Apple Watch Series 6 could save even more lives with blood-oxygen sensor

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For the first time, there's a Product Red Apple Watch.
For the first time, there's a Product Red Apple Watch.
Photo: Apple

With a built-in blood-oxygen sensor, the new Apple Watch Series 6 puts health front and center, making it the perfect smartwatch for a pandemic.

The new Apple Watch also comes in several new colors, including blue and red, and naturally it comes with multiple new watch faces. There’s even several new types of bands, including the stretchy Solo Loop, which comes in seven colors.

That’s all just window dressing, though. During Tuesday’s Time Flies event, Apple execs stressed the importance of Apple Watch as a vital tool for fitness and health.

“Each year, Apple Watch raises the bar, adding new features and technology that improve our lives,” said Apple COO Jeff Williams. “This year, Apple Watch takes another big leap forward.”

Apple Watch Series 6 blood-oxygen sensor

The Apple Watch Series 6 Blood Oxygen app lets you measure oxygen saturation in just 15 seconds.
The new Blood Oxygen app lets you measure oxygen saturation in just 15 seconds.
Photo: Apple

The key new feature in Apple Watch Series 6 is the blood-oxygen sensor that can provide an early warning of a variety of health problems. A new Blood Oxygen app tracks a key measurement that could provide an early warning for some people infected by COVID-19. Unlike commonly used pulse oximeters, which measure oxygenation level when a patient inserts their finger into the inexpensive device, the new Apple Watch sensor can check the wearer’s status around the clock. Apple said it takes just 15 seconds to take the measurement.

“Oxygen saturation, also known as SpO2, is like a vital sign,” said Dr. Sumbul Ahmad Desai, Apple’s VP of health, during the event. “It’s a key measurement that contains critical information about your breathing and circulation.

“Blood oxygen and pulse oximetry are terms that we’ve heard a lot about during the COVID pandemic,” she continued. “As you breathe, your heart and lungs work together to deliver oxygen throughout your body, but oxygen saturation is an indication of how well the system is functioning and of your overall respiratory and cardiac health. And pulse oximetry is how you measure it.”

Blood oxygen sensor is for ‘fitness and wellness’

Desai said Series 6 “lets you measure your blood oxygen, for fitness and wellness purposes, from your wrist, anywhere, at any time. This is a great new tool for your overall well-being.”

She also said Apple is launching three new research studies “to learn how longitudinal blood oxygen measurements, along with other health metrics from Apple Watch, can help manage conditions that affect the heart and lungs.”

The studies focus on asthma, heart failure and the interplay of COVID-19 and influenza. A low blood-oxygen level can indicate “silent hypoxia” caused by worsening pneumonia in a person infected with COVID-19 — even in people who feel fine.

Apple Watch evolves into a health powerhouse

Launched in 2015 with a fashion focus, Apple Watch quickly evolved to tackle health- and fitness-related features. An ECG feature added two years ago in Apple Watch Series 4 accurately detects atrial fibrillation and has been credited with saving lives. (Same goes for the fall-detection feature.)

The switch to fitness and health helped make Apple Watch a success. Apple’s wearables business, which started as something of a novelty with Apple Watch and expanded to include AirPods, rapidly grew to the size of a Fortune 200 company. Today, Apple Watch totally dominates the smartwatch category.

New Apple Watch colors and bands

The stretchy Solo Loop band for Apple Watch Series 6 doesn't need a clasp.
The stretchy Solo Loop band doesn’t need a clasp.
Photo: Apple

While Apple definitely wants the Watch to deliver the goods when it comes to fitness and health, the company also wants it to look good and feel comfortable on your wrist. Williams called Apple Watch Series 6 “the perfect combination of powerful features and beautiful design.”

Introducing what he called “our most colorful lineup ever,” he ticked off a variety of new colors, finishes and accessories. Apple Watch Series 6 is available in a new blue aluminum case, an updated gold stainless steel finish, a new gray-black stainless steel finish called graphite, and a Product Red version.

