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Tim Cook launches Apple Watch Series 4 in Cupertino, California on 12 September
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Apple keeps a watch on your heartbeat

THE APPLE WATCH, for all its success, ever since its release and across its various iterations, has been a somewhat confusing piece of technology. What is its purpose really? Is it a fashion accessory? Is its purpose to free us from our phones? Kevin Lynch, who was hired by Apple to make the Apple Watch, certainly seemed to think so. He once told Wired, “We’re so connected, kind of ever-presently, with technology now... People are carrying their phones with them and looking at the screen so much. People want that level of engagement. But how do we provide it in a way that’s a little more human, a little more in the moment when you’re with somebody?” Or was the Apple Watch a health tracker since it recorded workouts and had a basic heart-rate sensor? Back when it was first announced, CEO Tim Cook introduced the Apple Watch as “a precise timepiece, a new intimate way to communicate from your wrist, and a comprehensive health and fitness device”.

But we know now.

At its annual showcase event, as much mired in secrecy and theatre as always, Cook announced three new iPhones—the X, Xs Max and Xr—but perhaps the biggest talking point was its latest Apple Watch Series 4. It does not get a complete design overhaul, as was being speculated. But it gets its raison d’être. The Apple Watch, more than anything now, is a health device.

It doesn’t just come with a state-of-the-art technology. It also comes with an FDA approval. At the event, Apple COO Jeff Williams said, “Fitness is at the core of Apple Watch... And while you could always check your heart rate... it’s become an intelligent guardian for your health.”

The new Watch is loaded with a number of health features—the most interesting being that it will allow the wearer to take electrocardiogram (ECG) readings. The new series will have electrodes implanted into it, which can take a snapshot of heart fluctuations and share it in an easily readable format. This is radical because it marks the first time, as Apple claims, that an ECG product is becoming available over-the-counter to consumers. The Watch will thus allow patients to not just monitor their heart on a specific date, like it is done now by taking an ECG appointment, but to keep track of their heart activity throughout, allowing doctors to get a report of critical health data on a day-to-day basis. The Watch’s heart-rate sensors are also better. It will send notifications to the wearer if it finds that your heart rate is too low and if it detects instances of atrial fibrillation, a heart condition which can lead to a stroke or disease.

The smartwatch also comes with a fall-detection facility. So if the wearer has fallen and lies motionless for more than a minute, it will send emergency services an alert including the user’s location, apart from contacting chosen friends or family members.

According to market reports, Apple overtook Xiaomi and Fitbit in the second half of last year to become the world’s bestselling wearable tech company. But these latest features—an ECG monitor and a fall-detection facility—are pretty radical features. The world is ageing, healthcare is increasingly expensive and on everyone’s mind. A new device which taps into these concerns, perhaps even help saves lives, could just be the start of something new.

Apple has transformed at least three product categories since the start of this millennium. It transformed the MP3 player market, the cellphone market and the tablet market, all of them under Steve Jobs. Could the watch be the fourth product, this one under Cook’s watch, which will eventually transform the personal healthcare market?