Blood oxygen-reading tech could be coming to Apple Watch

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Apple Watch Series 5 LTPO screen
Apple Watch could be about to get even more health features.
Photo: Apple

Apple may soon add to the health-tracking features in Apple Watch with the ability to detect users’ blood oxygen levels and notify users when these are at a dangerously low level.

9to5Mac discovered the potential feature in iOS 14 “code snippets” it discovered. It’s not clear exactly what the hardware and software requirements would be for the feature. That means it’s unknown if this would be a feature that could be retroactively added to existing Apple Watches or if it would be one limited to Apple’s next-gen Apple Watch.

The exact blood oxygen levels doctors would expect to see differs between patients based on their medical history. However, levels that fall below a certain threshold (somewhere between 80% and 88%) are cause for concern. For instance, measuring blood oxygen level is very important for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD kills more than 3 million people globally each year, 6% of all deaths.

Apple Watch: Blood oxygen reading and more

In recent years, a number of tech companies and organizations have started incorporating blood oxygen-reading tech in products. Fitbit, for instance, has added blood oxygen sensing to its Ionic wearable since 2017. Fitbit’s SpO2 sensor measures peripheral capillary oxygen saturation, the percentage of oxygenated hemoglobin compared to the total amount of hemoglobin in blood. Other approaches exist too.

While the core functionality of Apple’s proposed sensor isn’t clear, it seems that it would work a bit like the AFib-sensing heart rate tech on the Apple Watch. That means that it could alert users if the numbers it receives look indicative of a potentially damaging diagnosis.

The technology for tracking blood oxygen levels in Apple Watch has apparently existed since the first model. However, Apple has never put it into action.

The same 9to5Mac report says that Apple is working on an improved electrocardiogram (ECG) function and sleeps-tracking for the future.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has talked about Apple’s contribution to health care being its potential lasting legacy as a company.