Apple's 'iWatch' rumored to use optoelectronics to monitor heart rate, blood oxygen levels

Posted:
in Future Apple Hardware edited February 2014
Apple may turn to optoelectronic sensor technology to help users of the company's so-called "iWatch" keep track of their heart rate and blood oxygen saturation, according to a Friday report from China.

iWatch
iWatch concept by Todd Hamilton


Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple was also considering the addition of blood glucose monitoring, but that feature is believed to have been scrapped due to the "inaccuracy" of using optoelectronics for non-invasive blood glucose testing. Electronics industry analyst Sun Chang Xu made the predictions for China's Electrical Engineering Times.

Broadly speaking, medical sensors using optoelectronics measure changes in light reflected by the body. An array of light-emitting diodes are used to pass light into tissue, and sensors detect the amount and color of the light that bounces back.

Using optoelectronics for monitoring blood oxygen levels is a process known as pulse oximetry. Pulse oximeters --?usually seen as clothesepin-like devices clipped to the end of a person's finger --?use visible red and infrared LEDs to detect how much oxygen is carried in the blood's hemoglobin. Oxygenated hemoglobin absorbs more infrared light, while deoxygenated hemoglobin absorbs more visible red light.

Adding to the report's plausibility, Apple has brought on multiple biomedical experts with expertise in optoelectronic pulse oximetry in recent weeks. New hires Marcelo Malini Lamego and Michael O'Reilly are former executives at pulse oximetry company Masimo Corporation.

Hire
The Masimo rainbow blood oximeter. Photo via Wikipedia.


For heart rate monitoring, visible light is passed through a person's skin and absorbed by their blood. More light is absorbed when the body pumps more blood, and the changes in reflected light levels are tracked and used to calculate the person's heart rate.

Apple is said to have chosen the light-based technology over electrocardiography, a more accurate method which measures electrical impulses, due to the former's ability to continuously monitor heart rate with no action from the user. Most ECG-based products require multiple contacts, meaning users must either attach multiple diodes to their body or touch the product with both hands to get a reading.
Apple will likely exclude noninvasive blood glucose monitoring due to its "inaccuracy"
Many consumer-grade heart monitors --?like Withings's Pulse --?use optoelectronics. Those that feature single-contact ECG sensors often leverage proprietary and usually patented technology.

Apple has been seen contemplating embedded ECG sensors in the past, though there is little evidence to indicate where the company may be at with the technology. A 2010 patent application hinted at a method for future iPhones to identify users by their ECG signature.

Friday's report is the latest indication that Apple's expected foray into wearable devices will focus on biometrics. Well-connected analyst Ming-Chi Kuo of KGI Securities was the first to make that prediction, a case bolstered by recent hires and the revelation that Apple executives have met with the FDA to discuss "mobile medical applications."
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 35
    Blood glucose monitoring, however, is the killer app. It does not have to be super accurate, and can be augmented with direct blood tests for those with conditions that require better accuracy. For helping those with prediabetic conditions (just about anyone overweight) to change eating patterns, glucose monitoring would be invaluable even if the data were provided in a range.
  • Reply 2 of 35
    kibitzerkibitzer Posts: 1,113member
    Hey AI - this is the second straight day that you have incorrectly captioned the same Masimo photo. It is a FINGER sensor. It has nothing to do with fingerPRINTS.

    [Subsequent edit] Okay, you changed the caption to read "The Masimo rainbow blood oximeter."

    It's still incorrect. The device pictured is the FINGER SENSOR for the Masimo blood oximeter. Looks like Apple is not the only outfit that needs someone on their staff who knows something about medical devices.
  • Reply 3 of 35
    I'm gonna miss all these rumours if this iWatch is ever going to be released. Not.
  • Reply 4 of 35
    thttht Posts: 3,228member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by currentinterest View Post



    Blood glucose monitoring, however, is the killer app. It does not have to be super accurate, and can be augmented with direct blood tests for those with conditions that require better accuracy. For helping those with prediabetic conditions (just about anyone overweight) to change eating patterns, glucose monitoring would be invaluable even if the data were provided in a range.

     

    Yup. I'm tempted to say that they shouldn't announce nor ship the wristband device until glucose monitoring can ship with it. Having that will be an automatic win worth billions of dollars. Millions of units at $400 to $500 easy.

