Apple scales down health functions on smartwatch

Apple has reportedly had to rein in the health ambitions of its smartwatch because technological limitations mean it cannot meet its original vision for the device.

The Wall Street Journal says that the promised health-monitoring features of the Apple Watch will not appear in the first generation of the device – due to debut in the spring – because sensors to measure physiological factors such as blood pressure, heart activity and stress levels were either unreliable or could have put it in line for oversight by the FDA.

Specifically, the WSJ reports sensors designed to measure the conductivity of skin as well as for heart rhythm monitoring were unreliable, producing varying results in different people depending on skin and hair type, and were also affected by how tightly the watch was worn.

Meanwhile, sensors to measure the amount of oxygen in the blood were also a disappointment and Apple became concerned that interpreting this data for health purposes could lead to the watch being deemed a medical device requiring approval.

That may not be completely surprising, given that even the reliability and accuracy of many of the wearable health and fitness devices already on the market from the likes of Samsung, Sony, Motorola, Microsoft, LG and others have been called into question.

While the Apple Watch will still have basic health sensors such as heart rate monitor and pedometer and so will have at least the functionality of its rivals – plus of course the promised health apps – the device will be less a health accessory and more an extension to an iPhone, with some useful additional feature such s contactless payment.

Nevertheless, the WSJ also reports that Apple is preparing to ship five million units from its factories in time for its scheduled April debut, suggesting that the company does not see the truncated health functions as any impediment to initial sales.

News of the truncated health functions was largely eclipsed however by reports that Apple may be making a foray into the automotive sector, perhaps an electric or driverless vehicle, after a car was spotted in Silicon Valley with an unusual array of sensors and cameras on its roof. Cynics suggested the company was more likely to be trialling a rival service to Google Street View or Bing StreetSide.

Meanwhile, while Google may have sent its Google Glass prototype back to the labs for re-tooling, Apple seems to be planning its own foray into head-mounted augmented reality displays, having just been granted a US patent on an iPhone-compatible headset.

Sony has also just released a developer version if a headset – called the SmartEyeGlass SED-E1 – while Samsung previewed its own offering – the Gear Blink – last year.


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