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Cycling Running Zwift

Zwift iOS Game App review – Full Zwift in your pocket!!

When Zwift originally launched it was a PC/Mac affair only. Over time an iOS companion app for Zwift was born saving us from a sweaty keyboard. Now Zwift has made the jump, and created a full-blown standalone iOS app so you can Zwift from your iPhone or iPad – let’s go kick some (tiny) virtual wheels and have a test drive!

Zwift iOS Game App review – Full Zwift in your pocket!!

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Zwift has been massively innovative in the field of the indoor trainer. I for one can say it has totally revolutionised my use of the bike, I’ll more often than not go for a spin on Watopia, rather than taking the bike outside – especially if the weather is inclement. Zwift, however, have not stopped their juggernaut of innovation. Jon Mayfield continues to tinker like some coding equivalent of Merlin, as show in his latest creation!

Zwift has always been a fairly graphically intensive game – some people have built massive gaming rigs to really crank up the details. As a result, Zwift has remained the purview of laptops and desktops. HOWEVER the coding magician that is Jon Mayfield has ported Zwift over to iOS – hence this Zwift iOS Game App review

You can download Zwift for iOS here, or clicking on the picture below

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Which devices will Zwift iOS run on then?

  • iPad Air 1 and 2
  • iPad Pro 9.7″ and 12.9″
  • iPad Mini 2, 3 and 4
  • iPod 6th gen
  • iPhone 5SE
  • iPhone 6/6+/6S/6S+
  • iPhone 7/7+

Yes that is right, Android isn’t getting the love yet, but that is a reflection of the larger coding task compared to iOS devices.

Communications – Bluetooth Baby!

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Zwift initially started out using ANT+ for communication, but since Apple moved to the lightning port, ANT+ adapters for iOS essentially died, so anyone using an iOS device for sports has needed to move over to using BlueTooth sensors to track your work-outs. Thus to use Zwift iOS you are going to need to ensure that all of your bike kit is BlueTooth compatible

For kit which is dual communication ANT+/Bluetooth compatible, as many new turbo trainers are, that won’t be a problem, but for ANT+ only sensors, like Garmin you’ll have an issue. Another option is to look at Bluetooth bridge devices such as the Mio Velo, which can take in ANT+ sensor data, and then rebroadcast via Bluetooth. The Mio however is limited as it cannot recieve and broadcast power meter data, but 4iiii has that covered with with Viiiiva HR strap.

Behind Zwift iOS

One of the stories that I’ve been told regarding the building of Zwift iOS is that Jon Mayfield ported Zwift over to iOS in secret… over seven days. When the app was ready to come out of Jon’s lab, Eric Min (Zwift CEO) was the first person to hear about the port, receiving the news via video call whilst in the back of a taxi in Asia!TitaniumGeek CrVxa5XVMAASLKL-1024x768 Zwift iOS Game App review - Full Zwift in your pocket!! Zwift iOS Game app Zwift iOS Zwift TeamX riding iphone ipad cycling bluetooth sensors ANT+

I don’t know about you, but I like the idea of cool skunk works labs within Zwift working on brand new features and testing insane ideas – heck that’s how the Zwift VR testbed came about, which Zwift and Canyon have been displaying at Eurobike 2016

Let me tell you, the VR Zwift is another absolute game changer – if you see it at a cycle show/Zwift event, make sure you have a go!

Using Zwift iOs the Game

To put it simply, the iOS version is EXACTLY the experience you have come to know and love on Zwift. Even down to when you open the app for the first time you get the option to sign up if you are a new user. As a result, I’ll be talking about how the app works, and reacst, but for a blow by blow account of the how to use Zwift, I’d direct you to the TitaniumGeek Zwift User Manual

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Then log in from your device, obviously, login etc is slightly easier on the iPad, but most of the novelty is on the iPhone!

