Huawei’s New Smartwatch Might Measure Blood Pressure, but There’s a Catch

Huawei’s New Smartwatch Might Measure Blood Pressure, but There’s a Catch
Huawei's next smartwatch might have integrated blood pressure monitoring. (Photo: Victoria Song / Gizmodo)

When I was a kid who tagged along with my mum to the grocery store, I loved sitting in the blood pressure monitoring kiosks. The chair was so big! I could push a button! It would fill up a balloon that squeezed around my arm! I had no idea what the numbers meant on screen, but I knew something technological had happened, and that excited me.

Huawei is reportedly working on miniaturizing the blood pressure cuff for its next smartwatch, the Huawei Watch D. The concept is similar to the cuffs you’re familiar with, though much more involved than sitting in a chair and letting the machine do the work.

According to a watch instructional video leaked on Weibo, the Huawei Watch D will come bundled with an accessory that can be attached beneath the watch’s band when you need to take a blood pressure measurement. You’ll have to measure your wrist circumference for the right fit, and the accessory looks bulky (as you might expect from something that inflates).

When in use, the accessory will inflate like those grocery store blood pressure monitor cuffs and then register the result with Huawei Health. To take a reading, you have to lift your arm across your chest to the left side, though regulators haven’t yet cleared that methodology.

The Huawei Watch D will reportedly measure high and low blood pressure, as well as take heart rate readings and run electrocardiograms, which has become a more common smartwatch feature in recent years (see: the Apple Watch and Samsung Galaxy Watch 4). The Watch D is rumoured to pack in 32MB of storage and 4GB of memory, similar to what’s inside the Huawei Watch GT 3, another one of the brand’s fitness-centric smartwatches. It also supports externally connected Bluetooth headphones.

Still, this doesn’t seem like an actual Apple Watch rival. Instead, it looks like Huawei’s attempt to expand its business after the U.S. government forced the company to cut ties with all things Google and Android.

Smartwatches have slowly been adding medical-grade health features, and Huawei’s Watch D isn’t brand new to blood pressure monitoring. The Omron HeartGuide had an integrated cuff that contracted and expanded as you needed, and it was FDA-approved. In our testing, it was also much easier to use than a full-blown arm cuff, though it wasn’t comfortable for daily wear. And therein lies the problem: Being able to monitor blood pressure without an inflatable cuff would be a huge deal, and putting a diagnostic feature like that in a smartwatch would be even bigger. But an accessory you have to attach to a watch in order to take blood pressure measurements doesn’t sound like an easy sell, even if it’s 100% accurate (which remains to be seen). The price might also be a little out-of-reach at around $US470 ($661).

On Huawei’s social media accounts, comments about the Watch D fluctuate between excitement for a new Huawei product and hesitation over the watchband’s cumbersome testing mechanism.

A smartwatch that can truly be a doctor on your wrist is the holy grail. But until a company nails the form factor, we’re not convinced any device will be easier or more convenient to use than a simple smart blood pressure cuff — and these days, those cuffs have easy-to-use apps, Bluetooth, wifi, and all.