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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Apple Watch takes a steer towards health

The latest watch will be able to detect an irregular heartbeat

Apple's chief operating officer Jeff Williams announced the features of the new watch. AFP
Apple's chief operating officer Jeff Williams announced the features of the new watch. AFP

It didn’t appear that iPhones were the main event at Apple’s big announcement on Wednesday, Instead, the Apple Watch took pride of place.

Looking for ways to lessen reliance on phones, which represent more than 60 per cent its revenue, Apple opened its event by announcing the new Apple Watch Series 4 with edge-to-edge displays, like its latest phones, and they are more than 30 per cent bigger than displays on current models.

It is positioning the new watch as a more comprehensive health device, able to take an electrocardiogram to detect an irregular heartbeat and start an emergency call automatically if it detects a user falling down, potentially appealing to older customers.

The US Food and Drug Administration said it worked with Apple to develop apps for the Apple Watch and has been taking steps to ease the regulatory pathway for companies seeking to create digital healthcare products.

As many as 6.1 million Americans have atrial fibrillation, a heart disease involving irregular heart rhythm for which the watch could offer an early warning. That number is expected to double by 2050 as the population gets older, according to the American Heart Association.

"This does have a lot of potential for patients," said Dr Michael Valentine, president of the American College of Cardiology and a cardiologist at Centra Health in Lynchburg, Virginia. "Clinicians face patients every day with palpitations, rapid heart rates and other symptoms", and the doctors want a more portable monitoring and recording system, he said.

BMO Capital Markets analyst Joanne Wuensch said that physicians would be unlikely to make medical treatments based on data from the watch, though it could encourage patients to see cardiologists.

Healthcare technology analyst Ross Muken at Evercore said many companies were developing monitoring devices. "This update really establishes the company’s increasing efforts to push the watch as a serious medical device," he said of the new Apple Watch.

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Shares of fitness device rival Fitbit Inc fell 6.9 per cent after the Series 4 announcement on Wednesday.

Apple's event was held at the Steve Jobs Theatre in its new circular headquarters in Cupertino, California, named after the company's co-founder, who wowed the world with the first iPhone in 2007.