  • Reply 5 of 35
    paxmanpaxman Posts: 4,603member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by THT View Post

     

     

    Yup. I'm tempted to say that they shouldn't announce nor ship the wristband device until glucose monitoring can ship with it. Having that will be an automatic win worth billions of dollars. Millions of units at $400 to $500 easy.


    There are several players with devices already on the market. These are expensive and require the insertion of a sensor under the skin. Even with such a sensor these devices need to be calibrated several times per day using a traditional finger prick method. If someone can develop an accurate, non intrusive way of continuously measure blood glucose levels they will indeed have hit the jackpot. Apple doesn't necessarily need to create such a device (sensor), but the iWatch needs to be the go-to display / recorder option. Once a cost effective, practical and above all, accurate sensor has been developed an artificial pancreas will effectively be a reality.

  • Reply 6 of 35
    Given all the rumors around health monitoring, I feel resigned that the iWatch will incorporate it. However, it seems to me a very narrow move. How many people actually want such a thing? Maybe a few in the US, but worldwide? Is everyone in the world who buys an iPhone or iPod also interested in personal health monitoring? My guess is no. Something you wear on your wrist constantly, rather than just pull out of your pocket for utility, needs to make a strong and yet individual fashion statement. I can't see this happening in your choice of 7 colors and under $1K. There is a lot of choice in that $ range, so everyone wearing the same thing will look bad. That is, Apple needs volume, and I don't think they'll get it with just a few color options.

    Perhaps it will incorporate such things as a digital key for Air Play or Apple TV, or be a bridge for Air Drop. It might be useful as a way-station between devices for photos and such. However, given the rumors, I have a hard time seeing it as anything other than a dork tag, similar to but better than Google Glass.

    If they're really after the "watch" category, I consider such a thing a piece of jewelry. The under $1K range is decidedly "cheap". A proper watch starts at $5K, and wears better with age.
  • Reply 7 of 35
    gqbgqb Posts: 1,934member

    Some are warning of legal pitfalls if people base medical actions on readings that turns out to be less than perfect. 

     

    I do hope that this thing doesn't look like 'ass' (to quote Steve), because I'm liking the idea. Hope all of the fashionistas they're hiring means they're designing it to be great looking and flexible in appearance. 

    Even these wishful mock-ups we're seeing would allow that the screen could display attractive designs when not in use that could be switched to match clothing.

     

    edit: ooh.. imagine that you take a picture of your shirt, pants, dress, belt or shoes color/pattern from your phone, and can immediately send that to the 'wrist device' as the screen design or watch background.

  • Reply 8 of 35
    gqbgqb Posts: 1,934member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by kustardking View Post



     However, it seems to me a very narrow move. How many people actually want such a thing? 

    True that the couch jockeys who inhabit tech forums probably don't get it, but the Boomer market for things that aid health monitoring is going to enormous.

  • Reply 9 of 35
    If Apple does such thing, it will most likely double their sales on every single category they compete. How? They have virtually 0 presence in most countries, a device that could do such things would open every door to every country worldwide. There's nothing more interesting, powerful and lucrative than our concern with ourselves.
  • Reply 10 of 35
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by kustardking View Post



    Given all the rumors around health monitoring, I feel resigned that the iWatch will incorporate it. However, it seems to me a very narrow move. 

     

    With due respect, I suggest you wait until you see Apple's marketing statement about the iWatch before you jump to the conclusion that its focus constitutes a "narrow move".  Even if the iWatch does include significant health-monitoring, we have no idea if the bio-feedback is 10% of the iWatch's reason for existence, 50% of the reason, or 90% of the reason.  As the smart guys over on Asymco say, what's the "Job to be done" by the iWatch?  Don't be foolish and rely on rumors to tell you what Apple's interpretation of what the job to be done is.  Be patient, wait, and listen to what Apple says.

  • Reply 11 of 35
    paxman wrote: »
    Once a cost effective, practical and above all, accurate sensor has been developed an artificial pancreas will effectively be a reality.

    iPancreas — The next big thing lol
  • Reply 12 of 35
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by GQB View Post

    True that the couch jockeys who inhabit tech forums probably don't get it, but the Boomer market for things that aid health monitoring is going to enormous.

