There is absolutely no doubt that no fitness wearable that you can buy off the shelves right now, comes even close to the Apple Watch when it comes to the sheer brilliance of fitness tracking. But actually, the Apple Watch’s healthy focused features are about a lot more than just fitness tracking. This is not a recent development. This is not a journey Apple has embarked on recently. This is all about the constant evolutions and updates that have been deployed since 2015, when we saw the first Apple Watch. It was a big deal back then that a fitness wearable could calculate your pulse hundreds of times every second. And the Watch eventually gained the reputation of being the most accurate heart rate tracker in its ecosystem, something verified by numerous studies since.
“I think the work that we're doing in health is because we are so excited and encouraged with the number of customers its having impact with. I think as you've heard Tim say in the past that one of Apple's greatest contribution will be the work in the health space,” says Dr. Sumbul Desai, VP - Health at Apple, in an interaction with News18. She says that a lot of the research and development work is driven and motivated by the feedback that Apple regularly gets from users who are genuinely feeling the benefits. “It is a great motivating element for many of us on the health team to be able to see customers actually have something be picked up by the Watch and then go to their doctor and be told that had you not come in sooner, this could have been much worse,” she adds.
At present, some of the headline features of the health monitoring capabilities of an Apple Watch include the ability to do an electrocardiogram (ECG) reading, detect low and high heart rate and irregular heart rhythm, as well as detect when the wearer may have had a fall to notify the loved ones and extensive training routines. And there is more on the way with watchOS 6, the next big operating system update for the Apple Watch, which arrives for all users later this year.
On the agenda is something called Activity Trends, which understands your activity routine over a period of time, and lets you know if it is detecting that you are either being less active or just not exercising as much as you used to—or how you have taken it up a notch with your fitness routine, and you can perhaps praise yourself for that. But the biggest new addition to the Apple Watch with the watchOS 6 would be the focused health tracking features for females. The Cycle Tracking feature will allow female Apple Watch users to add the daily information about the menstrual cycle, including headaches and cramps, and see the cycle length, variation and other stats in easy to understand graphs. The Apple Watch will then be able to predict when your next period or fertile window will start—though this will purely be a calculation based suggestion. The watchOS 6 will also track results from an ovulation prediction kit and readings from a basal body thermometer.
When this feature was first announced at the Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) earlier this summer, there were some concerns about the extremely personal data that Apple may potentially get access to, particularly when it comes to the Cycle Tracking information for users.
“And just to be clear, on one point, Apple does not have access to that data. We never have access to anybody's health data, unless you choose to consent or share with us. For example, with the Apple Heart Study, people were consented to be able to share any data and even then we never see identifiable information. So we fundamentally do not see any of that health data,” says Desai. She confirms that any and all Health app data sits on the user’s device. It's encrypted in iCloud or it sits on the user’s device, and cannot be accessed by anyone. “In terms of sharing it with third parties, what we have right now is a singular app that has no data sharing. You know, that is something that we think a lot about. And so we want to make sure, especially with that sensitive information, we designed the whole experience around it being discreet and private, and assuring that the data would sit again on device aligned with our privacy principles, says Desai, reaffirming that Apple continues to take user data privacy very seriously.
Will we finally see the rollout of the ECG feature on the Apple Watch units in India anytime soon? “The regulatory team and we're trying to bring it to India as soon as we can. And it's something that we're really excited to bring to India, and we'll be excited to hear how customers like it,” says Desai. Apple continues to get regulatory approvals for the ECG feature for India, but we do expect it to be launched on our shores sometime this year.
Finally, with so many new features arriving with watchOS 6, how does design and the user experience fit in the scheme of things? “Especially in Health where information is already so complicated, the biggest thing we can do for our customers is simplify it and really create a beautiful, simplified experience. When we design products, we have a cross functional experience where we bring all the teams together. And design is definitely a very core part of that. And so it is something that I think is core to our DNA at Apple. And we want to bring that to Health as well. That's something that we feel really strongly about,” says Desai.
When watchOS 6 rolls out later this year, it will be available for the Apple Watch Series 1, Apple Watch Series 2, Apple Watch Series 3 and Apple Watch Series 4, including the Wi-Fi only and cellular variants.