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Then it’s pairing your Bluetooth sensors, with a little assistance from Scotty the Squirrel, Zwift’s mascot on your first time around

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With Zwift early on, we all found there was a distinct need to use an ANT+ sensor with a USB cable extension in order to prevent sensor dropouts. I’ve been quite surprised using the iPad, I’ve had not issues with sensor drop out over BlueTooth.

On the phone is not too surprising, as you can mount much closer to you bike, and your sensors, but I also have had no issues with the iPad. The option with the Zwift iOS app means you may use the opportunity to Zwift with others on one location more often, so naturally once Zwift has locked onto your sensors, another iOS device can’t get access to them

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If you are lucky enough to have two Apple devices, then you can use one device as the screen, and then pair your sensors via the Zwift Companion app, which then gives you access to all of your usual ride on gestures etc

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You then come to your first real opportunity to use Zwift with a touch screen, selecting your course

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Everything works on the Zwift ride page just as you’d expect, you can do everything as you would on the computer. Put in goals, chose the different type of route It’s such a minor thing, but the first time that you actually use the touch interface on Zwift, say if you want to select one of the upcoming events, it just feels right.

There is no lag, there is no pause, there is just an instant response. Zwift iOS feels like an app written specifically for iOS and not a port over.

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Once you are in the game, if you are used to Zwift, when you are used to using the Phone Companion app, you suddenly realise you have no keyboard, and your phone is now busy running the app!

Don’t worry – we now have TOUCH!

What to get into the menus system and change your kit – then hit menu!

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When you get a power-up, just hit the power up icon and boom! Sorted
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In fact, the touch interface does make things, such giving a RideON now much easier, again just hit the button

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If you want to view another rider, just tap their name

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Everything is butter smooth as well, just check out moving between the leader boards!

The onscreen controlls, accessible by a quick double tap at the bottom of the screen, allow you to access all of the gestures and messaging functions we’re used to from the companion app

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How Zwift iOS Got Built

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One of the biggest challenges for Zwift’s iOS port was memory

To put things into perspective, Zwift uses about 2.5GB of memory when it’s running on your PC. Most iOS devices only have physically 1Gb of memory, of which the programmers are only allowed to access 500Mb!! So Zwift really had to look at ways to tighten their belts – which is at odds to the  day-to-day Zwift computer program where maps – like the new London route – are only getting more detailed and more memory intensive – heck just look at the movement patterns for the butterflies on Watopia!!!

So what had to happen to squeeze Zwift’s memory usage by 80%?

Essentially this work was given over to the artists who have had to increase compression on textures, and scalping geometry to get things to fit – that work alone to get to the pre-beta stage took one month!

Then in a cycling specific approach was taken to getting under the 500Mb memory limitation, including using graphic scaling techniques available over the last few years so shave 50Mb here and 100Mb there. On a PC/Mac given that memory is so abundant now, simply tightening up the Zwift code, and “caring about memory usage” brought everything into line.

The same approach was used to try and make the gameplay as well on an iPad mini 2, as it does on an iPad pro 12.9, given their different processing powers.

An example of this intensive approach can be seen looking at a Zwift rider.

Previously on Zwift the whole rider, their entire bike, components the works, all the way down to the derailleurs were minutely detailed and animated. But there are lots of times when the game camera is not going to be able to see all of the cyclists, this mean wasted processing power – so now when a cyclists face is not visible to a players camera, the entire face gets “deactivated”… which sounds a little harsh! So there are riders shooting round on Zwift which are actually just cheeks, neck, helmet and ears. Not that you’d ever know, though, as that is the whole point – the deactivation cuts in, only when it can’t be seen.

But rather that do this work purely for iOS, this approached is now baked into the whole Zwift code, simply as it’s quicker to write one tight, fast program once, rather than maintaining different versions

Going forwards

The lack of ANT+ for iOS is a big point. Stacking a 30pin adapter and then an ANT+ dongle on top of this is going to be pushing £60-70, just to get Zwift running on your phone. Zwift is beginning to think, that coupled with the broader adoption of the BLE standard in the cycling sensors along with ANT+, ANT+ may actually be on the way out…

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It will be interesting to see how Garmin reacts over the coming years, whether they will reduce the licensing cost on ANT+? Zwift is growing, BLE sensors or dual-band sensors are growing in market share, could simple market forces lead to Garmin finally releasing their own dual channel sensors?