New Apple Watch faces in watchOS 7

In a Jony Ive-style video, Alan Dye, Apple’s VP of human interface design, talked up multiple new Apple Watch faces.

The new faces in watchOS 7 are:

  • GMT (which lets you get a grip on multiple time zones)
  • Count Up (tracks elapsed time)
  • Chronograph Pro (which includes a tachymeter)
  • Typograph (for font freaks)
  • Artist (a strange-looking, animated cartoon head created in collaboration with Geoff McFetridge)
  • Memoji (for the vain, obviously, but also for kids using watches without their own iPhones in a Family Setup)
  • Stripes (which brings all the stripes)

Those will all be available to at least some older watches via the watchOS 7 update.

Apple Watch Solo Loop band

Williams also showcased a new band style called the Solo Loop, which he called “completely different” from traditional bands.

“The Solo Loop is remarkably simple,” he said. “No clasp. No buckle. No overlapping parts — just one continuous piece. Made from custom liquid silicone, the Solo Loop is stretchable, so you can easily slip it on and off your wrist. It looks great, and it’s durable, and it’s swim-proof, so it can go anywhere.”

The Solo Loop comes in multiple sizes and seven colors. A similar new style, called the Braided Solo Loop, is made from 100% recycled yarn that is “meticulously braided with ultra-thin silicone threads,” Williams said. That band will be available in five colors.

The Braided Solo Loop for Apple Watch Series 6 comes in five colors.
The Braided Solo Loop comes in five colors.
Photo: Apple

Apple Watch Series 6 specs

But what’s inside?

“Whether you’re measuring blood oxygen, making a phone call on your watch, or simply checking your Activity rings, it’s all made possible by Apple Silicon,” Williams said. “Inside Series 6 is our sixth-generation system in package. It’s a purpose-built design that’s absolutely unique in the industry.”

The S6 chip runs up to 20% faster than the previous chip, he said, thanks to a high-performance, dual-core processor. It’s based on iPhone 11’s A13 Bionic chip, but optimized for Apple Watch.

Williams also said Series 6’s always-on display is more than 2.5 times brighter outside. And an always-on altimeter constantly measures your altitude.

Family Setup is good for kids (and older adults’)

Family Setup will work with Apple Watch Series 4 and greater (and certain launch partners)
Family Setup will work with Apple Watch Series 4 and greater (and certain launch partners)
Photo: Apple

Another new feature could help make Apple Watch Series 6 — and the lower-cost Apple Watch SE, also introduced Tuesday — easier for families to stomach. Called Family Setup, it lets multiple Apple Watches pair to a single iPhone.

“With Family Setup, you can use your iPhone to pair watches for your children or older members in your household who don’t have their own phones, and they will have their own phone number and account,” said Apple Watch director Deidre Caldbeck.

It requires a cellular Apple Watch model (Series 4 and later) and will be available at launch with certain carrier partners in a handful of countries, with more coming this year, Caldbeck said.

Also helping ease families into a multiple Apple Watch situation: A new two-year installment payment plan that makes the $279 Apple Watch SE available for just $12 a month.

New features in watchOS 7

Apple Watch Series 6 runs watchOS 7, which Cupertino introduced during its virtual Worldwide Developers Conference keynote in June.

Key new health-related features include “holistic” sleep tracking and a hygiene app that reminds wearers to wash their hands for a full 20 seconds.

On the fitness front, watchOS 7 adds four new workouts: dance, functional strength training, core training and cooldown. The Apple Watch’s companion Activity app on iPhone gets a new name — Fitness — and a new design that streamlines your activity and workout data.

The new Apple Watch software also comes with some functional and fashionable upgrades. watchOS 7 adds shareable watch faces so users can swap their favorite setups.

Apple Watch Series 6 will be available today for preorder and ships Friday. Like its predecessor, prices start at $399.

Get ready for new Apple Watch faces!
Get ready for new Apple Watch faces!
Photo: Apple