The latest Apple Watch has a blood oxygen sensor which measures the wearer’s oxygen saturation (SpO2). Oxygen saturation is the fraction of oxygen-saturated hemoglobin relative to total hemoglobins in the blood. If the level is below 90% it is considered low and is very dangerous. An alert is issued in that case.
The Watch also monitors (periodically but consistently) the wearer’s heart rate and can warn of abnormal rates. It can also detect patterns of irregular heart rhythms and atrial fibrillation.
The Watch can also provide VO2 max or the maximum rate of oxygen consumption measured during exercise. This measurement provides a quantitative value of endurance fitness and reflects cardiorespiratory fitness.
The Watch can also generate an ECG or electro cardiogram which is a graph of voltage versus time of the electrical activity of the heart using electrodes placed on the skin. The ECG can be generated as a PDF and sent to a physician for analysis.
The Watch also monitors sound levels providing a warning of when the wearer is exposed to dangerous sound levels and should consider protecting their hearing.
The Watch can also detect a fall and summon emergency services even if the wearer is unconscious. It can also be used to summon assistance with a push of a button.
The Watch uses machine learning to track sleep and can monitor the vital signs listed above during that time.
The Watch has an always-on altimeter which is working to help with tracking effort by the wearer.
The Watch can detect hand washing and provide a timer so you do it well enough.
The Watch can track all physical activity and provide motivational reminders to meet daily goals.
The Watch can monitor exercise with precision and provide data that helps you improve your performance.
The Watch can also be used to pay for your groceries at the register.
The reason the Watch can do all these things is because it’s a computer. A computer with a dual core processor based on the A13 bionic chip also used in the iPhone 11, a retina display that is always on(!) and displaying at least 500nits at all times. It has on-board storage for music, WiFi, Bluetooth and a touch screen.
But although being a computer allows the Watch to do all this and more, no PC can do even one of these things. Nor does a PC have GPS, or Cellular connectivity or NFC and is certainly not swimproof. You don’t wear a PC in bed and it does not stay with you 24×7.
The Watch is among a class of devices that have emerged less than five years ago that do many things that PCs can’t. They also do many things phones can’t.
Biometric sensing (SpO2, ECG, Afib detect, sleep tracking, fall detection, etc.) were not features that were even requested from phones or PCs (or tablets.) Nor did PC users ask for iPhone or tablet features like taking selfies, gesture-based gaming and Lidar.
The Watch has taken on the job of health monitor and health preserver. It isn’t a job any other computer would have even attempted.
The story of phones, tablets and wearables is a story of creating new markets, not substituting for old ones. In so doing the new markets are greater than their putative substitutions would allow. This is happening over and over again but it still seems to go largely unnoticed. Keep an eye out for a lot more of this.