The Apple Watch and What it Means for Health: A Personalized Approach to Wearables

Apple - Apple Watch - iWatch - New Wearable Technology
The New Apple Watch. The Apple Watch with magnetic leather band. The latest in wearable health technology expected out early 2015.

The much-anticipated Apple event this morning, or afternoon if you are on the East Coast like me, went off with a hitch. The hitch being an absolutely abhorrent live stream experience that was only available through your Safari browser. Amidst the multicolor, 80’s looking barred screen, strange stock sounding music clips and error messages, I was able to view about 75% of the presentation live and then the remainder thirty minutes later. All in all, it was indeed a BIG event. The excitement somewhat  reminiscent of downloading your favorite songs from Napster, only to find that 4 of the 7 actually made it through. Aside from the new phone, which looks markedly different from the last, Payments, which looks similar to a more widely accepted version of Google Wallet, the real game changer was the announcement of the Apple Watch (not iWatch like many of us had speculated).

The Apple Watch is going to have custom sensors to measure intensity, distance and elevation. The idea is to gauge quality of movement, not necessarily quantity. A few other fitness wearables actually count the distance you’ve driven in your car towards your daily movement total. In the activity app three key aspects of movement are measured via a series of rings that look like a donut chart sliced in half: the move ring, which measures calories burned, the exercise ring, which measures brisk activity, and the stand ring, which measures how often you’ve stood up to take a break from sitting. This means less sedentary time spent at say, your apple computer. There is also a dedicated workout app that provides “more detailed (fitness / health) measurements when you need it most.” There will of course be a developer kit to allow for the creation of third party app development i.e. something like My Fitness Pal. Apple did reference the ability to goal-set, which in and of itself isn’t new. The real innovation comes in it’s ability to dynamically learn, helping you customize your goals to match your personal fitness level over time.

Most exciting to me is the way the Apple Watch is poised to revolutionize the health wearables market by providing a completely integrated and personalized health experience. Admittedly, I feel quite invested in health wearable as I am currently wearing a Nike Fuel Band and lately have been researching newer options, like the FitBit and Up24. This isn’t because I dislike the Fuel Band (I actually love it) but rather because it doesn’t incorporate key features, like sleep tracking, heart rate monitoring, or the ability to gauge high intensity / low movement exercise, something along the lines of weight training. I was intrigued by the Up24 but I opted to wait and see what Apple had in store during the announcement today and I admit I wasn’t disappointed.Apple - Apple Watch - Overview

The Apple Watch is so much more than a way to experience content from your phone, on your wrist. It runs a completely new but “familiar” interface that uses the crown of the watch to scroll through and select content, similar to the way the first iPods made use of the click wheel. From a health standpoint the Apple Watch is essentially an “all-day fitness tracker… that can track a wider variety of activities because it’s able to collect more types of data. It uses an accelerometer to measure your total body movement. It has a custom sensor that can measure intensity by tracking your heart rate. And it uses the GPS and Wi‑Fi in your iPhone to track how far you’ve moved.” In addition to an accelerometer, also present in your phone, there is a new feature called a barometer that measures elevation by tracking air pressure. This means that the watch can track how high you’ve climbed as well as how far. It can also measure number of stairs, helpful if you live near the top of a walkup or frequent fire escapes.

The watch will be sold in three uniquely stylized lines called the Apple Watch, Apple Watch Sport and Apple Watch Edition. The watch is priced at $350 – the catch is, you will also need an iPhone but let’s be honest, if you are going to buy an Apple Watch what are the chances you don’t already own the phone? We also don’t know if some of the more high end looking watch bands are going to carry an additional cost.

A few features Apple hasn’t mentioned yet but I hope they plan on incorporating: sleep tracking (they reference charging the watch at night so this doesn’t look promising, although the technology to do this is already built-in to your phone), blood pressure (I don’t know how they would pull this off on a wrist watch but as the rumors were flying the last few months, many notable sites and media outlets seemed certain Apple had found a solution, lastly power (those that don’t train with power don’t appreciate or even understand it for that matter, but what’s great about power is that it provide a benchmark for all your activity and you can compare and contrast it with friends. It’s funny because the proprietary “Fuel” metric is what I like most, while it’s also been the biggest criticism of Fuel Band).

The Apple Watch is set to launch early next year. Apple is now making developer kits available so you can only imagine the bevy of amazing apps that will be released with the watch. Whatever happens between now and Q1, one thing is for certain, Apple is going to take ownership of yet another market and we will never view health or wearables the same way again.

 

Apple - Apple Watch - Gallery - Wearable Health Technology
The Apple watch with white band.
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SXSW Health Review

photo Having just returned from the Interactive portion of SXSW in Austin, I was struck by the emphasis now being placed on Health. Of course that’s why I attended in the first place, but I was pleasantly surprised to see a separate venue in the Hilton, entirely devoted to Health. From technology and startups, to new theories, ideas, trends, personalities and panels, the Health portion of the show, at least from a presentation standpoint, didn’t disappoint. Unfortunately the tradeshow floor, across the street in the convention center had no health related exhibitors to speak of. I suppose this is because the idea was to keep Health contained to the Hilton but my question would be, as large as Health was this year, I wonder how much longer before it warrants a separate segment entirely at SXSW, like Interactive or Film?

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Just gauging from the SXSW mobile app, and then actually spending the better part of four days at the Hilton, there appeared to be thousands of Health focused attendees present this year, which was wonderful, but not necessarily for the reason you might expect. Yes, it’s great to get a bunch of like-minded health folks together in one place, but the end result is usually something like Digital Pharma – a legitimate show in its own right, but one that can at times, feel a bit stale. Like you’ve read about it and seen it and maybe even come up with some funny acronyms, but the conference itself only serves to add validation to what you’ve already been thinking and reading about for awhile – networking aside.

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This is where SXSW differs considerably. Forget cool industry personalities and new technology launches, they have it, we know it, but let’s consider what’s really going on. This is digital, social and mobile pioneering…the fringe…a petri dish of ideas contaminating the minds of thousands of attendees willing to bear the outrageous prices and swarming crowds. But, like with any germ, some people try to prevent the spread and remembrance through excessive use of alcohol…I’m not talking about Purell. And that’s fine. But for the rest of us who are down to witness and participate in pioneering, this is the place to be because there is a legitimate newness to what is being presented and discussed. Granted, some ideas are so fringe (see boxer shorts with air bags) that they literally evoke laughs upon presentation.  But I am much more willing to sit through a few of those ideas to find true innovation, than to sit through semi-fresh ideas that have been under a heat lamp for days before being packaged and served as hot.