     

    heh - I know you're not referring to me ;) - cuz I'm not a couch potato. Sure there are those who would want a health monitor, but are they a worldwide demographic, or just a minority US sport crew? If the iWatch is focused on health monitoring, I'll wager bragging rights that it will not be a big hit, and it will not be the next wave of gear.
  • Reply 13 of 35
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by delreyjones View Post

    With due respect, I suggest you wait until you see Apple's marketing statement about the iWatch before you jump to the conclusion that its focus constitutes a "narrow move". Even if the iWatch does include significant health-monitoring, we have no idea if the bio-feedback is 10% of the iWatch's reason for existence, 50% of the reason, or 90% of the reason. As the smart guys over on Asymco say, what's the "Job to be done" by the iWatch? Don't be foolish and rely on rumors to tell you what Apple's interpretation of what the job to be done is. Be patient, wait, and listen to what Apple says.

     

    Yes, of course, judgement is reserved for the marketing release. I did mention that I'm basing my opinion on the rumors, and I do suggest that it might be a broader device than that. My feeling is only that if it is as rumors suggest, being a mostly health-oriented gadget, that it won't be a big hit.
  • Reply 14 of 35
    gqbgqb Posts: 1,934member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by kustardking View Post

     
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by GQB View Post

     

    True that the couch jockeys who inhabit tech forums probably don't get it, but the Boomer market for things that aid health monitoring is going to enormous.


     




    heh - I know you're not referring to me image - cuz I'm not a couch potato. Sure there are those who would want a health monitor, but are they a worldwide demographic, or just a minority US sport crew? If the iWatch is focused on health monitoring, I'll wager bragging rights that it will not be a big hit, and it will not be the next wave of gear.

    You gotta admit that with a handle like 'kustardking', its a reasonable assumption.  ;)

  • Reply 15 of 35
    Vreat
    Given all the rumors around health monitoring, I feel resigned that the iWatch will incorporate it. However, it seems to me a very narrow move. How many people actually want such a thing? Maybe a few in the US, but worldwide? Is everyone in the world who buys an iPhone or iPod also interested in personal health monitoring? My guess is no. Something you wear on your wrist constantly, rather than just pull out of your pocket for utility, needs to make a strong and yet individual fashion statement. I can't see this happening in your choice of 7 colors and under $1K. There is a lot of choice in that $ range, so everyone wearing the same thing will look bad. That is, Apple needs volume, and I don't think they'll get it with just a few color options.

    Perhaps it will incorporate such things as a digital key for Air Play or Apple TV, or be a bridge for Air Drop. It might be useful as a way-station between devices for photos and such. However, given the rumors, I have a hard time seeing it as anything other than a dork tag, similar to but better than Google Glass.

    If they're really after the "watch" category, I consider such a thing a piece of jewelry. The under $1K range is decidedly "cheap". A proper watch starts at $5K, and wears better with age.

    Great post. Authentication needs to be a major feature. A question with regard to fashion options is how nicely will Jony play with the fashion execs Apple recently hired.
  • Reply 16 of 35
    crowleycrowley Posts: 5,927member
    gqb wrote: »
    edit: ooh.. imagine that you take a picture of your shirt, pants, dress, belt or shoes color/pattern from your phone, and can immediately send that to the 'wrist device' as the screen design or watch background.
    Or take a photo of the wrist area without the watch, use that as the wallpaper, and you have a transparent watch!

    Whether or not any of these health technology rumours are true, they're very interesting, and offer some different flavour to the Apple-verse.
  • Reply 17 of 35
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by kustardking View Post



    Yes, of course, judgement is reserved for the marketing release. I did mention that I'm basing my opinion on the rumors, and I do suggest that it might be a broader device than that. My feeling is only that if it is as rumors suggest, being a mostly health-oriented gadget, that it won't be a big hit.

     

    Actually I think you're missing the bigger picture.  When the iPod came out, digital media players were a small part of the overall portable music player market.  When the iPhone came out, the smartphone was a small part of the overall cellular market.  It's not so much how many people are clamoring for biometrics in an always wearable device now, it's how many folks will be clamoring for one once a great product is out in the market.  Remember, that is a large part of "the Apple magic", to produce a product that you didn't know that you couldn't live without.  Of course that's a lot of hyperbole, but I think you can see where this is headed.

