The new Apple Watch could save your life

by Peter Griffin / 23 November, 2018
RelatedArticlesModule - Apple Watch

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Heart-health and fall detectors are features of Apple's new watch – as well as a hefty price tag.

Could your wristwatch save your life?

That’s the intriguing question thrown up by the new Apple Watch, which went on sale last month and is winning praise for the advanced health-tracking features it introduces.

The first Apple Watch was released in 2015, at the height of the fitness-tracker craze, when every second person you met seemed to have a Fitbit on their wrist. Apple decided to make a device that was more than a step counter and smaller screen to read iPhone text messages and emails on, and built an optical heart-rate sensor into the watch.

That allowed the wearer to keep an eye on their pulse, an important measure of your ticker’s ability to pump blood. Now, five versions of the watch later, the Apple Watch Series 4 takes heart-health monitoring to a new level.

By touching a sensor built into the watch’s digital crown, the wearer will be able to record an electrocardiogram, effectively turning the device into a DIY version of the ECG machine a medical technician uses to measure cardiac electrical activity, which can reveal signs of disease. The watch will also monitor for atrial fibrillation – irregular heartbeats that could lead to a stroke or heart failure.

Receiving an alert on your wrist that your heart is beating wildly will not be welcome news. But it’s better to know than to remain ignorant. Being able to print out and show your doctor months of ECG readings from the watch could be valuable, particularly if you have a heart condition.

But those sensor features aren’t available yet. A software update later this year will activate them and regulatory body Medsafe still has to okay their use in New Zealand.

A new feature available straight away, and aimed at the elderly, is fall detection, which uses the watch’s accelerometer and gyroscope to detect you taking a tumble.

That triggers an SOS alert to pop up on the watch face, giving the wearer the option to call 111 for help. If the watch gets no response from you, it will make the call on your behalf and alert emergency contacts in your iPhone, which needs to be in range of the watch for the feature to work.

If that all sounds a bit intense, rest assured that the watch also does the usual fitness-tracking things, such as regularly prompting you to get up and move, and adapting to your exercise routine, whether that is running or doing yoga.

The device’s Activity app features three concentric rings, the outermost one tracking movement, the middle one exercise and the inner one standing. Wearers are encouraged to complete the rings each day.

A regular prompt to sit back and take deep breaths for 60 seconds is also an effective stress reliever.

The Apple Watch also does the things you’d expect, such as playing music, showing your calendar appointments, displaying social-media notifications from your paired iPhone and giving you access to a wide range of apps. It has a GPS chip for accurate mapping.

The Series 4 watch gains some screen real estate by doing away with the previous model’s bezel. Battery life is about 18 hours, so it needs nightly charging, which limits its usefulness for sleep tracking.

It is waterproof and features Apple’s voice-activated assistant, Siri, which is accessed by pressing on the crown or raising your hand and directing your query to the built-in microphone. A faster processor makes this model more responsive than its predecessors and the larger face and brighter screen improve readability, particularly in sunlight.

It’s an impressive gadget for on-the-go productivity and health and fitness tracking. But it is expensive and only pairs with Apple’s iPhone. Users of earlier models will notice big improvements. However, potential buyers may want to wait until the new heart-health features prove themselves before taking the plunge.

Price: $699

This article was first published in the November 17, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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