SINGAPORE: American tech giant Apple on Wednesday (Sep 12) launched its fourth generation smartwatch - which will come with exciting new health features - as it unveiled three new iPhone models.
The Apple Watch Series 4 boasts larger screens and cases. The 44mm case will have a 977 sq mm display area while the 40 mm case will have a 759 sq mm display area.
It comes with a 64-bit dual-core S4 processor, which is said to be twice faster than the S3 processor. It is also equipped with haptic feedback on its digital crown and all-day battery life.
Watch bands from previous Apple Watch models will still be compatible with the Series 4.
One of the highlights of the Apple Watch Series 4 are its sensors that will allow the user to take an electrocardiogram (ECG) with an app. This feature is made possible with an electrode that is embedded in the back and the crown of the redesigned Apple Watch.
The American Heart Association has vouched for this feature. President Ivor Benjamin made a brief appearance at Apple's news conference, where he said: "In my experience, people often report symptoms that are absent during their medical visits."
"The ability to access health data from an on-demand electrocardiogram or ECG is game-changing, especially when evaluating atrial fibrillation — an irregular and often rapid heart rate that can increase a person’s risk of stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications."
To obtain an ECG reading, the user will need to place a finger on the crown for thirty seconds. If your heartbeat is normal, the reading will appear as a sinus rhythm. Otherwise, the watch will notify you that you might have an abnormal heart rhythm. The data from these readings can be encrypted and shared through a PDF document with doctors.
The ECG feature for the Apple Watch has also been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The FDA said it worked with Apple to develop apps for the Apple Watch and has been taking steps to ease the regulatory pathway for companies seeking to create digital healthcare products.
"This is a pretty big deal," said healthcare tech analyst Ross Muken at Evercore. "This update really establishes the company’s increasing efforts to push the watch as a serious medical device. Apple seems to be diving into heart disease first, the most common cause of death around the world, making serious moves as a health company."
However, FDA warned that the app is "not intended to provide a diagnosis".
According to a FDA document on the ECG app, the app is not meant to be used by people younger than 22 years old. It is also not recommended for those suffering from irregular heartbeat, also known as arrhythmia.
Chief Scott Gottlieb, who was also at the conference, said: "Health care products on ubiquitous devices, like smart watches, may help users seek treatment earlier and will truly empower them with more information about their health.
"Due to the great promise of these technologies and the rapid pace of change, the FDA is working to modernise our regulatory approach to better enable and more efficiently spur innovation in this novel area to improve the health and quality of life of consumers and patients.”
Apple has claimed that the Apple Watch Series 4 is the first over-the-counter ECG product.
But some reports have disputed that pointing to another ECG product - AliveCor's Kardiaband - which was cleared by the FDA in November last year.
Another health feature is the smartwatch's ability to detect a fall.
When the watch detects that you have fallen, it will send you an alert asking if you would like to call for help. If you’re immobile for a minute after a fall, the watch calls emergency services and send your location to emergency contacts.
The Apple Watch Series 4 starts at US$399 (S$550) with GPS and US$499 (S$680) with cellular and GPS.
In Singapore, it will come with Singtel as its cellular carrier, the Apple event revealed. Pre-orders open Sep 14 and will ship out on Sep 21.