Apple unveils Apple Watch Series 6 with blood-oxygen sensor

Apple introduced its new Apple Watch Series 6 on Tuesday that features a blood-oxygen sensor capable of taking real-time readings in 15 seconds. Jeff Williams, Apple's chief operating officer, said the Series 6 model "completely redefines what a watch can do," with the company noting that the new sensor "conveniently measures the oxygen saturation (SpO2) of the user's blood, so they can better understand their overall fitness and wellness."

According to the company, the blood-oxygen sensor uses green, red and infrared LEDS, as well as four photodiodes on the back crystal of the Apple Watch to measure the light reflected back from an individual's blood. It then uses an algorithm built into the accompanying app, which is designed to measure blood-oxygen between 70% and 100%. The company noted that on-demand measurements can be taken while the user is still, and periodic background measurements occur when they are inactive, including during sleep. The unveiling follows Fitbit's launch last month of its Fitbit Sense smartwatch, which also has SpO2 tracking built in.

Health studies planned

Meanwhile, Apple said it plans to work with researchers to conduct three studies that include using the Apple Watch to explore how blood-oxygen levels can be used for future health applications. This year, it will partner with the University of California, Irvine, and Anthem to investigate how longitudinal measurements of blood oxygen and other physiological signals can help manage and control asthma.

Apple added that it will also work with researchers at the Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research and the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre at the University Health Network to examine how blood-oxygen measurements and other Apple Watch metrics can help manage heart failure. Meanwhile, investigators at the Brotman Baty Institute for Precision Medicine at the University of Washington will study how signals from apps on Apple Watch, such as Heart Rate and Blood Oxygen, could serve as early signs of respiratory conditions such as influenza and COVID-19.

The Series 6 model runs on watchOS 7, which the company previewed in June. The software update adds sleep tracking, automatic handwashing detection, low-range VO2 Max, which measures maximum oxygen consumption, and new workout types.

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