Apple Watch Series 4: Time to Develop That Health App?

As expected, Apple unveiled the latest Apple Watch at its Sept. 12 event. The wearable features a number of health-related updates, including an ECG monitor and a way to detect falls.

In some ways, the Apple Watch Series 4 is the culmination of an aggressive pivot. When Apple first launched the device in 2015, it was positioned as a multi-purpose computer for the wrist, equally adept at messaging and recording workouts. With every passing iteration, however, Apple has seemed to focus more and more on health monitoring.

In a bid to establish some competitive differentiation from rivals such as Fitbit, which also focus largely on fitness, Apple’s latest health features are proactive. For example, it can produce an electrocardiogram (ECG) reading simply by pressing the crown; in theory, it will alert users to any signs of atrial fibrillation, a potentially dangerous heart rhythm. Don’t worry; the FDA gave Apple clearance for this.

The Apple Watch will also watch (pun definitely intended) for unusually fast or slow heartbeats, sending an alert if it notes irregularities. And that’s not all, as the late-night infomercials say: the device can detect if the wearer falls, and offer to call for help—a feature that could attract an older demographic that’s afraid of not being able to get back up after a tumble.

What does all this mean for developers? Beyond the health-related features, the Apple Watch Series 4 offers a larger screen (up to 35 percent larger than the Series 3) and more powerful processor, expanding the horizon for apps. Whether you’re designing a Watch app from scratch, or updating an existing one, there’s now more real estate to show “complications” (i.e., those little logos and icons that do stuff) and notifications.

From the software standpoint, watchOS 5 (the latest iteration of the Apple Watch’s operating system) features APIs for workouts and Siri, Apple’s digital assistant. If you’ve ever considered building a health-related app, but haven’t quite felt ready to devote the time and resources, now might prove an excellent time—with one caveat. Although Apple is touting the device’s ability to monitor your heart, it’s not offering developer access to that data at this point; your dreams of making an Apple Watch game that depends on heart rate are undoable for the time being.

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