Apple has said many times that it sees medical and health initiatives as a big area for expansion in the future. Some of these plans are now actively being developed, according to Bloomberg. Firstly, Apple is working on new sleep tracking and fitness apps for Apple Watch that take advantage of the heart rate sensor for insight.
Apple is yet to offer sleep analysis of any kind in its wearable and its current Heart Rate app in watchOS 3 is very limited. The report says the new heart rate app will be more advanced, measuring a person’s fitness by observing the amount of time it takes for a heartbeat to fall from a peak to resting rate. The company is also apparently exploring ways to dramatically expand the functionality of HealthKit and the Health app …
The Bloomberg report does not give a timeframe for the release of these new features for Apple Watch. watchOS 3.1 is currently in beta for developers but has almost no new user-facing features in the current seed.
The apps may not debut until new hardware is released as current Apple Watch battery life makes sleep tracking inconvenient; with battery life that approximately lasts one day, Apple currently recommends charging the device at night time. Of course, Apple could release the apps sooner and simply suggest to charge the device at a different time of day … although this is more inconvenient for most people.
Looking further, the report says Apple wants to expand HealthKit service from a simple repository of user health data into a “tool that improves diagnoses” from doctors. Details on how this would work is scarce but it likely includes a centralized platform so that doctors and medical professionals can access all the relevant data regardless of their location or the proprietary databasing system of the hospital.
Apple could also exploit the powerful processing inside its devices to automatically find anomalies or patterns in the HealthKit database and present that to users. Right now, the Health app in iOS merely shows the statistics it has collected and does not try to interpret the readings at all.
Earlier in the year, Apple acquired Gliimpse. The company was aiming to create a universal health records system that would be compatible with all systems across the industry. This certainly lines up with the reported aims for HealthKit in the future. Notably, Apple also recently hired a YouTube personality who specialized in making medical how-to videos.
In terms of hardware, before Apple Watch debuted in 2014, there were a lot of rumors about the wearable including a multitude of health sensors that could track things like blood glucose or blood oxygen. The Watch shipped with ‘just’ a heart rate sensor and an accelerometer. Similarly, Apple Watch Series 2 added no new sensors. The Bloomberg report shines some light on this and suggests not to expect much change on this front.
Adding new medical sensors would also likely require approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a much higher bar for Apple to cross.
“If they are going to an FDA device, it would need to have enough battery life to last a day, and something where it independently functions from your phone,” said Yuri Teshler, a health-care consultant at Moor Insights & Strategy. Apple can’t really do anything more with health-related sensors until the watch has a wireless LTE chip and the independent cellular connection that comes with that, he added. Apple has so far struggled to do that.
The report says adding things like a glucometer would necessitate approval by the FDA standards bodies. It also says that the data is not really required as the accelerometer alone can provide a lot of information by itself, at least for fitness-oriented analysis.