Friday, March 20, 2015

Apple Watch: An Emergent Medical Monitoring Device?

Apple has been grappling with the design and capabilities of a smart watch for years. Apple CEO Tim Cook announced that Apple would produce a smart watch in September 2014. The initial rollout is scheduled for 25 April 2015.

Tim Cook has suggested that the Apple Watch would do more than provide its owner with the time and as a wearable means to communicate with your iPhone ... something that you would rather leave in your pocket or purse. He suggested that this device could also serve as a means to assist people with monitoring their health and fitness. But can this device that is strapped to your wrist really do that?

Research on Smart Watches and Their Owners

Before doing the deep dive into the Apple Watch, I want briefly discuss some of my experience with researching smart watches. I can't divulge all the details of that research because some of that work that I was part of a research team is proprietary. I can say a few things about smart watches, the variety of their capabilities and some of the opinions about them that people who have used them have provided.

The smart watches that we used in our research had capabilities that fell into two categories. The first were capabilities that allowed the owner to communicate with and control their smartphone. For example, a smart watch would allow an owner to control music or podcasts being played or allow the owner to make and receive calls through the smart watch. Communication between the two devices was over Bluetooth (IEEE 802.15.1) The second were independent capabilities this can include GPS map capabilities, collecting and displaying running or cycling distances and routes. And providing the date and time.

We found that owners of smart watches were initially excited and enthusiastic about owning a smart watch. However, over time that excitement and interest disappeared ... and disappeared to the point where most owners were considering ways to rid themselves of their smart watches. Based on our research, smart watches seemed like a good idea. But once initially-enthusiastic owners tried to incorporate smart watches into their lives, their response to them became negative.

Apple Watch

The Apple Watch is almost upon us with great fanfare. Based on photographs and my read of the hardware and descriptions of the Apple Watch, it appears to be stylish that its predecessors ... an important quality. It appears that it will have many of the same capabilities as it's predecessors as well ... the ability to communicate with and control the owners iPhones (5 or later) - the smart watch will have Near Field Communication (NFC), Bluetooth (4.0), a speaker, microphone and a touch screen to enable communication and control - and a number of independent capabilities based on the following embedded sensors: accelerometer, gyroscope, heart rate sensor and barometer.

Beyond the heart rate sensor, what else might make the Apple Watch a wearable system to assist people with their health and fitness? I'm not sure, but what I found interesting about the Apple Watch, what makes it potential game changer in the realm of health and fitness is this: WiFi (802.11 b/g/n).

From all that I can tell, the inclusion of WiFi could be something that might make the Apple Watch something significant with respect to means for medical monitoring. WiFi is different from Bluetooth in that Bluetooth creates a dedicated one to one communications channel. A WiFi access point (AP) can support multiple, simultaneous connections. Is Apple working with other companies to create new body sensors that can communicate with the Apple Watch using WiFi? It's plausible and well worth watching. 

Monitor this blog ... more on this to come.


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