LONDON, United Kingdom — Tech giant Apple has unveiled the latest health features to be integrated into its Apple Watch and they could have huge ramifications for wellness and healthcare companies.
For the first time, the device will be able to display electrocardiogram (ECG) heart waveforms, allowing users to check if their heart has an irregular rhythm that could lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other complications.
New gyroscope and accelerometer sensors will also enable a new fall-detection function. If the user has suffered a hard fall and remained immobile for a minute or more, it will send the emergency services an alert with the user’s location, in addition to alerting chosen friends or family. By marketing the device as an “intelligent health guardian,” Apple hopes to corner a new segment of the market — the baby boomers.
Having announced the app that provides these features has been cleared by US regulator: the Food and Drug Administration, and as the first device of its kind to be given the clearance, Apple certainly seems to be underlining its commitment to be a market leader in consumer wearables. However, the FDA approval also paves the way for other wellness and healthcare companies to take advantage of these features and indicates a growing convergence between the two sectors.
There are currently almost 48,000 iOS healthcare apps available on the App Store, according to the latest data from Statista, but companies looking to capitalise on these new health tracking features will surely boost this number further.
Tracking blood pressure and blood sugar levels to help diagnose and manage diabetes symptoms is already being talked about as the next big health tracking milestones for wearables. A report in the Wall Street Journal suggests Apple’s 3D Touch or Force Touch technology, found in its phones and watches, could be adapted to take blood pressure readings from a simple finger press.
However, it remains to be seen how these new features and Apple’s investment in the healthcare and wearable technology will impact the wider market. Could new information collected by health apps help medical professionals prevent and treat conditions? Or might it cause a burden on the already overstretched health service as people develop unnecessary concerns over their health and fitness?
“Do you wind up catching a few undiagnosed cases? Sure. But for the vast majority of people, it will have either no impact or possibly a negative impact by causing anxiety or unnecessary treatment,” cardiologist Theodore Abraham, director of the UCSF Echocardiography Laboratory told Wired.
“In the case of people who are very type-A, obsessed with their health, and fitness compulsive, you could see a lot of them over using Apple’s tech to self-diagnose and have themselves checked out unnecessarily,” he added.
Either way, Apple looks set to strengthen its position as the world’s bestselling wearable tech company, above China’s Xiaomi and America’s Fitbit, according to the latest report from the International Data Corporation.