How Apple’s smart music tech could push you harder in workouts

There have been many wearables and quantified-health applications over the past few years, but most have steered clear of proclaiming themselves medical devices. Some of the rumors about the iWatch (such as the fact that it will be able to listen to the sound blood makes as it flows through arteries, and use this to predict heart attacks) may sound a bit too good to be true. But the number of biosensor and biomedical engineers Apple has snapped up recently makes us think the iWatch could be a device that crosses over firmly into the "medical monitoring" category. According to one recent report, a reason for the long delay before launch is that Apple is awaiting certification from the Food and Drug Administration to get the iWatch approved as medical equipment. Given Apple's recent announcement of the Health app for iOS 8 to collect and show data on calorie consumption, sleep activity, blood oxygen levels and more, plus the conspicuous absence of a health-tracking fitness band in Apple's last iPhone 5s ad, the idea that the iWatch will be geared toward health seems as close to a foregone conclusion as you get for a device that hasn't even been officially announced yet.

Apple’s new smart music patent application would fit perfectly within a fitness-tracking device like the iWatch.

If you’re a runner or a gym user, chances are that at some point you’ve put together a workout playlist of some sort, full of the kind of Rocky-esque power ballads you want entering your ears and coursing through your veins as you strive toward physical perfection.

According to a patent application published Thursday, Apple could be looking to take a lot of the pain out of that kind of gain. The application in question deals with a handheld or wearable device capable of controlling the tempo of music so as to affect the mood and behavior of users during exercise.

It may be possible, for instance, to sync the speed and beat of your music to the steps of your running, or for gradual increases or decreases in speed to provoke similar shifts in your playlist.

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“It is well documented that music can affect the mood and behavior of people,” Apple writes in its application. “During exercise in particular, music can be used to motivate, speed and drive the intensity of the workout. For example, it is generally believed that if the music is invigorating and inspiring people will be more motivated to work out. Because of this, most gyms play music with an upbeat tempo to keep people motivated during their work out.”

While the accompanying pictures show an iPod being used as the music player in question, this technology would fit perfectly as part of Apple’s much-anticipated iWatch — particularly since the application goes on to describe the body metrics that could be analyzed to provoke certain music selections — including body motion, heart rate, respiratory rate, and temperature.

Although we don’t yet know which biometrics the iWatch will be able to read, previous patent applications have referred to smart pedometers, while rumors talk about sweat and heart rate analysis.

While Apple's patent application talks about the iPod, it describes technology that would seem to make more sense with the iWatch.

While Apple’s patent application talks about the iPod, it describes technology that would seem to make more sense with the iWatch.

The software involved in this tech would also allow Apple to intelligently analyze your music collection, perhaps filtering songs according to tempo or mood. Using algorithms like the ones acquired in the recent BookLamp acquisition, it should even theoretically be possible for Apple to delve into lyrical content, to determine whether that songs you’ve just downloaded from iTunes talks about getting stronger, or relaxing for the summer.

Apple’s Music Synchronization Arrangement patent application was filed in April this year, although its claims have been explored as far back as 2004.

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About the author

Luke DormehlLuke Dormehl is a UK-based journalist and author, with a background working in documentary film for Channel 4 and the BBC. He is the author of The Formula: How Algorithms Solve All Our Problems, And Create More and The Apple Revolution, both published by Penguin/Random House. His tech writing has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, Techmeme, and other publications. He'd like you a lot if you followed him on Twitter.

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