Apple holds its annual developer’s conference (WWDC 2019) in San Jose, California this week, when the tech giant reveals the year’s latest and greatest software updates for its suite of products, from iPhone and iPads to desktop computers. At Safety.com, we’re especially interested in the newly announced updates to the Apple Watch because of its ever-expanding list of health and medical features. Does the smartwatch make a good safety device? Let’s take a closer look.
What’s New in Apple Watch Health Apps
Today, Apple announced the following health apps and features to bring more safety and medical information to the wearer’s wrist.
- Medication reminders via the Dose app, which provides customizable reminders to help you take pills or supplements.
- Discreet menstrual cycle tracking via the Cycle app.
- Hearing protection via the Noise app, which detects ambient noise without recording, and issues alerts if the noise level reaches a potentially dangerous volume.
- Compare movement levels over time with Activity Trends, which lets you see if your lifestyle is trending more or less active.
These features are expected to become widely available in September 2019, when Apple officially releases the watchOS 6 software.
What Other Health & Medical Features Does The Apple Watch Have?
If you can’t wait until the Apple Watch operating system updates are released, the smart watch is already highly capable without them.. The latest edition is the Apple Watch Series 4, which was released in September 2018. Here is a selection of its built-in health and safety features.
- Activity tracking: Step counting, movement reminders, altimeter (for tracking hill and stair climbs), sleep tracking, heart rate sensor and more.
- Built-in GPS for tracking routes and requesting location help.
- Emergency calling to contact emergency services and share your location.
- LTE connectivity option. Smart watches require a Wi-Fi signal or LTE cellular connectivity to be fully functional. The LTE option is more expensive, but it allows you to use your device and make calls without your smartphone nearby. In addition to buying a more expensive device, you’ll also need to pay an additional monthly fee to your cellular provider.
- A wrist-mounted electrocardiogram app. The Apple Watch’s ECG monitor does not detect heart attacks or other potentially life-threatening conditions, but it is sometimes useful for doctors to detect heart rates and rhythm changes.
- Fall detection. You can set up your Series 4 to automatically contact emergency services if it detects that you’re unresponsive after a hard fall.
Keep in mind these health-specific features are just a fraction of what smartwatches are capable of, and that specifications vary between models. Earlier generations of Apple Watch aren’t as fully equipped.
Can It Be Used As A Personal Medical Alert System? Maybe, If You Have an iPhone
With all of these features, you might be wondering if an Apple Watch or other smartwatch is a good alternative to a personal medical alert system. This determination depends on the wearer’s level of tech savviness, desired features and functions in a wearable product, as well as other considerations.
For many, the Apple Watch’s biggest deal breaker is that it requires an iPhone. You need to pair the watch with an iPhone in order for it to work properly. Even though the latest software updates will make it easier to use the watch without your phone nearby, the iPhone is still a requirement.
Additionally, many people who wear medical alert systems are elderly, have a chronic medical condition or are uncomfortable operating top-of-the-line wearable smart devices. For these individuals, smartwatches have more features than they want or need, with a steep learning curve, high price tag and short battery life to boot. Features like medication reminders and emergency calling are helpful, but only if you know how to operate them. If not, there are easier to use and less expensive medical alert systems for procuring that peace of mind.
On the other hand, personal medical alert systems are also paired with 24/7 professional monitoring services and some, like ADT Health, can be integrated into a larger home security system. A smart watch can help keep you connected, but if you’re looking for a device specifically designed for emergency medical response, monitored medical alert systems may be a better option for contacting emergency personnel and family contacts through the biggest scope of possible emergencies.