Apple‘s Vice President of Technology, Kevin Lynch, recently held a lengthy interview with TechCrunch regarding the company’s advancements and aspirations within the health sphere.
In 2014, Apple came out with the Apple Health app to allow users to track and record their heart rate, which was first collected with the original Apple Watch
. However, Apple quickly realized the potential in fusing this software with its constantly improving hardware, to bring a whole slew of personal health data to people’s fingertips—and it’s been expanding ever since.
One of the new sensor-equipped gadgets to bring health-relevant data to users may be none other than Apple’s AirPods
, as Lynch slipped to the TechCrunch reporter near the end of yesterday’s interview.
The latest model of the AirPod earbuds
, the AirPods Pro
, already feature a pair of dual optical sensors, a motion
-detecting accelerometer, a speech-detecting accelerometer, and a force sensor, all inside the tiny chasse fitted inside the ear.
While we don’t know of any new sensors coming to AirPods
Pro in the near future, these existing ones could well be leveraged to monitor a variety of things related to one’s overall health, just like the iPhone and Apple Watch already do.
Supporting this new information is a Bloomberg report
from last month, which promises that next year’s second-generation AirPods Pro are going to have their motion sensors updated with particular attention to fitness tracking. Once they do, this data is sure to be integrated into the Health App—which would be another growth spurt for Apple’s evolving health system.
Reliable Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has also reported similar information in a separate statement in the past. Kevin Lynch hinted that Apple sees lots of potential for leveraging as many devices as possible to monitor health data—and is likely going to be adding AirPods to the mix.
We already do sensor fusion across some devices today, and I think there’s all kinds of potential here. —Kevin Lynch, VP of Technology
Apple Health has come a long way
Apple’s entire health-monitoring ecosystem all started with a heart rate monitor integrated into the Apple Watch, and a consequent iPhone app developed to easily deliver users that information.
[At first], we were showing people their heart rate, and you could look at it — we were using it for calorimetry. But some users actually were looking at their heart rate when they weren’t working out, and noticed it was high. […]They would go talk to their doctor, and the doctor would find a heart issue, and we would start getting letters about this. We still get letters today about our work in the space, which is amazing. But some of those early letters were clueing us into ‘Wait, we could actually look for that ourselves in the background’.
Since then, the existing fusion of Apple’s technologies has come a long, long way. It now not only simply tracks your heart rate, but matches it to your currently assessed level of activity, and comparing that to known health data, can notify you if you have a dangerously low or high heart rate.
Of course, that’s only the beginning. Leveraging Apple’s devices, the Health app can also keep track of your activity intensity, calorie burn, metabolic rate—it can even take your sleep metrics. This means that you can monitor your blood oxygen levels during sleep, track how much time you spend asleep, as well as your sleeping respiratory rate (a feature coming this fall).
We’ll also be seeing mobility metrics being taken later this year, tracked in terms of “walking steadiness,” which assesses your balance, strength, step symmetry (or lack thereof), and gait. It will let you know if it detects a lack of balance or symmetry in your walk, or other abnormalities, and let you know if you are at an increased risk of falling.
Apple is favoring iPhone sensors over Apple Watch sensors for Walking Steadiness, as your phone is usually in a better position to do so (in your pocket, presumably).
With iOS 15 this year, the Health app will also be able to track your food and calorie intake for you. It will also allow you to share your health data both privately (with loved ones worried about your health, for example), or publicly, such as with your doctor.
All of this has become possible in the span of only a few years, but Apple is clearly already looking towards the future for more possibilities and ways to expand its health monitoring services.