple to build out the new Fitness+, which is competing with a plethora of guided workout apps during a time when a lot of people have ditched their gym memberships in favor of home workouts. The subscription service, like Apple’s other cloud-based offerings, is also a way to get more customers locked into Apple’s hardware and software ecosystem.
The feature, called “Time to Walk,” is launching with four celeb-hosted walks: one led by Parton, another by Golden State Warriors power forward Draymond Green, one by musical artist Shawn Mendes, and one by Emmy-winning actress Uzo Aduba, who starred in Orange Is the New Black. The programs are a mixture of talk and music (the latter of which is powered by Apple Music, natch).
Dolly Parton’s episode, for example, includes 12 minutes of Parton telling stories about her family; when she talks about her 11 siblings and rattles off their names, a photo of young Dolly pops up on Apple Watch. Birds chirp in the background. Parton taps her acrylic nails, and talks about how the sound of her nails against a typewriter supplied the inspiration for “9 to 5.” Then the episode transitions to the actual song “9 to 5,” followed by two more Parton tracks. In Draymond Green’s episode, the three-time NBA champion recounts a story of tough love from his mother, and eventually tosses it to Drake’s “Big Rings.” Uzo Aduba even walks with her dog.
It’s an enjoyable listening experience so far, though getting started requires an almost humorous number of Apple products. You’ll have to be opted into using Fitness+ on the iPhone, which is what your Apple Watch is paired to. The “Time to Walk” episodes will automatically be downloaded to the Watch’s workout app (Apple says you can also remove these episodes if you’d rather not have them on the Watch at all). And then you’ll have to pair the Watch with headphones. If you’ve paired your Watch with AirPods before, it will suggest pairing AirPods.
But more notably, this is the first Apple Fitness+ product that actually lets users ignore their screens—well, most of them—and isn’t tied to indoor workouts. Fitness+ first launched in mid-December 2020, charging users a monthly fee to access high-intensity interval, strength, yoga, cycling, and dance classes lead by exuberant instructors. (“Close those rings!” they shout regularly, a nod to Apple Watch’s feature that gamifies daily activity goals.) It’s very Peloton-esque, with more integration between and promotion of Apple gadgets. However, one obvious omission from the Fitness+ app was any kind of outdoor workout experience, which many other fitness apps offer.
Walking is an obvious choice for expanding Fitness+; it’s the most popular form of exercise in the world, and also one of the most popular activities in the Apple Watch workout app. What’s interesting is that this first batch of walks is a kind of blend of podcasting content and music, instead of fitness instructors breathlessly giving commands to speed it up or slow it down. By using this formula, Apple is setting the production bar pretty high for itself, and also tapping into a broader trend of audio experimentation.