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Even five years’ ago Apple looked like it might wipe out the Swiss watch industry. Now its Series 6 smartwatch can spot signs of Covid

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Health and fitness were driving red hot demand for smart and connected watches well before the virus hit. The pandemic has strapped rocket boosters to the market, and Apple is out in the lead with its series 6 collection that has so many ways of measuring a person’s wellbeing, it claims it can spot signs of covid-19. Could this finally be the watch that hurts the Swiss right when they are at their most vulnerable? Alex Douglas investigates.

The world has never been so interested in personal wellbeing.

Lock down across most of the world saw more and more people looking into their own health with regards to home workouts and an influx of new runners hitting the parks and streets. The fact this had the backdrop of a pandemic just adds to the health interests of the public.

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This rising wave of interest is something Apple has clearly tapped into with its new watch, the Series 6. The tech giant’s USP on this was pushing the introduction of a “revolutionary” Blood Oxygen feature that offers users even more insight into their overall wellness with all of the PR surrounding the September launch.

Apple Watch Series 6 delivers many notable hardware improvements too, including a faster S6 System in Package (SiP) and next-generation always-on altimeter, along with its most colorful lineup yet.

A new operating system, watchOS 7, brings Family Setup, sleep tracking, automatic hand washing detection, new workout types, and the ability to curate and share watch faces, encouraging customers to be more active, stay connected, and better manage their health in new ways.

Commenting on the next-gen of Apple watch, Jeff Williams, the company’s COO, said: “Apple Watch Series 6 completely redefines what a watch can do. With powerful new features, including a Blood Oxygen sensor and app, Apple Watch becomes even more indispensable by providing further insight into overall well-being.”

A Covid test?

Apple Watch Series 6 expands the health capabilities of previous Apple Watch models with a new feature that conveniently measures the oxygen saturation of the user’s blood, so they can better understand their overall fitness and wellness. Oxygen saturation, or SpO2, represents the percentage of oxygen being carried by red blood cells from the lungs to the rest of the body, and indicates how well this oxygenated blood is being delivered throughout the body.

To compensate for natural variations in the skin and improve accuracy, the Blood Oxygen sensor employs four clusters of green, red, and infrared LEDs, along with the four photodiodes on the back crystal of Apple Watch, to measure light reflected back from blood. Apple Watch then uses an advanced custom algorithm built into the Blood Oxygen app, which is designed to measure blood oxygen between 70% and 100%.

On-demand measurements can be taken while the user is still, and periodic background measurements occur when they are inactive, including during sleep. All data will be visible in the Health app, and the user will be able to track trends over time to see how their blood oxygen level changes.

The new Blood Oxygen sensor and app conveniently measure the oxygen saturation of blood so users can better understand their overall fitness and wellness.

As part of this move, Apple confirmed it is joining forces with researchers to conduct three health studies that include using Apple Watch to explore how blood oxygen levels can be used in various future health applications.

This year, Apple will collaborate with the University of California, Irvine, and Anthem to examine how longitudinal measurements of blood oxygen and other physiological signals can help manage and control condtions such as asthma.

Separately, Apple will work closely with investigators at the Ted Rogers Center for Heart Research and the Peter Munk Cardiac Center at the University Health Network, one of the largest health research organisations in North America, to better understand how blood oxygen measurements and other Apple Watch metrics can help with management of heart failure.

Finally, investigators with the Seattle Flu Study at the Brotman Baty Institute for Precision Medicine and faculty from the University of Washington School of Medicine will seek to learn how signals from apps on Apple Watch, such as Heart Rate and Blood Oxygen, could serve as early signs of respiratory conditions like influenza and COVID-19.

Reaction

A number of tech reviewers online have their thoughts and on the whole, most was positive. The Verge’s Dieter Bohn explained how the brightness of the screen and a speedy processor were things to appreciate despite spending less than 24 hours with the watch.

He said: “I think the main benefit most people will get from the S6 system is that it has enough processing headroom to stay fast through future updates. Apple’s silicon is so ridiculously ahead of Qualcomm’s on smartwatches that Apple could have kept the Series 5’s internals, and I doubt anybody would have minded.”

This came as Engadget’s Valentina Palladino commended the fact there are “only a couple” of hardware updates in the new device.

She wrote: “Most of the new features that I can’t speak to yet are ones that require a couple of days to test out — sleep tracking, long-term VO2 max calculations and blood oxygen measurements being the most important among them.” Adding: “But the Apple Watch Series 6 has made a good first impression. Is it worth an upgrade from the Series 5? We’ll wait to answer that in our full review, but regardless, the Series 6 looks to be a promising (if subtle) update to an already excellent smartwatch.”

Back to the health-focused aspects of the Series 6, CNet’s Vanessa Hand Orellana said the blood oxygen level readings, alongside the new processor and longer battery life, were elements to celebrate.

She explained: “The other key upgrade to the Apple Watch Series 6 is the faster processor: Apple’s S6 chip is based on the A13 Bionic chip found in the iPhone 11. Aside from being faster to launch apps, the new processor makes the Watch more efficient at extending battery life during runs.

“In my 10 hours of use, the Apple Watch had no problem loading apps, displaying messages and showing stats in real time. But the Series 5 already felt fast to me, and so far I haven’t noticed a huge change in my day-to-day use.”

TECH TALK

Looking at the updates to tech in Apple’s newest watch offering, the S6 improves performance through redesigned hardware that packs even more features and power into the same impressively small design.

Using a new dual-core processor based on A13 Bionic in iPhone 11, the upgraded S6 SiP runs up to 20 percent faster, allowing apps to also launch 20 percent faster, while maintaining the same all-day 18-hour battery life.

Additionally, the new design features the U1 chip and Ultra Wideband antennas, which will enable short-range wireless location to support new experiences, such as next-generation digital car keys. It also offers faster charging, completing a full charge in under 1.5 hours, and improved battery life for tracking certain workouts, such as indoor and outdoor runs.

An enhanced Always-On Retina display on the new release is also up to 2.5 times brighter than Apple Watch Series 5 outdoors when the user’s wrist is down, making it much easier to see a watch face in bright sunlight. When their wrist is down, the user can also now access Notification Center and Control Center, tap on complications, and swipe to change faces without having to wake their watch screen.

With watchOS 7, Apple explained how customers can take personalisation to the next level with seven new watch face options, including Stripes, Chronograph Pro, GMT, and Artist, while curating, discovering, and sharing new watch face configurations with others.

New health and fitness features, including low-range VO2 Max, sleep tracking, automatic hand washing detection, and new workout types, can help users better understand overall well-being.

Conveniently accessible on the wrist, maps also includes cycling directions and Siri offers language translation.

Apple Watch Series 6 (GPS) starts at $399 and Apple Watch Series 6 (GPS + Cellular) starts at $499.

 

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Rob Corder

The author Rob Corder