Apple made a bold move into health technology during a special product event Wednesday, announcing that the Apple Watch Series 4 will track abnormal heart activity. The stock of Apple Watch competitor Fitbit dropped more than five percent following the news.
The new features have already been approved by the FDA, making the Apple Watch one of the first consumer devices with FDA clearance to be used for medical purposes. The approval opens the door for Apple to explore other medical applications of the watch, like tracking sleep disorders.
Apple executive Jeff Williams, head of the company’s Apple Watch efforts, announced from the stage that the Apple Watch will track things like atrial fibrillation, or abnormal heart rhythms, giving consumers access to an around-the-clock tracker to follow heart problems.
The data will be stored in the Apple Watch app and can be shared with a user’s doctor via a PDF. Apple did not give details on how the data can be transferred to medical professionals.
The watch will also detect when a user has fallen and let them call emergency contacts directly from the device.
“Capturing meaningful data about a person’s heart in real time is changing the way we practice medicine,” Dr. Ivor Benjamin, a cardiologist and president of the American Heart Association, said from the stage. “I’m inspired by the life-saving potential of technology.”
Normally, this kind of heart data is only measurable with an electrocardiogram test, conducted in a doctor’s office. But many symptoms of heart problems come and go, making it hard for doctors to get a grasp on patients’ health.
Atrial fibrillation is a perfect use case. The problem increases the risk of stroke and heart failure, but comes and goes as a patient moves through their daily life. It can’t be prompted in a doctor’s office or during a scan.
There are some wearable ECG sensors on the market, like AliveCor’s KardiaBand and the wearable CardeaSolo ECG monitor, produced by Kirkland, Wash.-based Cardiac Insight. However, those devices are specialized ECGs and do not offer features outside heart monitoring.
Williams said the new features will be available to customers in the U.S. later this year and will only be available on the Apple Watch Series 4, also announced at Wednesday’s event. The Series 4 will be available for pre-order on Friday and will ship to consumers on Sept. 21.
The base model comes with a GPS and will cost $399. Another model, with built-in cellular functions, will cost $499.