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Posts tagged with "health"

Apple’s Kevin Lynch on watchOS 7’s Sleep Tracking

Scott Stein of CNET interviewed Apple’s Kevin Lynch about watchOS 7’s upcoming sleep tracking feature. Unlike third-party sleep tracking wearables and apps, Apple’s approach is simpler. As Stein explains:

Unlike other wearables such as the Fitbit or Oura, which measure how much time you spend in the various sleep phases and even give calculated sleep quality scores, Apple’s sleep tech is more simplified. It just tracks duration of sleep, movement disturbances and heart rate. The content of your sleep isn’t analyzed much at all. Instead, Apple’s placed a big focus on the time you go to bed and what you do while you wind down.

Instead of tracking time spent in different sleep phases, Apple’s focus is on winding down before bed and sleep duration, using positive reinforcement to encourage better habits. As Lynch says:

“You can’t really coach yourself to have more or less REM stages,” he says. “We felt like that wasn’t the best way Apple could add value here on sleep. We focused on the transition to the bed, which we think is way more actionable, and will result in people getting a better night’s sleep, which then has secondary effects of perhaps your REM stages sorting themselves.”

I haven’t had a chance to install the watchOS 7 beta yet, but sleep tracking is right at the top of my list of features I want to try this summer. I’ve used third-party apps that made me feel anxious about my lack of sleep, so I’m keen to see how Apple’s approach stacks up.

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How the watchOS 7 Handwashing Feature Works

Brian Heater at TechCrunch has published a detailed explanation of how the upcoming handwashing feature for Apple Watch works:

The feature, which is built directly into the forthcoming version of watchOS, is designed to work like fitness tracking in a number of ways. For starters, if the user opts into it, it’s designed to automatically trigger when handwashing is detected, starting a countdown timer of 20 seconds. The accelerometer is the key piece of hardware here, waiting for the specific handwashing pattern — which apparently adopts a number of different methods, depending on who’s actually doing the scrubbing.

The system uses machine learning models to tackle different methods, but the system gets an additional nudge from the Watch’s microphone. Along with motion, the app listens for the sound of running water. Even that’s not enough, though — after all, eco sinks have become increasingly popular, meaning that there’s often less water sound to be listening for. The sound of squishing soap takes care of that last bit. It’s got a unique enough audio signature so as to confirm that handwashing is taking place.

Interestingly, the piece notes that this feature has been in the works for years, it isn’t simply a reaction to the current pandemic. I haven’t tried the feature yet, but I’m anxious to see if it works as advertised. If it’s unreliable, I’ll surely leave it turned off, but if it works well it could be a valuable aid to preventing the contraction of COVID-19. At the very least, I’m always happy to see Apple explore new areas of health.

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Apple Releases Free COVID-19 App and Website

Apple has launched a new app developed in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency called Apple COVID-19. The company released the app with a press release:

Apple today released a new screening tool and set of resources to help people stay informed and take the proper steps to protect their health during the spread of COVID-19, based on the latest CDC guidance. The new COVID-19 website, and COVID-19 app available on the App Store, were created in partnership with the CDC,1the Coronavirus Task Force and FEMA to make it easy for people across the country to get trusted information and guidance at a time when the US is feeling the heavy burden of COVID-19.

Apple's COVID-19 website.

Apple’s COVID-19 website.

In addition to a coronavirus screening questionnaire, the app and website include other resources from trusted information sources:

The app and website also offer access to resources to help people stay informed and get the support they need. Users will receive answers to frequently asked questions about COVID-19, including who is most at risk and how to recognize symptoms. In addition, they will learn the most up-to-date information from the CDC like best practices for washing hands, disinfecting surfaces and monitoring symptoms.

Users can also ask Siri “How do I know if I have coronavirus?” to access further resources and a collection of telehealth apps on the App Store.

The Apple COVID-19 app is available as a free download on the App Store, and the website is located at apple.com/covid19.


HeartWatch 4: A Streamlined Dashboard for Your Health

HeartWatch 4 released today on the App Store as a major redesign of the health dashboard app from David Walsh, creator of the popular AutoSleep app.

HeartWatch takes the existing heart and activity data captured by your Apple Watch and presents it in a different way than Apple’s own Health app. The app has long offered fresh approaches to visualizing your data, but the sheer amount of information, and how it’s organized, can easily feel overwhelming. The main goal of HeartWatch 4 was to simplify everything, making it easier to navigate and thus more approachable. Spend just a couple minutes with this update and it’s clear that it succeeded.

I’m not going to re-hash all of the functionality of HeartWatch, since we’ve covered that in the past. You still have access to important metrics like your heart’s average daily bpm, sedentary bpm, sleep data, movement stats, and more, accompanied by charts, graphs, and comparisons over time. But the way everything’s organized has been drastically improved.

In the last version of HeartWatch, a navigation bar divided the app into four main sections: Vitals, Dashboard, Activity, and More. The difference between each of these screens wasn’t immediately obvious, so until you spent significant time getting situated in the app, it felt like work trying to find what you wanted. All of that’s changed now thanks to a design that puts everything in a single scrolling view.

The new HeartWatch design is broken into Wellness, Activity, and Workout sections that are stacked vertically in the new one-stop dashboard. Inside each section is a collection of tiles for different data points, not unlike what Walsh did with the Today dashboard in AutoSleep last year. The tile design provides a great overview of data, and it’s entirely customizable so you can, from the Settings screen, disable any tiles you don’t want to see.

All of HeartWatch's great graphs and charts are just a swipe or tap behind its tiles.

All of HeartWatch’s great graphs and charts are just a swipe or tap behind its tiles.

