2020 Apple Watch Models Fail to Deliver Clinical Quality

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By Chand Bellur – September 23, 2020 at 3:32 p.m.

  • The Apple Watch is the best selling smartwatch in the world, beating its next biggest competitor, Huawei, by a factor of two.
  • 2020 Apple Watch models feature a blood oxygen sensor; however, the company admits that it is unreliable in the “fine print”.
  • Apple Watch sales have declined almost 20% compared to last year, primarily due to competition with Huawei and other Apple products.

A Brief History of the Apple Watch

Apple didn’t create the first smartwatch. Instead, it made the smartwatch everyone wanted.

The first smartwatches, developed by companies like Motorola and Samsung, were capable devices. For early wearables manufacturers, style was more of a challenge than technology.

Although the devices look like contemporary, attractive timepieces, Apple’s cachet with fashion-conscious consumers enables them to sell a lifestyle instead of just another dorky smartwatch. Those donning the iconic Apple Watch enjoy a perceived elevated status, making the high tech watch fashionable. The Apple Watch is stylish, just like Nike sneakers. No matter what competitors create, brands matter more than anything.

Since its first model debuted in 2016, the Apple Watch proved itself by dominating wearables. Unfortunately, this is a small and shrinking market.

At the time of this writing, there are 70 million Apple Watch users in the world. Compare this with the iPhone, which has 728 million. Combine this with the facts that Apple Watch revenues peaked in 2017 and sales for 2020 are in decline, and it’s clear that the device is losing favor. In a desperate attempt to increase sales, Apple markets its smartwatch as a medical device at a time when people need reliable health information more than ever.

Apple Watch Doesn’t Provide Clinical-Quality Data

One of my previous careers involved working on an electronic prescribing product for a Fortune 5 corporation. We worked tirelessly to develop a product with exceptionally high quality that physicians could use with confidence. Despite the effort, our product eventually succumbed to the lobbying efforts of a competitor.

The Apple Watch is a sort of poseur. The Cupertino marketing giant positions the device as a reliable medical instrument, with carefully chosen physicians endorsing the product. Reality lies distant from the marketing, as the Apple Watch fails to deliver accurate readings.

Washington Post tech reporter Geoffry A. Fowler recently wrote about his experiences with the latest Apple Watch. According to Fowler, the device’s newest feature, a blood-oxygen sensor, gives erratic results compared to less expensive FDA approved devices. The Fitbit smartwatch, an Apple Watch competitor, also ended up providing more accurate results.

My cousin has heart disease and underwent a quintuple bypass operation. Although he’s doing fine, needless to say, monitoring his health is a priority. Wooed by promises of accurate ECG tracking, he purchased and wore an Apple Watch.

One day, while driving in heavy traffic on the freeway, his Apple Watch couldn’t detect a heartbeat. His iPhone automatically made an emergency call based on this erroneous data. Forced to pull over on the freeway and cancel the emergency response, my cousin no longer wears an Apple Watch. He purchased an FDA approved ECG monitor for a fraction of the price.

Apple’s Marketing is Dangerous

Profits are important. We exist in an imperfect form of capitalism where corporations like Apple must please investors at any cost. As an established corporation, this means selling more of everything every quarter, including the Apple Watch.

As both iPhone and Apple Watch sales decline, the Cupertino tech company prioritizes marketing over technology to boost revenues. Selling the Apple Watch as a medical device, the company hopes to increase sales and revenues during a health crisis.

Worse than fake news, Apple’s marketing produces powerful and unfortunate consequences for the public. False alarms create fear and panic, overwhelming health care systems at a time of crisis. Putting profits ahead of the public good, Apple sells a smartwatch with an unreliable blood oxygen sensor during a global pulmonary virus outbreak.

Apple put forth some effort to help the world in a time of crisis. In addition to useful technology, Apple’s donations and other charitable contributions have made the world a better place. However, it diminishes these positive efforts by selling an unreliable device for the purposes of health and well-being. The Apple Watch is digital snake oil.

Apple’s Disclaimers Tell the Truth

If you want to know the truth about the Apple Watch, just read the fine print. The wearable is not a suitable medical device, according to Apple. One need only look past the reality distortion field to see it. 

Those interested enough to scroll to the bottom of the Apple Watch home page can read the following:

“Blood Oxygen app measurements are not intended for medical use, including self-diagnosis or consultation with a doctor, and are only designed for general fitness and wellness purposes.”

“ECG is not intended for use by people under 22 years old. With the ECG app, Apple Watch is capable of generating an ECG similar to a single-lead electrocardiogram.”

“Irregular rhythm notification requires the latest version of watchOS and iOS. It is not intended for use by people under 22 years old or those who have been previously diagnosed with atrial fibrillation (Afib).”

There you have it. The Apple Watch is what it is — a fashion statement, not an FDA-approved medical device. Like all trends, the Apple Watch will eventually fade away. It only needs to be replaced by the will to take one’s phone out of one’s pocket. 

Your smartphone is the cheapest smartwatch around. Think of it as a pocket watch, and you just saved $399, plus tax.

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