inside the Santa Monica studio

Sunny Santa Monica, Los Angeles, is arguably the world’s fitness capital. Home to the legendary Muscle Beach, this neighborhood is where you’ll find another fitness giant: the headquarters of Fitness+, Apple’s streaming workout video service.

Tied to Apple’s enormously popular Watch, Fitness+ releases workout videos every week across just about every type of exercise: strength, high-intensity cardio, rowing and running, dance and even meditation sessions. (Users need a Watch to activate Fitness+ and can follow guided workouts on the iPhone, iPad or Apple TV, or on the Watch itself if they’re on the go). The service launched in December 2020, but until now its headquarters – a Santa Monica landmark that Apple converted to a fitness factory – has operated in a COVID-safe bubble. Its doors are finally open to journalists, and Apple couldn’t be more thrilled to show it off.

Until now, Apple’s LA-based Fitness+ headquarters operated inside a COVID-19 bubble. Recently it opened its doors to journalists from around the world.

Inside, Fitness+ HQ looks exactly like what you’d expect from Apple: modern, clean, top-of-the-line, utterly stunning. The tech giant wanted to ensure the space was “beautifully designed, and really curated and crafted in a way that people could tell that it was Apple,” says Jay Blahnik, Apple’s vice president of Fitness Technologies.

The centerpiece of Fitness+ is the vast, warmly lit studio where trainers film their workouts before a small army of robot cameras. Moving around the rest of the building, I’m guided through rehearsal spaces where trainers collaborate to perfect their workouts; production suites supporting the publication of up to 35 new workout videos a week; and a walk-in wardrobe stuffed with carefully labeled Nike gear in every color and design.

If you’re into fitness, going behind the scenes at Fitness+ is like visiting Disneyland. And if you’re into digital content production, the scale of this operation is just incredible. “It’s a lot more than trainers and a few cameras,” says Apple’s chief operating officer, Jeff Williams, in an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. “[It’s] expertise across many, many disciplines.”

That expertise combines into a valuable service (Fitness+ subscriptions start at $14.99/month) that elevates Apple Watch above rival smartwatches – Fitbit Premium, probably the closest competitor to Fitness+, doesn’t match its breadth of content.

The biggest rival for Fitness+ isn’t another product, but shifting lifestyles. Its launch was perfectly timed for the pandemic, when getting to a gym was impossible. During Sydney’s 2021 lockdown, I used Fitness+ at home almost every day – its trainers felt like my friends. But my IRL gym is reopened, and now so busy it’s near impossible to use in peak hour. If Australians are over exercising at home, is that a bad omen for Fitness+?

Look to other big players in fitness tech, and the future of virtual workouts seems cloudy. Take state-of-the-art exercise bike Peloton, the pandemic darling whose stock price and customer base soared in 2020. In 2021, it launched in Australia in a blaze of hype. In 2022, its value has plummeted. Mr Big’s death-by-Peloton in the Sex and the City reboot seemed a harbinger of its fate.

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