Apple may very well transform our lives again with a new smartwatch, just like it did in 2007 with the launch of the iPhone. The smartwatch market has been trying to make health- and fitness-tracking mainstream, but lackluster technology has so far held back its vast potential.
Here’s what the smartwatch could do for us if Apple hits lightning twice and transforms the health market
1. Reduce stress, improve sleep
How much we sleep, what we eat, and if we exercise has an enormous impact on our bodies and minds. But we really don’t know the precise formula that makes us the best version of ourselves.
Let’s take sleep, for example. Scientists think the correct amount of sleep is somewhere between 7 and 9 hours, but it’s a rough estimate. What really matters is the quality of the sleep. An Apple competitor, the Basis, does a decent job of quantifying the stages of sleep (light, deep, REM), but when I tested it out, I found that it was error prone and didn’t get to the heart of my sleep issues.
With professional grade lab equipment, I found out that it was stress that was destroying my sleep cycle. I needed a much more accurate heart rate monitor, which the new Apple watch will reportedly have.
Likewise, the current crop of smartwatches can’t identify all the sources that cause and relieve stress. The new Apple watch will apparently know when I’m exercising, when I’m sitting, and when I’m eating. Perhaps doing some intensive workouts will ease my daytime stress. Or maybe I shouldn’t be working so late and skipping dinner.
Only a watch that monitors my email activity, heart rate, and movement all day long could truly understand the causes of my stress and poor sleep.
And Healthkit, Apple’s software layer, will pair with other devices. For instance, the Stanford-designed Spire is a waist clip device that measures stress through breathing patterns. With the Spire, Apple will know exactly what time of day my stress peaked. At the end of the day, it could ask, “Did something happen at 4:35 today that upset you?” Perhaps an argument with a coworker caused so much stress that it screwed up my sleeping patterns for a week.
All of our behaviors are linked: social interactions, exercise, nutrition, sleep, and movement. Apple will automatically know what makes us the best versions of ourselves.
2. Be your personal trainer
Gym trainers to do two things: They watch for good form, and they motivate us. The tech already exists to completely replace much of what personal trainers do with an intelligent algorithm. The Amiigo, for instance, is a wrist-based device that automatically tracks every movement done at the gym. As the user base grows, it’ll not only automatically recognize reps but will know the quality of those reps.
It only takes a few Olympians to wear Apple’s smartwatch for Healthkit to understand how the best athletes move and then give that advice to every other user.
As for motivation, the PEAR sports software does a decent job of emulating a fitness trainer. PEAR is a heart rate and mobile app combo that triggers pre-programmed motivational sayings during a workout. I took the PEAR for a run, and it automatically gave me encouragement when it noticed my heart rate dropping.
Honestly, that’s mostly what I needed. I didn’t need a human yelling at me, just a bit of feedback when I inadvertently started lagging.
Apple’s watch will do all of this and more. Everyone will have a professional fitness coach on their wrist. It’ll automatically track progress, give recommended improvements, and motivate us when we need it most.
3. Give you super-intelligent 24/7 doctor visits
Data scientists are getting much smarter at diagnosing illnesses from simple movement data. For instance, health startup Gero claims it can detect onset “type 2 diabetes, depression, hypertension, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia,” from a Fitbit pedometer.
Given our age, race, and gender, how we sleep and move throughout the day can signal to a doctor if we’re getting sick.
Apple is reportedly partnering with major medical clinics to monitor patients 24/7. Healthkit will not only alert patients when to take drugs or what to eat for lunch, but it’ll collect vast amounts of information that can inform medical researchers. We’ll all be wearing a super-intelligent doctor on our wrist.
Of course, this all depends on Apple succeeding. Google, too, is getting into the same health game with its Android Wear software. But if history is a guide, it may be up to Apple to make health tracking mainstream.
And, if Apple succeeds, it could dramatically change what it means to be healthy.