The Coming Apple iWatch and What MDs Should Know

There's been a steady stream of information leaking out regarding Apple's upcoming smartwatch. Here are some predictions for the so-called iWatch and the promise it holds for healthcare providers.

This article published with permission from iMedicalApps.com.

I’m not a tech insider. I don’t have any secret connections into Chinese manufacturing lines, and the only friends I know who work for Apple are retail employees.

However, for those who have closely followed Apple’s releases in the past, there’s been a steady stream of information leaking out regarding Apple’s upcoming smartwatch (we’ll call it the iWatch). Most importantly, the iWatch will be health-focused, and will focus a lot of attention on the quantified self and wellness. Here are some predictions for the iWatch, and the promise it holds for healthcare providers.

The iWatch will be health-focused, and bring mHealth to the mainstream (and your office)

Mobile health and wellness technology is all the rage, and the iWatch team has well-established roots in health/fitness technologies, including several key hires from the development team responsible for the Nike FuelBand.

With the M7 coprocessor revealed in the iPhone 5S, Apple has already tipped its confidence in the importance of health. Furthermore, Apple has already met with the FDA, and is rumored to be building up a “Healthbook” application. Similar to Passbook and its integration with retail partners like Starbucks, ticketing agencies, and Airline companies, I would expect the Healthbook app to be used as a platform for integration. This would include simplifying and sharing health data with other Apple-approved partners.

Concept image from Jivaldi

The iWatch will be announced/priced in June, with a September release date, so familiarize yourself with activity trackers now

As it stands right now, Samsung appears to be the only major consumer technology company with a health-focused smartwatch. However, that won’t last long.

The day after Samsung announced the Galaxy S5 and the new health bracelet Gear Fit, well-connected Apple insider John Gruber subtly hinted that June might set the stage both for Apple and Google’s smartwatch announcements.

A June unveiling of the iWatch at (or near the time of) Apple’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference (WWDC) makes perfect sense. When it comes to brand new product categories, Apple likes to introduce the product several months early. The original iPhone was announced in January and released in June 2007; the iPad was announced January and released in April 2010. Announcing the iWatch this June at WWDC places the iWatch perfectly in line with an early fall release of the iWatch, alongside the next iPhone.

Therefore, now is the time for physicians and medical professionals to educate themselves about what these fitness trackers provide.

One of the most common questions I hear from physicians is regarding how we can better address lifestyle management with our patients during short patient encounters, and fitness trackers are one tangible option. If they haven’t already started, our patients will be asking for our opinions on which fitness tracker they should buy, whether or not such devices are effective, and what goals they should be targeting when wearing such devices.

The best way to start is to invest in a tracker yourself (we recently recommended the Jawbone UP24), or to install health-focused apps such as Moves, MyFitnessPal, or the Fitbit App.

A concept design from designer Nickolay Lamm.

The iWatch will have limited sensors, but for good reason, because…

Apple’s iWatch team includes many sensor experts, many with expertise in glucose sensing. Along with their secretive meeting with the FDA and news that GoogleX is working on glucose-sensing contact lenses, speculation arose that Apple’s game-changing feature might be glucose monitoring.

Unfortunately, building a consistent, reliable, trans-cutaneous glucose sensor has long been the holy grail of the diabetes research community, and the hassles of FDA regulation would significantly hinder the timing of future product releases.

Having reviewed many different activity trackers, including the Basis Band that incorporate sensors for heart rate, skin temperature, and perspiration, it’s easy to expect every sensor possible in the iWatch. The logic goes: surely, Apple would need the best sensors to make the best fitness tracker. Especially now that Samsung has included a heart rate monitor, Apple’s iWatch must follow suit, right?

I’m not convinced the iWatch must feature a heart rate monitor to be successful. Apple has been known to have laser focus when introducing new product categories (e.g. the original iPad lacked a camera, which many criticized as a deal breaker), and often will skimp on extra hardware features for the sake of battery life and improved/simplified user experience.

Battery life has been a huge barrier for the popularization of activity trackers, evidenced by the fact that FuelBand and Fitbit Force all lacked an always-on screen. In order to convince the average consumer who has grown accustomed to changing watch batteries once a year, Apple will focus on having at least a 5-day battery life.

More important than battery life, the iWatch will forego extra features to better bring mHealth to the forefront…

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