Just a couple of weeks ago, I wrote about coverage of a study at Stanford that included an app for the Apple Watch and other smartwatches. This app takes blood oxygen and skin temperature readings, along with heart rate, to help identify the onset of COVID-19 ahead of noticeable symptoms. So far, that study has met with great success. In that article, I wondered if Apple would seize on this opportunity and include blood oxygen readings as a built-in feature of the next Watch.
According to Digitimes (via 9to5Mac), Apple will be adding this feature to the coming Apple Watch Series 6 via a new, dedicated sensor. This is an important detail, as it has been theorized before that the Watch’s existing heart rate sensor could be used to approximate blood oxygen levels. The fact that Apple didn’t announce this feature along with watchOS 7 combined with the rumor of a new sensor tells me that this new feature will not work with older devices, but will be exclusive to the new Series 6.
We know that Apple has rolled out new features on on older hardware before, so if this was possible, I think that they would. For example, they included the new Noise Monitoring feature last year across all watchOS 6 compatible devices. However, with a reading like blood oxygen levels likely requiring some level of FDA sign-off, one of this year’s likely tentpole feature is a bit more complicated than simply using the built-in speaker to measure ambient noise levels.
Reading skin temperature, which was also included in the Stanford study I referenced above, has not been mentioned yet. However, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that pops up as a new rumor over the next month. Apple is smart to include blood oxygen to help diagnose COVID-19 cases earlier in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. However, a few competing wearables already have this feature. The inclusion of skin temp readings to go with blood oxygen and heart rate would give the Apple Watch a new leg up in built-in health monitoring features.
With Apple Watch hardware likely to arrive either in September or October, the supply chain is already in motion and probably starting to produce some components for the new device. Whatever is coming in the Apple Watch Series 6 is sure to start leaking in the coming weeks. Other than anti-trust hearings and Q3 earnings, things are pretty quiet on the Apple front right now. However, look for that to change very soon.