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Graphics are currently the limiting factor on iOS as far as Zwift are concerned. Frankly, I think the app looks terrific, particularly on the small phone screen – part of that is going to be due to the pixel density on the small screen. On the iPad Pro I’m honestly not noticing any significant difference in the game compared to my Mac…  however, if you are already rocking a graphics powerhouse, then the experience may be more noticeable

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The one thing it really has made me think is I should probably look at building a Zwifting specific PC. If the graphics are this good on iOS, clearly I’m missing out on something from the PC version

Zwift is currently toying with graphics enhancements which would plug many of the dazzling effects seen in current generation XBox and PS4 games into Watopia. However, the processing power required to bring those effects to Zwift, given the need to render 100+ riders, the exquisitely detailed and animated bikes, right down to the shoelaces would simply overwhelm a tablet or phone currently. As a result, the graphics enhancement package is current on hold, but I’m holding out that the Zwift engineers will be able to crack the issue to bring mind-blowing graphics to Zwift, whilst maintaining mobile device apps!

Cases

At this point, securing your iPhone to your bars becomes a little more important. I’m trying to collect a few reviews of various phone cases which I find work well with Zwift iOS. My review of the Quad Lock Universal Bike Kit is here – I even took Zwift and the Quad lock for a spin outside (with Bluetooth sensors naturally)

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Zwift Tech Support!

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First off, Zwift Tech support is brilliant! If you have any problems don’t be afraid to drop them a line.

One of the pearls from the guys at tech support relates specifically to Zwift iOS, and a possible crash whilst using your Apple device – what happens to your ride?! 

Normally if Zwift crashes on a laptop,m you can grab the .fit file from your computer but what about iOS? On iOS you can find your local .fit file through iTunes by following these steps:

  • Plug your device into your computer and open up iTunes.
  • Click on your device in iTunes, then click “Apps” and scroll down to the “File Sharing” section.
  • You should see Zwift listed, and it should have a “Zwift” folder. Click that, and then click “Save To” and save it to a location of your choice.
  • Find the saved Zwift folder, and copy the fit file out of the Zwift/Activities folder.

So there you go – no fear if you have a crash!

Where is Android?

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An Android version of Zwift is currently a question mark – sorry Green Guys! It’s all about demand. Whilst Android might be the largest operating system on the planet, it’s also a little bit like looking back to the Windows vs Mac days. Whilst android has the greatest marked share, it is also incredibly fragmented in terms of device hardware, but also operating system versions. Whilst it was possible to have each supported iOS device have hand-tuned settings to ensure things run properly, with android that would be a monumental task given the range of hardware available.

Going forwards, any possible Android app will depend on the popularity of the iOS apps, and what people do with them, as one possible route is to target only certain devices/operating system versions such as Nexus/Pixel/Samsung etc.

Conclusion

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It will be interesting to see how Zwift develops in the iOS space, we’ve seen the inclusion of Zwift Running in some reviews, but how will Watopia adapt to the runners, riders and different computing power levels they bring to the game? The inclusion of AirPlay on iOS means that people don’t lose out on sending Zwift to their larger TV’s from their iPhones, so hopefully it will mean that current Zwifter’s will have more people to draft off over the coming winter months in the Northern Hemisphere.

With Zwift on iOS looks like I’ll be able to ditch that ANT+ dongle before long – I LOSE THAT THING ALL THE TMIE if I travel!!!!!

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James Gill

Author of TitaniumGeek, which started after smashing off my RIGHT elbow. Feel free to drop me a line about sports tech, medicine, or frankly anything that you want to chat about!!