A new Apple Watch strap — and the first medically approved Apple Watch accessory — has recently received FDA clearance. The aftermarket band could open up additional heart monitoring and health capabilities for Cupertino’s flagship wearable.
The AliveCor KardiaBand, as the device is called, is a Bluetooth-connected strap that takes on-the-spot electrocardiogram (EKG) readings. That’s a step above the optical heart rate sensor already included on the Apple Watch, and it means that the KardiaBand can better track atrial fibrillation — an irregular and typically rapid heart rate that can increase a person’s chance of stroke, heart failure or other complications.
To use the KardiaBand, a user must place their thumb or finger on a metal contact embedded in the strap, which completes a circuit with another metal contact that rests against a user’s wrist. By most measures, it’s a discreet and easy process. The EKG reading takes about 30 seconds, and the resulting data can be stored in-app, imported to Apple’s Health app, or even sent to a user’s own doctor for further analysis.
In addition, AliveCor’s proprietary Kardia app tracks heart rate continuously with the Apple Watch’s onboard sensor. It can detect when a user’s heart rate seems out of place, using AI and a neural network to establish patterns based on previous activity and history. If the app detects a problem, it will ping a user to take an EKG reading.
Apple has already well-established the fact that it wants the Apple Watch to be a cornerstone of modern, healthy lifestyles. The Apple Watch itself has proven to be an invaluable tool for monitoring heart rates — in one case, a man said the device’s heart monitoring saved his life. But Apple’s health ambitions may stretch well beyond its chief wearable. At one point, the company was even exploring the acquisition of an on-site medical clinic startup.
Additionally, just today, Apple announced the official U.S. launch of its Apple Heart Study — a ResearchKit-based study being conducted in collaboration with Standard School of Medicine. While it may be the most significant, it’s certainly not the first Apple Watch-focused health study.
Wearable heart monitor technology that’s medically sanctioned isn’t too common yet, but all signs point toward the technology blooming in the near future. In recent years, the FDA has even made it easier for tech firms to produce health-monitoring devices, software and accessories. Apple, it seems, is again on the tip of the spear.
Appearance-wise, the KardiaBand appears to be nothing more than an unassuming black Apple Watch strap. It’s compatible with Apple Watch Series 1, Series 2 and Series 3 — which is to say, any Apple Watch except the original. It retails for $199 with EKG recording functionality via email or print. Additional capabilities, like cloud storage, history and monthly reports sent to your doctor, cost $99 a year for Alivecor’s premium subscription.