In brief: Apple is looking to capture as much of the health and wellness market as it can, after achieving great success with the Apple Watch among consumers. The company is launching three new medical studies for iPhone and Apple Watch owners in the US, which it says will help develop better products in the future.
Apple currently leads in the smartwatch space and has gradually augmented the capabilities of the Apple Watch with things like ECG, so now it only makes sense that it wants to collect more health data from its users.
The company launched a new Research app that it believes will "advance science" by having millions of users participate in a series of medical studies that revolve around the electrocardiogram functionality, sound meter, as well as movement data.
The new app lets people in the United States sign up for three studies called Heart and Movement, Hearing Study, and Women's Health. The first will use detailed data points that include movement and heart rate to determine the quantity and quality of a person's activity. This could provide insight into how to read early warning signs for heart disease and declining mobility.
The Hearing Study will look at headphone usage and background noise levels on iPhone and Apple Watch to look at how sound can affect stress levels and cardiovascular health. Over time, this could also help Apple determine if users can be motivated to change their listening behavior if they have a habit of listening to loud music.
Apple's Women's Health Study is the most ambitious of the three and will collect a variety of sensor data from the Apple Watch and monthly surveys to advance the understanding of women's menstrual cycles and "their relationship to various health conditions, including polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), infertility, osteoporosis and menopausal transition."
Naturally, the company emphasized the privacy aspect, noting that your data will not be shared with advertisers or sold to third-parties. Not quite what it boasted in a CES ad in January, but at least the company will tell you exactly what data is collected and you can leave the studies at any time.
Earlier this week, Apple and Stanford Medicine published the detailed results of a study that looked at the Apple Watch to measure its ability to predict atrial fibrillation using sensors and algorithms. They recruited 400,000 people that were monitored over a period of eight months while they used the smartwatch as they went about their daily lives.
Among the group, 2,000 people have received a notification of an irregular pulse and were given a patch to monitor their heart rhythm for a period of two weeks. It turns out 84 percent of the notifications were accurate and that people were more inclined to continue monitoring themselves after taking part in the study.
Of course, the researchers say this doesn't prove the Apple Watch could be used as a personal screening tool for health conditions. Cardiologists remain unconvinced, but Apple is pushing forward because it wants to be in the health marketplace. Other tech giants like Google are also placing their bets by making strategic acquisitions like Fitbit.
The problem as seen by cardiologists is that "too many people in the study and in many clinics with atrial fibrillation aren’t doing much or anything about it." It also doesn't help that Apple typically targets consumers who might be the least at risk to develop heart conditions.