Thanks in part to a wealth of health monitoring features, Apple sells more smartwatches than any other company. Now for the upcoming Apple Watch 6, it appears Apple is working on adding support for blood oxygen monitoring.
Editor's Note: This feature may not be available in Australia due to strict health regulations for devices.
Clues hinting at support for blood oxygen detection (SpO2) on the Apple Watch 6 were found in snippets of code from iOS 14 examined by 9to5Mac, and could allow Apple Watch to provide people with alerts anytime someone’s blood oxygen levels fall into potentially dangerous territory.
Generally, a healthy person has SpO2 levels between 95 and 100 per cent, while anything below 80 per cent could result in damage to a person’s heart and brain. Low SpO2 levels can also be an indicator for other health risks like sleep apnea, which occurs when a person can’t breathe properly and doesn’t get enough oxygen while sleeping. Blood oxygen levels are traditionally measured by pulse oximeters, which are often somewhat bulky single-purpose devices that can be attached to a person’s fingers, feet, forehead, nose, or ear. Adding blood oxygen monitoring to the Apple Watch could make taking a reading as easy as glancing at your wrist.
Like the ability to take an ECG using an Apple Watch (which was introduced on the Apple Watch Series 4), it seems like with SPp02 tracking Apple is trying to once again streamline and upgrade the health and fitness cred of its smartwatch line.
That said, it’s important to remember that the Apple Watch is just a gadget and not a replacement for regular health checkups from a doctor. In fact, Apple’s FDA application for its ECG app states the app cannot detect atrial fibrillation for heart rates above 120 beats per minute, while a recent peer-reviewed study claims an Apple Watch Series 4 only detected a-fib in 34 out of 90 cases.
Many non-Apple smartwatch and fitness tracker makers have been offering some kind of blood oxygen monitoring for years. Fitbit, for example, recently added an Estimated Oxygen Variation graph to a number of its current devices. But the key word there is “estimated,” because in the event you do notice some funky looking SpO2 stats, you should contact a doctor for a proper medical evaluation.
More broadly, Apple adding support for SpO2 monitoring reinforces a continuing trend in wearable development that has seen smartwatches evolve away from being wrist-mounted computers primarily meant watch videos or play games into devices designed to help keep tabs on your health and fitness, with a secondary focus on communication for things like phones calls, texts, and notifications.
Sadly, Apple isn’t expected to officially announced the Apple Watch Series 6 until later this fall, so it’s going to be some time until we know for sure if it’s adding support for SpO2 monitoring or not.