Fitbits Just Received Blood Oxygen Monitoring via Software Update (Is the Apple Watch Next?)

The feature could allow for improved sleep tracking and even detecting sleep apnea.
Fitbit Charge 3 Credit: Lukmanazis / Shutterstock
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While Fitbit has been struggling in the face of stiff competition from the Apple Watch, the smartwatch maker has managed to beat Apple to the punch on one feature.

Fitbit is launching a new feature that will allow its existing smartwatches and fitness trackers to measure blood oxygen levels. The feature is currently being rolled out via a software update in the U.S., Tizenhelp reported on Wednesday.

That ability should be showing up for U.S. users on Fitbit models with an SP02 sensor, which includes the Fitbit Ionic, Versa and Charge 3.

It seems like Fitbit is deploying the feature rather quietly, however. Tizenhelp points out that it discovered the rollout because Fitbit users in the U.S. started noticing new blood oxygen saturation data in the Fitbit app.

Measuring SP02 levels could help Fitbit devices track sleep patterns better, and may even be used to detecting breathing-related issues such as sleep apnea. The Fitbit app notes that SP02 levels are “estimated,” however.

Why Doesn’t the Apple Watch Have Blood Oxygen Level Monitoring?

The Apple Watch is the industry’s dominant fitness tracker and smartwatch — and it isn’t even close. So why doesn’t Apple’s flagship wearable offer similar functionality?

It isn’t clear. But, on the other hand, Apple could theoretically “switch on” blood oxygen level tracking via a software update just like Fitbit.

Back in 2015, popular teardown site iFixit reported that the Apple Watch appeared to have the necessary hardware to allow for measuring blood oxygen levels. Because of that, the lack of such a feature likely comes down to regulatory approval.

The Apple Watch does currently offer V02 max measurements. But since that metric needs a face mask for accurate readings, the watchOS V02 max statistics are estimated via heart rate.

Of course, since the Apple Watch likely already has the necessary components for SP02 tracking, the company may be planning on enabling the feature on current and past Apple Watch models in a future watchOS update.

It may even have more of an incentive to add SP02 tracking since Fitbit now has the feature.

Until then, Apple Watch users will need to wait for a software update to measure their SP02 levels, buy a Fitbit, or opt for an ultra-affordable solution like this one to hold them over in the meantime.

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