We have high hopes for the Apple Watch 8, but now it looks like this year’s watch isn’t likely to ship many new sensors, if any. If this is true, it will be a big disappointment to those hoping that the next-gen Apple Watch would be able to track blood pressure, blood sugar, and maybe even blood alcohol levels.
In his last Light up Subscriber newsletter, Bloomberg resident Apple expert Mark Gurman gives his forecast for the year ahead, sprinkled with some inside information – and that’s a disappointing read for anyone anticipating a big Apple Watch overhaul. for 2022.
In fact, Gurman suggests that the new watch might not even be able to track skin temperature, which devices from Fitbit, Garmin, Oura and many others have been doing for years.
“Body temperature was on this year’s roadmap, but discussions about it have recently slowed down,” writes Gurman. “Blood pressure is at least two to three years away, so I wouldn’t be surprised if blood sugar monitoring wouldn’t hit until later in the second half of the decade.”
A sense of things to come
Apple itself has not suggested that any of these features are in the works. Instead, the theories grew out of a combination of registered patents, surveys sent to Apple Watch users, and news from companies that supply components to Apple.
For example, last year Rockley Photonics, one of Apple’s suppliers, revealed that it had developed a “wrist clinic” that could track metrics such as core body temperature, blood pressure, hydration, blood alcohol and glucose non-invasively.
Hardware and software look promising, and Rockley has consumer handheld devices in mind, but the device is still in clinical trials, and its reliance on cloud computing to process the collected data could represent a challenge for Apple when it comes to privacy.
It was widely expected that last year’s Apple Watch 7 would be a big upgrade over its predecessor, but when it did arrive the changes were much more modest; the two main changes were a slightly larger screen and a stronger lens to protect it. Perhaps we should also keep our expectations for this year’s watch low.
A rugged Apple Watch for tough sports wouldn’t be a game-changer when it comes to biometrics, but may be a more realistic thing to hope for.
Analysis: Tempering Expectations
So why could biometrics have been put on the back burner? We know there are appropriately sized skin temperature sensors out there, but Apple may have chosen to steer clear of them until it can put this data in context that is useful to its average user. Skin temperature alone as a number doesn’t mean much, and it can be affected by so many factors that the company may have decided they need to spend more time figuring out how to analyze it and present it.
An absence of blood pressure and blood sugar monitoring would be less surprising. While many recent watches (such as the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4) can estimate blood pressure using data collected by their optical heart rate sensor, it’s not as simple as it sounds and requires a regular calibration with a standard blood pressure cuff to be helpful.
These smartwatches are not medical devices either, so they cannot replace conventional blood pressure checks for people who manage hypertension.
Non-invasive blood sugar and alcohol monitoring is even further afield. Biometrics company Abbott produces wearable patches for people with diabetes that track changes in glucose in the interstitial fluid between cells and synchronize that data with a mobile app. This is much more convenient than a finger prick blood test and allows continuous monitoring, but the sensor is on a probe that sits just under the skin; not something that would be practical for desirable for a smart watch.
Abbott is also producing a non-medical glucose sensor to help athletes optimize their fueling strategies during events, and at CES 2022, it unveiled plans for a series of adhesive patches that will allow people to track factors such as ketones, lactate and alcohol in the blood. However, again, these rely on a subcutaneous probe – and even if they didn’t, the data they collect might not have the universal appeal of making it an Apple Watch.
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