Apple scrapped advanced Apple Watch health monitoring features due to reliability issues

Posted:
in Future Apple Hardware edited March 2015
In designing its first wearable device in the Apple Watch, Apple looked to incorporate a variety of highly advanced health functions with an eye on creating a holistic monitoring device, but ultimately scrapped those plans due to technological and regulatory hurdles.




According to The Wall Street Journal, sources claim Apple Watch was supposed to be much more than the device unveiled last year and slated to launch in April. Specifically, Apple executives wanted to produce a cutting edge health-monitoring tool, one capable of measuring a user's blood pressure, heart rate, stress level and more, said people familiar with the matter.

The publication says the setbacks forced Apple executives into a corner when it came to marketing the device to the general consumer. As it stands, Apple Watch boasts a variety of sensors, including accelerometers, touch inputs and a bespoke optical heart rate sensor, the latter of which connects to the iOS Health app for fitness and wellness tracking. While polished and presented in a slick package, Apple Watch is powered by technology on a par with competing devices running flavors of Android.

Aside from catchall smartwatch devices, a number of standalone solutions for off-the-shelf medical style monitoring already exist in the form of products -- usually wrist-worn -- from smaller manufacturers and startups. For example, the W/Me band incorporates a specialized sensor to measure a user's autonomic nervous system for keeping track of stress levels, while the latest products from Fitbit tout all-day heart rate monitoring.

Apple started development of its Watch four years ago, with an eye on health and fitness, but the project was quickly dubbed a "black hole" for sucking in resources. Advanced technology and component reliability failed to meet Apple's rigorous standards, sources said.

For example, skin conductivity sensors showed promise in early designs, but later testing showed actual results varied person to person, with everything from hairy arms to strap tightness contributing to unreliable readings. The company also investigated incorporating blood pressure and blood oxygen measurement features, but results were inconsistent.

Apple is seemingly investing on health-minded devices and programs, as evidenced by recently discovered job postings, but will take a more mainstream approach for the first generation Watch. Instead of focusing exclusively on health and fitness, the device is being positioned as a niche-filling fashion accessory, iOS compatible smartwatch, iPhone companion and daily communicator, among others.

Apple Watch does, however, sport a few Apple-only features, including Apple Pay integration and WatchKit development tools that are expected to foster a rich ecosystem of bite-sized apps later this year.
«1345

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 86

    This isn't unheard of.

     

     

     

    Most never heard of the Wii Vitality Sensor. It was announced...then never discussed again until it was cancelled a few years later. Satoru Iwata later explained that it did work, but the problem was getting it to work for all people; they only had a 90% success rate due to the fact that humans are all a little bit different. I can't help but suspect Apple ran into some of the same issues; the technology just isn't quite there yet. But, with ?Money pushing development, I'm sure they'll achieve it soon enough.

  • Reply 2 of 86
    slurpyslurpy Posts: 5,117member
    I have no problem with this. Glad Apple was ultra-ambitious, then basically culled what wasn't possible or feasible for the time being. Even a feature that only works 90% of the time would a disaster with the scale of Apple sales. The fact that they at least explored every possibility is a reassuring sign. This certainly happens with every single Apple product (or any other product) being developed.

    When it comes to health stuff, if sensors are giving unreliable/false results for important values, then that could land Apple in alot of hot water and be a PR nightmare.
  • Reply 3 of 86
    That's more like what I was expecting from Apple. The watch that was so good and useful that it could actually force me to start wearing watches again lol. Not feeling the Apple Watch, though.
  • Reply 4 of 86
    It's good to see Apple Insider preparing the Apple faithful for this disappointment.

    I, too, have been gently hinting at the letdown that awaits.

    This news certainly solves the puzzle of the missing killer feature. Even then, a medical-grade health device would still have only been a niche market.

    Can Apple still pull a rabbit out of the hat post-Jobs? The Apple Watch will be the first real test. I, for one, will be fascinated to see how it does.
  • Reply 5 of 86
    paxmanpaxman Posts: 4,594member
    It's good to see Apple Insider preparing the Apple faithful for this disappointment.

    ... a medical-grade health device would still have only been a niche market.
    A very very big niche. One that would (will) grow year over year with the development of better tech and associated services, and importantly, buy-in from the medical profession.
  • Reply 6 of 86
    I kind of wonder why the scanning components couldn't be separate to the watch. That way perhaps those health components could be built into a water proof band with a longer battery life (no screen & interface), and be usable in bed and in the pool.

    Probably a bad idea having 2 'devices'
  • Reply 7 of 86

    Apple has scrapped a number of things they have investigated only for them to appear later, when technology or engineering caught up with their vision. It's called "the design process," people. 

    What's astonishing is that so many companies seem unable todo this (hence, what's known as "a poor design process.")

  • Reply 8 of 86
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by GregAlexander View Post



    I kind of wonder why the scanning components couldn't be separate to the watch. That way perhaps those health components could be built into a water proof band with a longer battery life (no screen & interface), and be usable in bed and in the pool.



    Probably a bad idea having 2 'devices'



    Not at all. There's no reason this wouldn't be done, as it is already done with iPhone accessories. Apple is much less likely to do it though, as they tend to like "all-in-ones" and they don't like to make accessories for small, fractionated parts of the user base. The second tech allows though, any sensor that makes sense and works will be included in their product.

    RE waterproof—IMO Apple's watch thing will never be successful in the broad market until it is waterproof and can hold a charge for a week or more. 

  • Reply 9 of 86
    sflocalsflocal Posts: 4,498member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Benjamin Frost View Post



    It's good to see Apple Insider preparing the Apple faithful for this disappointment.



    I, too, have been gently hinting at the letdown that awaits.



