Two Lifesaving Features Could Be Coming To Smartwatches

When Apple released its first Apple Watch in 2015, its focus seemed to be as a fashion accessory as well as an object that told time and had some minor health-related features. It could monitor the distance walked or run, the amount of calories burned and heart rate. 

However, by the time Apple introduced Apple Watch 2, it had gained other health features, which was then tied to Apple’s HealthKit SDK for third parties to create health-related features for their Apple Watch apps. 

When Apple shifted the Apple Watch focus more towards health and fitness, I was asked about why Apple made this pivot, since the first model has so much emphasis on style, form, and function and only a minor focus on health. 

To answer that question, I wrote a piece in Time Magazine in 2016 on “The Real Reason Apple Made the Apple Watch”. 

I explained that even from its early design days, health was a key factor in its design. I shared that Steve’s health struggles highly influenced Jobs’ own desire to emphasize health-related technologies Apple could create for the iPhone and iPad before he died in 2011. 

Here is a short passage from this article that goes deeper into that point-

“I have long been observing these key moves around healthcare, which accelerated after Jobs’ death. It seems clear that Apple’s management has now and will continue to have a major focus on bridging the gap between a person and their healthcare providers. I believe Apple is on a mission to improve the overall health of its customers as well as that of the healthcare system, a task Jobs gave them before he died. And while Apple’s products define Jobs’ legacy, it may turn out that his and Apple’s greatest contribution may be to bring greater order to the fragmented healthcare world.

It is within this backdrop that the Apple Watch was born. Apparently, Apple was looking at ways to deliver on Jobs’ goal of making their customers healthier by using technology to help monitor and track health-related data points. It became clear to them that they would need some type of mobile device platform to do this. They concluded that a standard fitness tracker couldn’t do the types of things Jobs and current Apple executives really wanted to see. That’s how the Apple Watch came about.”

While it was never clear if Job’s even knew about the Apple Watch given that he died four years before it was introduced in September of 2014 and first shipped in April of 2015, I believe if he were with us now he would be delighted with how the Apple Watch is carrying out his vision to make his customers healthier.

Over the last three years, Apple has added many other health and fitness features to the Apple Watch, most recently adding ECG and Blood Oxygen monitoring. 

However, since Apple introduced the Apple Watch and made health monitoring a reason for it to exist, I have wanted two other distinct health features. 

The first is related to blood sugar readings for diabetics. I have been a Type-2 diabetic for over 25 years, and at least three times a day, I had to prick my finger to see what my blood sugar readings were and adjust my insulin dose accordingly. 

About five years ago, I began using the Dexcom Continuous Glucose Monitor that allows me to monitor my blood sugars and do away with the pinpricks.

The Dexcom Continuous Glucose Monitor consists of a sensor patch that I place on my stomach that has two tiny prongs that get inserted just under the skin that analyzes the interstitial fluids to read my blood sugars. That sensor is connected to a Bluetooth transmitter that then sends that reading to my iPhone, and through the Dexcom app on my Apple Watch, I can see what my blood sugar readings are 24/7.

At this year’s CES, a Japanese startup, Quantum Operation Inc, put a glucometer into a watch.

Although this was a prototype, if indeed Quantum Operation has solved the problem of how to put a blood sugar sensor that uses light to get blood sugar readings, this would be a major breakthrough. 

Now, three years later, Apple still has not disclosed a way to add this feature to the Apple watch, although I have seen recent reports that this feature could be in the new Apple Watch later this year. 

Samsung is also said to be planning to add blood sugar testing light sensors to their Galaxy Watch series eventually.

This would be a promising development that suggests a light sensor-based solution could be built into smartwatches in the future.

The second feature that I wanted in the Apple Watch has been for it to read my blood pressure. I had a triple bypass in 2012 and need to take my blood pressure daily. There have been some attempts to do this with smartwatch bands, but these bands make the smartwatch bulky since it uses the band like a BP cuff to expand like traditional blood pressure readings you get in a dedicated blood pressure monitor. 

At January’s CES, Biospectal showed off its Biospectal OptiBP, which lets a person use a smartphone camera to measure blood pressure. 

This technology was introduced last Fall and Forbes contributor, Jennifer Kite-Powell, did a great piece on this product launch of what I consider a highly important health monitoring technology. If you have been to any doctor you know that taking your blood pressure is one of the first things they do in any visit. This is because it can tell them a great deal about a person’s heart health that is at the center of many medical conditions. 

This company used CES 2021 to highlight it. The company said a recent independent large-scale clinical study from Scientific Reports in Nature validated Biospectal’s OptiBP ability to measure blood pressure with the same degree of accuracy as the traditional blood pressure cuff. 

It uses the smartphone’s built-in optical camera lens to record and measure a user’s blood flow at the fingertip in half the time it takes with a traditional cuff (about 20 seconds). I was not able to find the minimum smartphone camera requirements to allow for this type of BP test, however, I suspect more recent smartphone cameras could be used for this. 

By optically measuring blood flow through the skin, OptiBP’s proprietary algorithm and optical signal capture methods turn light information into blood pressure values.

The device is now in its public beta. 

These are breakthrough developments that bode well for wearable health monitors and gives me hope that sometime soon, Apple, Samsung, and others may be able to add these two new health-monitoring features to smartwatches.

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