Apple Watch Series 4: Is Apple becoming a healthcare company?

13 Sep 2018

Apple Watch Series 4. Image: Apple

The new Apple Watch Series 4 signals a fresh direction for where tech companies are going.

One of the reasons people love Apple is its chameleon-like ability to reshape and transform to meet oncoming trends.

In 2001, Apple may have created the iPod, but no one imagined it would one day be a smartphone giant. The creation of the iPod and iTunes went on to inform the manufacture of new devices and models for digital content, leading to the iPhone in 2007 and the App Store the following year.

Future Human

Last night (12 September), Apple CEO Tim Cook, as he revealed a slew of new iPhone devices, also gushed about how the Apple Watch, now on its fourth generation, is now the number-one wearable device in the world. From nowhere five years ago, that’s some feat.

The new Apple Watch Series 4 is appropriately a tech marvel in itself and everything about it has been redesigned and re-engineered for the wow factor, including a thinner body and an edge-to-edge display that is approximately 30pc larger than previous generations.

But what arrested my attention the most was that when Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer, trotted through the specs, a question emerged over whether the future of Apple is as a healthcare company and not solely a device and software maker.

A healthcare guardian?

Man doing yoga wearing the new Apple Watch Series 4.

Image: Apple

The Series 4 is an impressive confectionary of tech. It features a whopping 64-bit processor, a louder speaker and Apple has put haptic feedback into the digital crown to enable a precise mechanical feel in keeping with traditional watches.

It comes with an accelerometer that can capture 32 G-forces and a gyroscope that is twice as fast to capture motion data. It can even detect whether you are falling or slipping. This is crucial for a myriad of healthcare reasons but also possibly for elderly people whose centre of gravity and ability to balance reduces as their blood sugars drop.

The penny ultimately dropped when Williams went through the optical sensor that sits at the back of the device and revealed three new heart monitor features.

Picture of new ECG sensor on Apple Watch Series 4 smart watch.

Image: Apple

These include a notification that will present itself if your heart rate is too low – vital because the heart is not pumping enough blood for the body – and a heart rhythm sensor to send you a message if there is a problem with atrial fibrillation to warn people, even if they don’t even know they have an issue with their heart. The third feature is an electrocardiogram (ECG) sensor. Yes, that’s right, your Apple Watch can now perform an ECG, something only doctors up until now would do in their surgeries.

“This is the first ECG product offered over the counter directly to consumers,” Williams said. “It measures electrical activity of the heartbeat. All of this is stored in the Health app that you can share with your doctor via a PDF.” Not only that, but Williams revealed that the ECG monitor on the Apple Watch Series 4 has received FDA clearance, the first wearable device of its kind to do so.

Williams said that Apple’s ambition is to make the Apple Watch the “ultimate guardian for health and a convenient way to stay protected”.

All of this makes sense when you consider Apple’s bold and stubborn stance around privacy that has put it at odds at times with governments and police. In a world where our devices gather the most intimate health and fitness data, this stance makes sense. “All of your personal information belongs with you,” Williams said firmly.

One day, we will perhaps look at the smartphone and wearables revolution as formative years for an even bigger future where Apple won’t be simply a computer company but, as Williams puts it, the very sentinel or guardian of our health.

The Apple Watch, a beating heart that ticks on and on, is an apt metaphor for our time on Earth, as every second counts and reaction time to complications is a serious life-or-death matter.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years