    This news certainly solves the puzzle of the missing killer feature. Even then, a medical-grade health device would still have only been a niche market.



    Can Apple still pull a rabbit out of the hat post-Jobs? The Apple Watch will be the first real test. I, for one, will be fascinated to see how it does.



    You just don't know when to quit do you Ben?  Take your trolling backside elsewhere.

  • Reply 10 of 86
    rogifanrogifan Posts: 10,669member
    slurpy wrote: »
    I have no problem with this. Glad Apple was ultra-ambitious, then basically culled what wasn't possible or feasible for the time being. Even a feature that only works 90% of the time would a disaster with the scale of Apple sales. The fact that they at least explored every possibility is a reassuring sign. This certainly happens with every single Apple product (or any other product) being developed.

    When it comes to health stuff, if sensors are giving unreliable/false results for important values, then that could land Apple in alot of hot water and be a PR nightmare.

    Exactly. I'd rather ?Watch get what it does right and only add new sensors/features when they're ready and as accurate as possible.
  • Reply 11 of 86
    rogifanrogifan Posts: 10,669member
    desuserign wrote: »

    RE waterproof—IMO Apple's watch thing will never be successful in the broad market until it is waterproof and can hold a charge for a week or more. 

    How many smart watches and fitness bands are waterproof? I know the Microsoft Band isn't. And as long as ?Watch has a retina color display it won't be getting a week or more battery life anytime soon.
  • Reply 12 of 86
    IT'S iOS

    ON A WATCH.

    That alone makes it a winner.
  • Reply 13 of 86
    rogifan wrote: »
    How many smart watches and fitness bands are waterproof? I know the Microsoft Band isn't. And as long as ?Watch has a retina color display it won't be getting a week or more battery life anytime soon.

    Agreed. I think people have a habit of using "waterproof" and "water resistant" interchangeable. Apple Watch needs to be water resistant. A waterproof Sport variant can come later.
  • Reply 14 of 86

    Medical diagnostics is extremely tricky stuff. And expensive to develop. With enormous liability risk.  And great cost, as a consequence.  Which is why lab testing frequencies are carefully scrutinized by insurance companies.  Yes, some day the technology might catch up with the ideas, but I'm not surprised that day isn't going to be in this year.  

     

    One example being blood pressure... it's a measurement that was devised around pre-existing technology (pressure gauges, squeeze-bulbs, audible heartbeat). And even that is difficult to implement in a continuous, day-long manner.  It's important to keep in mind that the metric itself, even when accurately measured, is often just an indicator of something else--it's not blood pressure that really matters, it's the consequences of high or low bp that matter--and those things can be even more difficult to measure.  

     

    For other things we might want to quantify, such as "stress" (whatever that means), developing the technology de-novo is a huge jump, can be much more difficult (or impossible) to do.

     

    Software engineers unfortunately live in a logical world where everything is defined and predictable. This can make them over-confident in their ability to develop diagnostic monitors (or self-driving autos, etc.), and cause their employers to pour money into black-hole projects such as the shelved wearable mentioned in the article.  Real biological systems are rarely logical and predictable, and this creates the problem.  But it's nice that Apple had the resources to give it a go.  No doubt some of their projects will pay off.

  • Reply 15 of 86
    This would have been released with a bunch of inconsistent results if it was any other company. They'd make their money and then cry when noone bought their follow up products. When you act like this, you get repeat customers.
  • Reply 16 of 86
    Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

    In designing its first wearable device in the Apple Watch, Apple looked to incorporate a variety of highly advanced health functions with an eye on creating a holistic monitoring device, but ultimately scrapped those plans due to technological and regulatory hurdles.


    Specifically, Apple executives wanted to produce a cutting edge health-monitoring tool, one capable of measuring a user's blood pressure, heart rate, stress level and more, said people familiar with the matter.



    Good. Better to have something this important accurate.

     

    Hopefully we’ll see them reincorporated in a future model.

     

    Though I’d probably crash the ‘stress level’ function to the Springboard on launch.

  • Reply 17 of 86
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Rogifan View Post



    How many smart watches and fitness bands are waterproof? I know the Microsoft Band isn't.

     

    Guess what? I don't own any of them (and I don't think they qualify as successful products anyway.)

    [PS athletes often sweat profusely and perform in the rain. Some even swim!? Just because Microsoft et al are too stupid to understand this doesn't mean Apple needs to be!]

     

    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Rogifan View Post



     And as long as ?Watch has a retina color display it won't be getting a week or more battery life anytime soon.


     

    That's an incredibly shortsighted and unimaginative assertion. It's amazing to me that any serious reader of this website would pose it. Sometime after you are proven wrong, I'll consider buying one [but only if it's waterproof.] Until then you and a few other gadget gobsmacked folks can help Apple with their product Beta testing program.

  • Reply 18 of 86
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by paxman View Post



    A very very big niche. One that would (will) grow year over year with the development of better tech and associated services, and importantly, buy-in from the medical profession.

     

    Enough health functions and even I might have considered the Apple Wrist Computer.

  • Reply 19 of 86

    I need the watch to also have the ability to plug in a probe so that I can get an accurate ph level reading for my outdoor plants.

  • Reply 20 of 86
    ecatsecats Posts: 272member
    See also the Scanadu Scout: The device has progressively offered fewer features since being announced several years ago. The final shipped version(here in my hands) now measures 4 biometrics and is not only very fiddly to get it to take accurate readings, but fails the moment any of those readings fall outside a statistical, tested range (e.g. it can't accurately determine elevated temperatures at the moment.)

    I'm pretty impressed that apple have, presumably, HR accuracy within useful tolerances. Since the more accurate electronic devices require a chest strap.

    If they can squeeze in blood pressure over time they'll have most of the useful common metrics available.
Sign In or Register to comment.