Apple Watch Arrives, Falls Short On Health Features

Apple unveiled its long-awaited smartwatch today, called simply “Watch” rather than the media-invented nickname “iWatch” that has been used as a placeholder for so long. The device was introduced alongside the iPhone 6 and large screen iPhone 6 Plus, and marks Apple’s first new product since the 2010 launch of the iPad. The company has been working in secret on the design for over a year, with initial rumors of the device leaking in February 2o13. Since that time, Apple’s digital health hiring spree led many to believe that the watch would revolutionize healthcare, ushering in a new era of computer-assisted wellness and real-time health monitoring.

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Apple’s Watch is a good looking watch, especially when compared to other smartwatches on the market. It borrows design elements from traditional wristwatches that help it look more like a normal watch than a device. The display comes in two sizes, 38mm and 42mm, much like standard male and female wristwatches. The primary control is a familiar side-mounted watch crown that is turned to zoom the view in and out. The watch casing comes in six colors, including: gold, stainless steel, and silver aluminum. Apple has also designed 18 watch straps that will undoubtedly be supplemented with hundreds of alternative third party options in short order. Collectively, the Watch design elements come together nicely, resulting in what might be the first smartwatch that won’t ask wearers to compromise personal style too much.

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Internally, Watch is light on many of the health tracking sensors that rumors had forecasted. Instead, Watch has an accelerometer that will track movement and an optical blood flow sensor that is capable of measuring pulse rate. The two sensors power a new activity app that tracks caloric burn, minutes of exercise per day, and minutes spent standing per day. Apple displays these metrics on a circular graph that fills in as users get closer to completing their set daily goals, so that by the end of an ideal day, all three rings will be completely illuminated. Apple’s goal here is to promote healthy habits by showing users how sedentary they are, how many calories they are burning, and how much exercise they are getting. In addition to its fitness app, Apple has also created a dedicated workout app that tracks caloric burn, distance, pace, and workout intensity. The apps are also both designed to recommend personalized, realistic fitness goals that increase over time to help gently push people toward improved physical fitness.

All of the fitness data collected on Watch is synched wirelessly with its paired iPhone, where the data can be accessed and integrated into other health apps through the HealthKit API introduced in iOS 8. Leading up to the announcement, there was speculation that Apple would be announcing several key partnerships in the health care space, with names like Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins being mentioned, but this failed to materialize.

What Apple isn’t tracking, that other more specialized activity trackers like Basis are, is sleep patterns, skin temperature, and perspiration levels. Many assumed, given the recent attention Apple has been paying to the healthcare industry in general, that the new Apple Watch would match even the best existing activity trackers, and then go beyond them by introducing new innovations, such as blood glucose monitoring, hydration monitoring, or passive calorie intake monitoring.

It would be easy to argue that Apple’s Watch is the most aesthetically appealing and functionally sophisticated smartwatch on the market. The device takes the simple form factor of a wristwatch and adds innovative new technologies that place it far beyond the comparable offerings from Samsung and others. Watch leverages near field communications technology to power a new secure payment system that uses a fingerprint scan for payment authorization. When tethered to an iPhone, Watch’s GPS and maps feature provides walking or driving directions that vibrates to alert the wearer when it is time to turn, and in which direction. Watch also expands on Apple’s effort to make transitioning from one device to another more seamless. Thanks to a recent iOS 8 enhancement, users can open an email on Watch and start responding, then move to either an iPhone or MacBook, where the email will be automatically opened and waiting where it was left off, resulting in a smoother transition between devices.

The problem with Watch is that these innovations failed to make their way into the health features. Instead, what Apple unveiled today is a middle-of-the-road activity tracker submerged within an overall above average smartwatch.


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  • “The device takes the simple form factor of a wristwatch and adds innovative new technologies that place it far beyond the comparable offerings from Samsung and others.”

    You lost all credibility with that one line. Apple Watch is NOT “far beyond the comparable offerings” – and all the other major manufacturers (Samsung, LG, Motorola, Withings etc…) are actually shipping. At this point – we don’t even have a date for availability of the Apple Watch – so you might want to rethink your overt bias. The battery life (unknown) and the new charging mechanism (with yet another proprietary connection) remain major challenges for the entire category of wearables – including Apple.

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