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Apple shifts focus to fitness and away from health monitoring for Apple Watch Series 7

The biggest health news for the latest model is fall detection during bike rides, faster charging and a more durable watch face.

Apple announced the Apple Watch Series 7 at the September product event with improvements that ranged from better battery life to fall detection during bike rides.

Image: Apple

Apple Watch owners interested in tracking blood sugar levels did not get any satisfaction at this week’s product announcement event. The company has been talking about adding a blood glucose monitor to the Watch for at least five years. The wait continues as the biggest health news from today was about fall detection for bike riders wearing the watch. 

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SEE: Apple iOS 15 cheat sheet: Everything you need to know (free PDF) (TechRepublic) 

The Apple Watch Series 7 promos mentioned sleep tracking and blood-oxygen monitoring, but those are not new features. There was no significant health news at the event; the main focus was fitness. In previous years, Apple shared stories of how the Watch helped people avoid heart attacks and call for help. The company also announced research projects with universities and other groups but there was no such fanfare this year.

Apple is finding out, as many tech companies have, that health monitoring is difficult to do. It’s much easier to record fitness classes and track sleep than to provide glucose monitoring. Google got a lot of press with its experiment with contact lenses that could monitor blood sugar levels but shut down the project after a few years. Researchers realized that measuring blood glucose via contact lens was not a reliable measurement method, due in part because “interference from biomolecules in tears resulted in challenges in obtaining accurate glucose readings from the small quantities of glucose in the tear film.”

Even companies with decades of experience in glucose monitoring haven’t figured out an alternative to a needle prick. One analyst predicted that it will be at least five years before anyone gets a non-invasive solution on the market. 

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Researchers have been testing spectroscopy for decades, including teams at MIT and companies in the U.K., Germany, the Netherlands and the U.S. This method uses lasers that don’t pierce the skin and can be highly accurate

The Apple Watch Series 6 introduced the Blood Oxygen app. The optical heart sensor was redesigned to add this capability. The back crystal shines red and green LEDs and infrared light onto the wearer’s wrist, and photodiodes measure the amount of light reflected back. Once researchers figure out how to use light to measure blood sugar, it’s entirely possible that there could be a Blood Glucose app for the Watch. However, the product model may be in the double digits before that happens.

More features for the Apple Watch and Fitness+

apple-watch-series7-cycling.jpg

Image: Apple

Apple executives gave the Watch update from a rocky seaside cliff during the video presentation, the perfect place to tout the improved durability of the Series 7 Watch. The segment opened with rocks crashing down into the watch face, which morphed into a man picking himself up from the ground after crashing his bike. Lauren Braun, the product manager for Apple Watch, said that the face is more crack-resistant, and the watch now meets IP6X certification for dusty environments. The watch also has fall detection now if your bike ride hits a pothole.

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The new model charges faster, according to Braun, and can go from dead to 80% charged in 45 minutes—all the better to track your sleep through most of the night.

The theme of the event was California Streaming, and the health and fitness updates fit neatly into that theme. The other big health news from the company was about Apple Fitness+. Subscribers can now take pilates classes, train for the skiing season and learn to meditate via new classes on the app. The classes are available in six countries at the moment. Apple will expand that to 15 new countries later this fall and provide subtitles in six languages. The classes are available on the iPhone, the iPad and Apple TV via airplay. Group classes are coming soon, too.

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