The Latest Apple Fitness+ Feature Lets You Take an Oddly Satisfying Walk With a Celebrity

I took a walk with Shawn Mendes, and it was cool

Shawn Mendes and I embark on our audio workout. Photos courtesy of the author

Griffith Park is a beautiful place to walk. You have the long, steep climb to the top, dotted along the way with beautiful vistas of Los Angeles hills, and the treat of the iconic Griffith Observatory at the top.

Shawn Mendes described some of this to me as I trudged through the side streets of my chilly suburban neighborhood.

The singer-songwriter and I were thousands of miles apart, but brought together asynchronously, via Apple’s new Fitness+ (the service costs $9.99 a month after a one-month free trial) add-on: the podcast-like Time to Walk audio workout series.

Time to Walk is a collection of walk-and-talks with various musicians, athletes, and, eventually, other iconic and interesting figures. Apple plans to update the library every Monday. Unlike a podcast, there’s no interviewer, just the voice of the subject married to real ambient sounds like footfalls, birds, and other passersby.

The special sauce, though, is how Apple has married the audio excursions with a walking workout on your Apple Watch.

Time to Walk lives inside the Apple Fitness app under Fitness+. You download one of the currently four walks to your watch. Walk and talkers include:

  • Mendes
  • Dolly Parton
  • Orange Is the New Black actress Uzo Aduba
  • Golden State Warriors basketball player Draymond Green

You can download up to five walks to your Apple Watch. I chose Mendes because I had the chance to meet the talented musician in 2014 when he was still just an internet sensation. I liked him then and, after listening to his talk, like him even more now.

Starting Mendes’ walk on my watch instantly launched the walking workout. If I were a wheelchair user the app would say, “Time to Push.”

Time to Walk in the Fitness+ iPhone interface. Credit: Apple

The experience is primarily an audio one, though Apple has curated a handful of images from the artists. I would hear a ping in my ear (I used my AirPods Pros, but Time to Walk and your Apple Watch will work with any Bluetooth headphone), glance at my watch, and see a tiny image of Mendes. It’s so small and disappeared so quickly that I could barely tell what I was looking at, though it was clear that the images are timed to appear in synch with certain audio queues. When Mendes spoke about the simple pleasure of doing his laundry, I saw what appeared to be an image of him with his laundry (it might also just have been a photo of him in a torn sweater🤷‍♂️).

While Apple isn't saying exactly how they recorded these walks, I do know they employed a variety of methods that all adhered to social distancing rules. The audio quality of Mendes’ talk was excellent.

At one point in my roughly mile-long walk, I accidentally paused the workout on my watch but didn’t notice because the Time to Walk audio didn’t pause along with it. This seems like an oversight. If the audio is truly tied to me talking a good long walk, then it should stop or pause when I do.

As for the content of his chat, Mendes made sure to talk about his surroundings and the importance of walking, and how it helped center him, especially when he struggled to create new music.

My Apple Watch Walking workout screen looks the same as it ever does. Credit: Lance Ulanoff

When I listened to a bit of Dolly Parton’s recording, I noted how she, too, talked about walking. It’s obviously a prerequisite for participating in these chats and makes sense since they’re all walking and recording, though none of them exhort you to “pick up the pace!” At the same time, how much do you want to hear people talk — even interesting people — about the benefits of a good walk? I’ll probably mix Time to Walk in with some of my other favorite podcasts.

Mendes also talked about his career, panic attacks, and finding a path to creating new music in a relatable way. It didn’t sound scripted because it wasn’t, but Apple does help the walkers frame their talks.

In some ways, Mendes’ revelations about his anxieties before performing at the AMAs with his idol Justin Bieber reminded me of the kinds of tales I often hear on The Moth Radio Hour podcast; they’re true stories, told without scripts, but usually in front of an audience.

It was roughly 12 minutes (almost halfway through the Time to Wake recording, they range from 25-to-40 mins) before Mendes steered the chat into his music. He set up a couple of songs with quick stories (my favorite was “Señorita” and his early almost comical attempts to woo his now-girlfriend Camila Cabello).

There were just two other Mendes songs (“A Little Too Much” and “Wonder”) and for each Mendes revealed a little bit more of himself. Fitness+ subscribers can listen to the music for free, but Apple Music subscribers get to download the Time to Walk playlists.

Apple Fitness+ Time to Walk is a nice value add. It pairs interesting podcast-like content with one of exercising's most mindful and least exhausting workout routines.

As we neared the end of my walk, me freezing in the 28-degree windchill and Mendes reaching the peak of Griffith Park, the 22-year-old singer-songwriter revealed we’re more alike than I thought:

“I’m out of breath because walking and talking isn’t easy, no matter what they say.”

I’m with you, Shawn, I’m with you.

Tech expert, journalist, social media commentator, amateur cartoonist and robotics fan.

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