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Apple debuts pulse oximetry, wearables studies in Apple Watch Series 6 launch

SNL Image

Apple Watch Series 6

Source: Apple Inc.

Apple Inc. is continuing its mission to give consumers access to their own health data by adding even more health features to its Apple Watch Series 6 — including pulse oximetry.

Company representatives made the official announcement of these updates at the virtual Apple Event on Sept. 15.

The pulse oximetry feature measures the amount of oxygen in users' blood by shining red and infrared light onto users' wrists and measuring the amount of light that reflects back. Using a machine-learning algorithm, the watch can then tell users what their blood oxygen levels are based on the color of their blood.

"Blood oxygen and pulse oximetry are terms that we've heard a lot about during the COVID pandemic," Sumbul Ahmad Desai, vice president of Apple Health, said in the virtual announcement. "Blood oxygen saturation is an indication of how well the system is functioning and of your overall respiratory and cardiac health."

Desai also said the company is launching three new research studies to see whether patients with heart and lung conditions can benefit from longitudinal blood oxygen measurements and other health measurements on the Apple Watch.

One of these studies will look at how users can manage and control asthma using the watch, and Apple will be partnering with the University of California, Irvine, and Anthem Inc. Another study will be how Apple Watch's health metrics can better manage heart failure alongside University Health Network and the University of Toronto. Apple is partnering with Johnson & Johnson on the Heartline study to see if the watch can detect atrial fibrillation and reduce strokes.

The final partnership with the Seattle Flu Study and the University of Washington School of Medicine will look at how changes in blood oxygen levels and heart rate could be indicators of COVID-19 or the flu. Some researchers, like the Scripps Research Translational Institute, have already been looking at whether smartwatches or fitness trackers can detect early signs of influenza-like illnesses.

Other new health features of the Series 6 watch include sleep tracking and metrics as well as a hand-washing coach, both of which were teased at the World Wide Developers Conference. The watch will also measure users' VO2 max, the maximum rate of oxygen consumption during exercise. In an update later this year, users will be alerted whenever their VO2 max levels drop too low.

The company is also releasing Fitness+, a subscription service for Apple Watch users who want access to workout videos.

The Apple Watch Series 6 is available for preorder Sept. 15 and will begin shipping Sept. 18.