During Apple's Worldwide Developers' Conference this week, I got a demo of its new smartwatch software, due out this spring. It’s clear to see in which direction the US firm wants to head.
When watchOS 6 drops, the Apple Watch will better track a wearer’s activities over time (showing workout data for an entire year), let them know if they're potentially damaging their hearing and let them track the female menstrual cycle.
Individually, they're useful apps and, as I saw for myself, easy to use too. Put them all together with the watch's existing health and fitness features - including heartrate, calories burned, fall-detection, the ability to take an ECG ( not yet enabled in NZ) - and the Apple Watch gets closer to being an incredibly powerful health monitor, or as Apple likes to call it, "an intelligent guardian for your health".
Apple is already the world's best selling smartwatch, but in the health and fitness sector it has some serious rivals. Fitbit and Garmin are popular choices for health conscious consumers.
The former has 12 models to choose from, introduced a period tracking app a year ago and has in-depth sleep tracking, which Apple doesn’t seem to think is necessary to introduce. The company’s Versa Lite is also a couple of hundred dollars cheaper than the cheapest of the Apple Series 4 watches.
Garmin, on the other hand, offers five models and is good for people wanting to track their long term health.
Both will be aggressively innovating to make sure they aren’t left behind when the new update drops, just in case the Apple Watch offers enough options for both their markets combined.
WatchOS 6 new health offerings include:
- Cycle Tracking app to log menstrual cycles and watch for fertile window
- Noise App to understand sound levels in places such as concerts and warn of dangers
- New Trends tab in the Activity App on the iPhone and coaching if they’re getting off track
- Apple GymKit compatibility extends to manufacturers Octane Fitness, TRUE Fitness and Woodway, connecting Apple Watch to more cardio equipment in clubs around the world.
As for Apple, it will be interesting to see what it does next. It may do things slowly (at least that’s how it may appear when others seem to beat it to the chase) but it can’t be criticised for not doing them thoroughly.
Before developing the Noise App, Apple engineers sat in on several meetings with the World Health Organisation. They learned that if the decibel level reaches 90 decibels, it can begin to impact hearing after four hours per week of exposure. So the watch sends a notification if the level reaches that point.
Apple has been hinting that it wants to make the Apple Watch capable of monitoring blood sugar levels which would be great for people with Diabetes and, as incredible as it sounds, it wants to teach the Watch to smell and has already filed patents. Could be good for things like air pollution.
And with the Apple Watch about to get its own standalone App store (so you don't need an iPhone to download them), Apple is making its product stronger than ever. Third-party app developers are likely to have a field day.
There is the small matter of privacy, particularly important for health issues, but Apple took time at WWDC to explain that the Noise app doesn't save sounds, and the information from things like the new Cycle Tracking app will only be visible within the redesigned Health app on iOS 13. All data is encrypted on both the device and iCloud.
Apple's push into this area will certainly help to keep its business healthy as well as our bodies, and in the years to come we can expect much more. CEO Tim Cook has already stated in an interview with an American TV station, CNBC, earlier this year that he thinks Apple’s "greatest contribution to mankind" will be about health.