At first glance, HeartWatch’s tile design may seem like it’s eliminated much of the valuable data comparisons and visualizations previously found in the app, but all of that is actually just hidden behind each tile. You can swipe on a tile to flip it over and get more info, or tap, or even tap and hold to view more details; personally I think loading different screens depending on whether you tap or tap and hold is overly complicated, but regardless the whole system remains a major improvement. The simple data is kept front and center, and when you want more, you can easily get to it in an intuitive way.

HeartWatch 4 includes other improvements too – like its custom activity metrics as an alternative to Apple’s rings, support for automatic system switching between light and dark modes, and an upgraded Watch app – but the highlight here is definitely the redesigned iPhone app. If you ever found HeartWatch and all of its data overwhelming, version 4 is a compelling reason to give the app another try. It’s strong evidence of the power of iteration and simplicity.

HeartWatch 4 is available on the App Store.


Apple’s Cycle Tracking: A Personal Review

The Cycle Tracking app on watchOS and inside Health on iOS.

The Cycle Tracking app on watchOS and inside Health on iOS.

Menstruation is often forgotten or overlooked – ironic considering that 50% of the population experiences it. This applied to health tracking on Apple Watch and iPhone too, which for the first year offered nothing related to menstruation, but this year Apple Watch received a dedicated Cycle Tracking app, and symptom tracking in the Health app which includes fertility tracking as well. The previous absence of this feature was notable, primarily because other competing health trackers like Fitbit offered it a long time ago.

Everyone who menstruates has different needs when it comes to tracking cycles – if you should track birth control, sexual activity, fertility, and more. What I like most about Apple’s implementation of this feature is that you can turn off elements which aren’t useful for you; I’m sure many others will do the same as me and turn off the vast majority of the options. I personally get the impression that a lot of the features are targeting people trying to conceive, and honestly, that’s not me. That said, I’ve spent a few months evaluating this setup, and comparing it to previous systems I’ve tried, and now I’m ready to talk about it.

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Apple Debuts New Research App, Launches Health Studies for Women’s Health, Hearing, and Heart and Movement

Today Apple announced the next phase of its efforts in medical research studies. Following the Heart Study which debuted in late 2017 and shared its first results earlier this year, Apple now has three new studies it’s launching at once, which users can sign up for through a brand new Apple Research app.

“Today marks an important moment as we embark on research initiatives that may offer incredible learnings in areas long sought after by the medical community,” said Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer. “Participants on the Research app have the opportunity to make a tremendous impact that could lead to new discoveries and help millions lead healthier lives.”

Users can enroll in one or more of the new studies: the Women’s Health Study, Heart and Movement Study, and Hearing Study. Each of these uses an iPhone and Apple Watch to collect certain data for the purpose of aiding medical advancements.

Anything health-related can come with plenty of privacy concerns, so the Research app’s on-boarding flow includes a very clear privacy commitment, stated in four points:

  1. Your data will not be sold.
  2. You decide which studies you join, and you can leave the study at any time.
  3. You control which types of data you share, and you can stop sharing your data at anytime.
  4. Studies must tell you how your data supports their research.

Tim Cook on multiple occasions has sought to emphasize how important the issue of health is to Apple. Far from a mere hobby, he’s said he believes health will end up being Apple’s most significant area of contribution to mankind. Studies like these are one way to help push the needle on that goal.


FoodNoms: A Privacy-Focused Food Tracker with Innovative New Ways to Log Meals

FoodNoms is a new privacy-oriented food tracking app that tackles the tedium of logging what you’ve eaten in innovative ways that make it one of the most promising apps in this category that I’ve seen in a long time.

Too often during the year, I find myself eating what’s easy, not what’s healthy. When I sense that happening, the first step I take is to open a food tracking app and log what I’ve been eating. The process imposes the discipline to help get me back on track with healthier eating habits. However, I don’t usually stick with food tracking long, mostly because I find the process tedious.

With FoodNoms, I’ve found it easier to stick with food tracking than ever before. The app’s database of foods seems a little limited compared to other apps I’ve used, and I’d like to see more ways to visualize trends over time added to the app. Still, those limitations are largely made up for by the ability to log portion accuracy and scan nutrition labels, along with the multitude of other ways to log meals. Add FoodNoms’ privacy focus, and I expect it’s going to win over a lot of people.

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NapBot: Simple Sleep Tracking Powered by CoreML

Sleep tracking is an area of health that Apple hasn’t yet formally moved into, but all signs point to that changing soon. iOS 13 saw the company build more advanced wellness tracking features into the Health app, Beddit was acquired by Apple a couple years ago, and very recently the App Store leaked evidence of a Sleep app that is (or was) in development for Apple Watch. But for the time being, anyone interested in sleep tracking with a Watch or iPhone needs a third-party app.

NapBot is one such app, a new debut from the maker of CardioBot that launched in recent weeks. NapBot applies CoreML to perform automatic sleep tracking when you’re wearing an Apple Watch to bed, the results of which you can then view in either the iPhone or Watch apps.

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Health in iOS 13: A Foundation for Apple’s Grand Wellness Ambitions

Apple’s Health app first debuted in 2014 as part of iOS 8. In the five years since its launch, Health has been one of the only iOS apps to receive redesigns every couple of years. The basic purpose of the app has remained the same through those changes, still serving as an aggregation tool for wellness data from sources like the Apple Watch to third-party apps and devices. However, Health’s regular reimagining serves as strong evidence that Apple has never quite felt content with how that original goal was being fulfilled.

It may be too early to cast judgment, but I have a strong suspicion that this year’s rebrand will stick. iOS 13’s Health app finally brings a design that feels intuitive and user-friendly, doing away with complication and creating a streamlined, inviting interface. Simultaneously, this year’s update adds compelling new features related to cycle tracking and hearing health that may hint at an evolving vision for the Health app’s future.

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