Apple Watch began shipping about two weeks ago and it’s already clear that users are interested in the device’s health features. Fitness was a major selling point for Apple Watch from the start – by giving you a “complete picture of your all day activity,” as Apple advertises, the Watch is a “smarter way to look at fitness.” While it comes with it’s own Activity, Workout, and Health Apps, as of its April 24th release date Apple Watch already had 264 health and fitness apps available in the AppStore.

An Apple Watch Health and Fitness promo released in September 2014

As we wrote back in January, fitness trackers and exercise guides make up 30% of the more than 100,000 published mobile health apps for Apple and Android, so it’s no surprise that fitness is a big focus of the Watch. This comes in established ways – with the Activity app helping you set and monitor goals (with three colored rings showing Move, Stand, and Exercise) and the Exercise App showing your distance, speed, and calories burned for specific workouts – but there are features of the Watch that go a step further.

First, the Apple Watch has a custom heart rate sensor and accelerometer, which represent a step up from the monitoring function of your average smartphone fitness app. But more impressively, the Watch’s pulse monitor uses “photoplethysmography” (an LED emits light to detect blood flow through your wrist), a function that can double as a blood oxygen sensor. As MobiHealthNews reports, concerns about accuracy and regulation have kept pulse oximetry out of the initial release, but with FDA clearance it could be activated through a firmware update.

Just two weeks out of the box, Apple Watch is already being taken beyond individual fitness use with the first hospital deployment. Ochsner Health Systems of New Orleans is giving the Watch to patients with high blood pressure and will be running a two week trial to see if functions like the medication reminder and fitness tracker improve patient outcomes.

As with all new mHealth products, privacy is key. The smart watch is a new product with a unique developer ecosystem, presenting new challenges and resurfacing old concerns. Apple has already barred developers from selling health data collected via Apple devices, but it remains to be seen whether developers will follow Apple’s privacy guidelines.

Comments are closed.