Me, myself and my Apple Watch: how wearable tech is becoming our health assistant.

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On: September 22, 2019
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Wearable devices that monitor our health are not exciting anymore, and one could even say they are mainstream. In fact, according to the research by Business Insider, more than 80% of respondents are willing to wear one (Phaneuf). Yet, it might be for different reasons then you would expect.

The UNcool factor of the wearable tech

Wearable tech has a history of coming and going. A significant deciding factor in which devices will stay an go on to become a part of our lives seems to lie in the so-called “cool factor”. Google Glass is a perfect example of a seemingly promising tech that failed miserably. So far it has been deemed impossible to wear with critics explaining that “Google Glass makes you look like a ‘dick on a Segway” (Souppouriss) or that it “is sure to freak out people if you wear the device while out at a bar” (Reed). So what makes a wearable tech successful? Contrary to Google Glass, Apple Watch was easily embraced by the audience. For one, the familiarity of the device allowed the users to ease into the idea of wearable tech (Dow). What is more, Apple Watch promised to free us from the angst of constant notifications from devices we carry while simultaneously giving us more insight and control over yet another aspect of our lives- our health (Phaneuf).

In contrast to that, Google Glass, with its clunky design, seemed to represent yet another device obstructing our freedom instead of providing us with a new life improvement technology.


Simple as that, the concept of tech crawling onto our bodies and monitoring us even closer was packaged and sold much better by Apple. The cool factor might explain why, initially, a gimmick like the Apple Watch would become so successful. The question is, why would people continue to buy the Apple Watch when it has not exactly delivered on its promise of freeing us from carrying other devices like phones or laptops? The answer might lie in it’s previously mentioned health monitoring capabilities.

Apple a day…

In the recent statement, Apple has announced its newest plans of expanding into the medical field. The company is planning to use data collected by the Apple Watch to further medical research in three new departments; Women’s Health Study, Apple Heart, Movement Study and Apple Hearing Study (apple.com). These three new features in combination with the already established ability to record ECG (electrocardiogram) better than any other watch make Apple’s product stand out on the market. Apple offers a possibility of being able to watch over your health, thus crossing over from a fun gadget to a medical tool category. What is more, the medical society seems to be excited about these improvements adding even more reassurance to Apple’s new medical ventures (Gonzalez). If this information is not enough to convince you to check your own health with the use of Apple Watch, the company has released a new spot featuring real stories of people whose lives were saved thanks to the watch. 

Though Apple does not (yet) claim the watch to be a medical device, its marketing suggests otherwise (Song). Particularly specific claims by Apple has brought the attention of critics. So far, despite the recent announcements, there has not yet been any scientific evidence that would support the claim that the Apple Watch could accurately monitor women’s health and by that eventually help diagnose infertility, osteoporosis, pregnancy and menopausal transition (Song). Considering how many failed attempts have been made to build applications that would diagnose most of the mentioned cases, Apple Watch is taking on a considerable task. Moreover, if the research done by Apple is based on self-reported data from Apple Watch users, it does pose questions of biases or possible errors. Despite these shortcomings, the customers of Apple seem to be continuously interested in the product (Song).

 And so our watch begins

One could point towards the features of the watch that correspond with people’s inherent need to reassure themselves about the state of their health (Shull, 2016). Thanks to the live tracking of our everyday actions, devices like the Apple Watch can summarize and datafy our health. At least in theory, when the user receives a comprehensive review of their health, he or she should be motivated to act on it (Shull, 2016). Multiple research points to the presumable health benefits that might come from increased awareness about the state of one’s health (Hall et al.; Agu et al.). Though as mentioned before, suggesting that a smartwatch is accurate enough to allow users to be in charge of their own health might be harmful. Doctors have issued concerns about the possibility of Apple Watch users trying to self-diagnose themselves and missing the symptoms of a bigger problem. Some argue that allowing people to monitor themselves constantly might even lead to false-positive diagnosis and unnecessary treatment (Chen). Despite these flaws, it is worth mentioning that when announcing its new course in research Apple has vouched to protect medical data collected from the users and assured its audience that they will not source anything without their approval. With data leaks scandals resulting in big companies being pressured to increase their security, such promise might be the most attractive USP of a tech company. The fact that Apple felt the need to mention data security in its Apple Watch presentation is symptomatic of said pressure. In fact, even though a smartwatch might encourage us to monitor our own steps, it seems that we now have the power to turn the gaze towards its makers.

Bibliography

Apple

http://www.apple.com/

Chen, Angela. “Why Doctors Are Worried about the Apple Watch EKG.” The Verge, 9 Jan. 2019, https://www.theverge.com/2019/1/8/18172132/apple-watch-ekg-electrocardiogram-health-science.

Reed, Brad. “Google Glass Is Back and It Still Looks Stupid.” New York Post, 29 Dec. 2015, https://nypost.com/2015/12/29/google-glass-is-back-and-it-still-looks-stupid/.

Gonzalez, Robbie. “The Apple Watch Is Now the Control Center for Your Health.” The Wured, 6 Apr. 2019. https://www.wired.com/story/the-apple-watch-is-now-the-control-center-for-your-health/.

Phaneuf, Alicia. “Latest Trends in Medical Monitoring Devices and Wearable Health Technology.” The Business Insider, 19 July 2019, https://www.businessinsider.com/wearable-technology-healthcare-medical-devices?international=true&r=US&IR=T.

Schüll, Natasha Dow. “Data for life: Wearable technology and the design of self-care.” BioSocieties 11.3 (2016): 317-333.

Song, Victoria. “The Apple Watch’s Next Trick Could Be Battling Pseudoscience—But Questions Remain.” Gizmodo, 13 Sept. 2019, https://gizmodo.com/the-apple-watchs-latest-trick-could-be-battling-pseudos-1838021130.

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