Apple sees health business opportunity, announces heart feature for new watch
- Apple unveiled its new Apple Watch Series 3, OS4, at a product launch event in Cupertino, California, on Tuesday. The latest version features an enhanced heart monitor as well as new fitness features like Gym Connect and smart activity coaching.
- The company also announced a study in partnership with Stanford Medicine to see whether Apple Watch’s heart rate sensor can detect irregular heart rhythms. The announcement confirmed an earlier CNBC report on the development, which also named American Well as part of the study.
- In an interview published Monday in Fortune, Apple CEO Tim Cook said one goal of the Apple Watch has always been to continously measure certain aspects of wearers’ health, such as the performance of the heart. “We’re extremely interested in this area,” he told Fortune’s Adam Lashinsky. "And, yes, it is a business opportunity.” He said healthcare generally is a “big area for Apple’s future.”
A health announcement was largely expected at Apple's event, but many were curious what would bubble up. There have been many rumors lately regarding whether and how Apple might continue its reach into healthcare.
The announcement showed that Apple is interested in moving beyond the "wellness" platform and getting into the health, clinical space.
The heart rate monitor includes new measurements for resting heart rate and recovery heart rate as well as an alert if the heart rate goes too high when the wearer is inactive. It will also monitor heart rhythm — an important feature since atrial fibrillation, a type of irregular heart beat, can go unnoticed and is a leading cause of stroke, Apple Chief Operating Officer Jeff Williams said.
Apple has been quietly ramping up its commitment to healthcare. In June, CNBC reported the tech giant had hired Stanford Medicine digital health exec Sumbul Desai and was secretly working on turning the iPhone into the go-to source for an individual’s medical information.
Meanwhile, Apple’s ResearchKit, which uses iPhones to collect health data and then make it available for research, is garnering more serious interest with the publication of data on seizures, asthma attacks and heart disease using the tool. This spring also saw Apple’s purchase of sleep tracking startup Beddit and reports the company is secretly developing noninvasive sensors to monitor blood sugar and help diabetics manage their disease.
Last November, MobiHealthNews disclosed a three-year trail of emails between Apple and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request, discussing the 510(k) process, the App Store review process, ResearchKit apps and other topics. They also alluded to three regulated medical products Apple is developing — two cardiac devices and an app to diagnose Parkinson’s disease.
With all the piecemeal news, it can be a bit puzzling to figure out where all the health pieces are going to fit in with Apple's healthcare play. For example, the company bought PHR company Gliimpse last year but hasn't made made any large moves with purchase yet, at least from a public-facing product perspective (the company is historically secretive over its operations).
Still, the news of the heart monitoring app brings up questions over whether FDA oversight will need to be brought in. "We have provided guidance to Apple regarding the development of their research study," an FDA spokesperson told CNBC's Christina Farr. "We encourage all medical device manufacturers to meet with the agency early in their research and development process."
It could be likely Apple will enter the health space slowly and surely in lieu of a big reveal that showcases front and center their healthcare intentions.
- Fortune Tim Cook on How Apple Champions the Environment, Education, and Health Care
- CNBC Apple is working with Stanford and American Well to test whether the watch can detect heart problems
- CNBC It's official: Health, not just wellness, is Apple's future
- MobiHealthNews Scoop: Apple emails show plans for two FDA-regulated cardiac devices
Follow Jeff Byers on Twitter