The Apple Watch is finally here

After all the hype and expectation, Apple’s smartwatch has finally been shown to the public and will go on sale on 24 April in the first nine countries.

The Apple Watch formed the centrepiece of the company’s Apple Live event yesterday, at which it traditionally showcases new product launches, and is described by the company as “an intimate and immediate communication device and a groundbreaking health and fitness companion”.

A staggering 38 different models will be available, ranging in price from $349 to an eye-watering $17,000 (£299 to £13,500 in the UK) depending on the size of the face and the materials used in the watch and strap.

The watch can make and receive calls – something which chief executive Tim Cook said fulfilled a boyhood dream – display texts and other notifications and run simple apps via a Bluetooth connection with an iPhone.

Apple has scaled down its initial ambitions for the device in health because of limitations in sensor technologies, and the device sports technologies typically found in other smartwatches, such as an accelerometer, built-in heart rate sensor and GPS to track fitness activities.

The company is nevertheless hoping that its design and health and fitness apps will help elevate the Apple Watch above its competition, which is centred largely around Google’s Android Wear platform.

The Activity app “provides a simple visual snapshot of your daily activity with three rings that measure active calories burned, brisk activity and how often you’ve stood up to take a break from sitting during the day,” it says.

Meanwhile, one of the most innovative (and overlooked) health-related features of the device, according to Forbes, is a ‘haptic’ sensor that can send the wearer a pulse – described as a tap on the wrist – to remind them to stand up and avoid prolonged and unhealthy sitting.

That is important because spending too much time sitting down increases our chances of dying from any cause by around 16 per cent, which cannot be overcome by intermittent exercise, according to research.

Medical research toolkit

Also promising to have an impact in terms of health use a new iPhone toolkit – called ResearchKit – that can be used by medical researchers to create apps that gather information from volunteers without the data passing through Apple’s servers.

The open-source software framework is designed to turn any iPhone into a diagnostic tool and five apps are already available to demonstrate the potential, according to Apple’s senior vice president of operations Jeff Williams.

They include mPower – which is designed to monitor the motor dysfunctions seen in people with Parkinson’s disease using the iPhone’s accelerometer and microphone – as well as apps to diagnose heat disease and support patients with asthma and breast cancer.

Commenting on the new releases, Freddie McMahon, director of research and innovation at data specialist company Anomaly42, said: “Apple is acutely aware that the answers to some of the world’s most serious diseases will be found not by researchers alone – but by the data being emitted from the phones in our pockets and watches on our wrists.”

“Together, wearable technology, apps, smartphones and new technologies such as ResearchKit have the ability to revolutionise health and healthcare around the world.”

He predicted that in time wearable devices and software will be used to provide real-term patient monitoring, diagnosis and treatment recommendations as well as to facilitate clinical trials of new therapies. Harnessing data in this way could be transformative for the NHS, he added.

“Our politicians should have been watching Tim Cook on stage, but the potential of the technologies Apple are creating isn’t even flickering on their radars.”

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