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Lacking new ideas, Apple Watch disappoints health experts

apple watch watch wearables health wellbeing CEO Tim Cook was excited about the Apple Watch, but the health tech world expected something revolutionary.
Credit: Getty Images

Technology pundits were quick to predict the demise of most fitness wristbands and smartwatches when the Apple Watch was announced. But health care professionals and fitness junkies were left wanting to see more.

Experts say there is little evidence for now that the device's fitness capabilities surpass the competition. Others, hoping for groundbreaking health features from a company whose chief executive officer, Tim Cook spoke of how sensors are "set to explode," were left wondering what's in store for the product.

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Two people familiar with Apple's plans said the company is planning to unveil richer health features and additional sensors in later versions, and the first iteration won’t even hit the market until early 2015. Apple declined to comment on future health offerings for its watch.

No new technology

The Apple Watch, unveiled last week, is designed to be used alongside the iPhone. Independently of a mobile device, the watch can track activity: It uses an accelerometer to measure your movements as well as heart rate. Runners can also listen to music through a Bluetooth headphone. Many connected wristbands already on the market, such as Jawbone's UP or the Fitbit, can do all that and more.

Who’s the market?

At this point, it's unclear whether the watch will appeal to the two consumer groups most in need of health data: Self-professed "quantified selfers" who regularly track their own body metrics such as food intake and sleep, and those battling chronic medical conditions and their care providers. "I'd need to see data that it's useful before buying the watch or recommending it to colleagues," said Joshua Landy, a Toronto, Canada-based critical care specialist and the chief medical officer for Figure 1, a health startup.

Key features outsourced

Danielle Levitas, a technology analyst for IDC, described the health and fitness aspects so far as "table stakes. I was expecting there to be some true health care applications that would take it a step further beyond wellness." Levitas noted that the watch did not track sleep, like Jawbone's UP wristband. Her primary frustration with the watch was the decision to offload GPS and Wi-Fi to the phone, presumably to keep the price tag at a modest $349, she said.

Tactical move?

Policy experts suggest that Apple may have deliberately avoided mentioning medical use-cases for the watch for now to avoid attracting attention from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In its current form, the watch would not pose a threat to makers of mobile medical devices used by patients with chronic conditions.

Form over function

There’s hope in the field that Apple’s device will appeal to a wider market. Mike Lee, chief executive officer of MyFitnessPal, said the sensors in the Apple Watch weren't "revolutionary" but conceded it was better-designed than most wearable devices — that the sleek, slim and wearable design was prioritized over packing the device with features right out of the gate.

 
 
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