     

    That said, let's envision a scenario where the iWatch does indeed ship with all these cool biometric sensors and it becomes a major hit.  I wonder what type of collateral effects such a contraption would have.  Imagine if the above mentioned glucose measuring was present and reasonably accurate.  Imagine setting alarms for when your glucose level increases by a certain percentage, so when you start chowing down on that Krispy Kreme, your alarm goes off.  If having such a device can actually cause a reasonable number of people to start changing their habits, it could have a very interesting effect on many other markets completely unrelated to technology.  This is just a thought experiment for now, but one that could possibly be intriguing.

     

    Personally, I wear a watch, and am pretty old school about it (e.g. mechanical only).  That said, I hope Apple does come out with an iWatch with lots of biometric goodness if for no other reason than to A) put all these rumors to bed and B) shut folks up about Apple being unable to "innovate" post SJ.

  • Reply 18 of 35
    Many o
    <div class="quote-container" data-huddler-embed="/t/162055/apples-iwatch-rumored-to-use-optoelectronics-to-monitor-heart-rate-blood-oxygen-levels#post_2472376" data-huddler-embed-placeholder="false"><span>Quote:</span><div class="quote-block">Originally Posted by <strong>GQB</strong> <a href="/t/162055/apples-iwatch-rumored-to-use-optoelectronics-to-monitor-heart-rate-blood-oxygen-levels#post_2472376"><img src="/img/forum/go_quote.gif" class="inlineimg" alt="View Post"/></a><br/><br/><p>True that the couch jockeys who inhabit tech forums probably don't get it, but the Boomer market for things that aid health monitoring is going to enormous.</p></div></div><p> </p>

    heh - I know you're not referring to me ;) - cuz I'm not a couch potato. Sure there are those who would want a health monitor, but are they a worldwide demographic, or just a minority US sport crew? If the iWatch is focused on health monitoring, I'll wager bragging rights that it will not be a big hit, and it will not be the next wave of gear.

    Many of these iWatch rumors come from patent filings and recent hires. All the medical/heath sensor hires have led some to believe Apple's wearable will primarily be a medical sensor device. I don't think so.

    Tim has said several times that most wearables do one thing quite well (throwing a bone to Nike, I guess) but few do many things well. I think they are trying to create a device that does very many things well-much like IPhone does. That's the secret sauce to selling hundreds of millions of units per year.
  • Reply 19 of 35
    herbapouherbapou Posts: 2,221member

    I really love where they are going with this.

     

    Imagine the apps that could be done with that data, for example hearth rate and oxygen levels could be used to detect sleep apnea. If could also be used to detect breathing distress on drug OD or pain killers. It could be used as a constant feed to detect heart arrhythmia.  A lot of medical conditions could be detected with this.

  • Reply 20 of 35
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by bitWrangler View Post

     

    Actually I think you're missing the bigger picture.  When the iPod came out, digital media players were a small part of the overall portable music player market.  When the iPhone came out, the smartphone was a small part of the overall cellular market.  It's not so much how many people are clamoring for biometrics in an always wearable device now, it's how many folks will be clamoring for one once a great product is out in the market.  Remember, that is a large part of "the Apple magic", to produce a product that you didn't know that you couldn't live without.  Of course that's a lot of hyperbole, but I think you can see where this is headed.

     

    That said, let's envision a scenario where the iWatch does indeed ship with all these cool biometric sensors and it becomes a major hit.  I wonder what type of collateral effects such a contraption would have.  Imagine if the above mentioned glucose measuring was present and reasonably accurate.  Imagine setting alarms for when your glucose level increases by a certain percentage, so when you start chowing down on that Krispy Kreme, your alarm goes off.  If having such a device can actually cause a reasonable number of people to start changing their habits, it could have a very interesting effect on many other markets completely unrelated to technology.  This is just a thought experiment for now, but one that could possibly be intriguing.

     

    Personally, I wear a watch, and am pretty old school about it (e.g. mechanical only).  That said, I hope Apple does come out with an iWatch with lots of biometric goodness if for no other reason than to A) put all these rumors to bed and B) shut folks up about Apple being unable to "innovate" post SJ.

     

    I think the bigger picture is does-it-work-as-jewelry. Because it's always visible, it isn't an iPod or iPhone. Sure you can buy a decent Swatch or Tag or Pandora bracelet for not-a-lot, but there is huge variety in that price range and category, and that makes the competition a problem.

    I'm not arguing innovation, but now that you mention it, aren't there already health monitor bracelets? What does innovation in this case look like?
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