Tim Cook took to the stage on 13 September to launch its new generation of iPhones, namely the iPhone Xs, Xs Max and the XR. But before he got to the phones, the Apple Watch Series 4 was announced. That according to me was the most exciting product launched by Apple this year.
The Apple Watch Series 4 is a proper upgrade of this product category. And it should certainly cement Apple's position as not just the top watchmaker in the world, but also one that capitalises on the in-house sensors to deliver a well fleshed out health experience.
The Apple Watch Series 4 will start selling from $399 onwards and it will come in the GPS as well as the LTE cellular variants. The India price points and availability dates aren't out yet.
It comes with a 30 percent increase in the screen size, with more body to screen ratio which allows the Watch to showcase as many as eight complications at a time. The Watch is powered by a new dual-core 64-bit Apple S4 chip, which is expected to be twice as fast as the S3, which was seen on the Watch Series 3. The battery life is expected to be slightly better than the Series 3 variants.
Two of the stand out features on the new Apple Watch Series 4: Fall Detection and Electrocardiogram support
The new sensor package inside the Apple Watch Series 4 is much more sensitive and can process data fast enough to detect a fall. On detecting a fall, the Watch will automatically contact a guardian and/or emergency services, depending on how it’s been set up. Better yet, if the person starts moving after a fall, the Watch will just share location data with the relevant people.
This is a great feature for elders or infirms or even in emergency situations, where if you have suffered a nasty fall and there is no one around to help, the watchOS itself will trigger an emergency call or alert your close family and friends about your situation. Now fall detection is something that requires really quick data processing following the data that's sent from the accelerometer and the gyrometer. Apple has arrived at this feature by studying the different types of falls (forward fall, tripping and slipping) which has a very particular repetitive pattern when it comes to hand movement. I wonder if there is an option to disable it in some cases, for instance when you are playing sports such as cricket which does involve a lot of instances where you might fall while completing a run or diving for a catch — you surely don't want to bother your close ones by constant alerts then.
The second and probably the most important update to the Apple Watch Series 4 was the Electrocardiogram or ECG support. This makes the Watch a global first wearable product to offer ECG support and one that is endorsed by the US FDA. In fact, the head of the American Heart Association (AHA) himself came on stage to talk about the importance of this feature.
According to Apple, the new sensor can now record a detailed ECG of your heart in your Health app and will notify you if it detects anomalies in your heart function. Users only need to touch the Digital Crown to activate the ECG sensor — electrodes are embedded in the sapphire underside of the Watch and the Digital Crown. You’ll have a report in 30 seconds. The Watch will also monitor heart rhythm automatically from time to time. All health data is recorded and encrypted and can be shared in PDF form with doctors. For Indians alone, there’s an international study that shows a rise in heart conditions to 34 percent of the population in the 26 years leading up to 2016. It's not known yet whether Apple will seek Indian certifications for its ECG feature, but a US FDA approval in itself is a big deal.
An ECG reading lets you know if you have a sinus heart rhythm (normal heart rate) or atrial fibrillation which is irregular heart rhythm. Atrial fibrillation or AFib or arrhythmia is characterised by an irregular heartbeat. According to the American Heart Association, "In atrial fibrillation, the upper chambers of the heart (the atria) beat irregularly (quiver) instead of beating effectively to move blood into the ventricles." If untreated, this could increase the chances of blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart-related diseases.
It's pertinent to note that the ECG reading on the Watch is just an indicative tool and does not replace a medical professional. But it will certainly save up on the time needed to go to the doctor, await your turn, take the ECG test and get the results at a regular clinic.
The best smartwatch money can buy?
Apple already has the best in class heart rate sensor on its Watch products, which constantly monitors your heart rate and alerts you of an anomaly. With the ECG support, Apple is taking health-monitoring to the next level. For a lot of people, these health-focussed benefits offered by the Apple Watch are reasons enough to invest in one.
Among its peers, the Apple Watch stands quite tall. The last generation we had seen the introduction of the Breathe app. This is a brilliant app, which on detecting higher pulse rates nudges you with a haptic feedback on the wrist, to do a breathing exercise to bring the pulse rate to normal. This generation, with the ECG support, Apple has easily outdone competition (not that there is any for miles).
When smartwatches first launched, they were merely second screens for your notifications. This was great at first, but we have seen how there hasn't really been any winner from the Android WearOS camp, as there is little focus on adding any health value to the smartwatch, the way Apple does. Yes, all smartwatches come with the fitness tracking features, that should be the bare minimum. But no other brand has made as compelling a case to invest in a smartwatch, for those who are not just geeks but regular users. The app ecosystem on the Watch is not at its peak yet, but with the larger display area, I am hoping some of the apps that abandoned the watchOS make a comeback.
Another feature that I am really looking forward to is the improved time promised for fitness tracking. I love running and one issue I had with the Watch Series 3 was that it would die out after 2.5-3 hours of usage while on a run which translates to around 25 km. The new Watch promises up to six hours of fitness tracking for activities like running. I can't wait to try this feature out.
The Apple Watch has been the chart-topper when it comes to smartwatch sales. The Android smartwatch ecosystem has been a mess and despite so many brands having smartwatches, there hasn't been a single competitor to the Watch, Samsung has been doing some impressive stuff with its Gear branded smartwatches, which will now be called the Galaxy Watch, but again, it still has a minor market share as it is based on TizenOS.
In a way, Apple Watch is to the smartwatch industry, what say an Amazon Kindle is to the e-readers segment — a category-defining product. And it's just getting better with every generation.