Apple Watch’s Blood Oxygen and ECG Sensors Are Not Compatible with Family Setup

Apple Watch S6 Blood Oxygen Sensor Credit: Apple
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While we don’t imagine too many people will be considering going all the way to an Apple Watch Series 6 for their kids — after all, that seems to be an ideal target market for the Apple Watch SE instead — it turns out there’s another reason that it’s probably not worth considering Apple’s flagship model for another member of your family: The blood oxygen sensor.

As MacRumors has discovered, it appears that the new Family Setup feature in the Apple Watch automatically precludes the use of the new blood oxygen sensor on the Apple Watch Series 6.

In other words, if you’re purchasing an Apple Watch for your kids or elderly parents who don’t have their own iPhone, they won’t be able to monitor their blood oxygen.

To be fair, much like the ECG feature that was introduced two years ago with the Apple Watch Series 4, the new SPO2 sensor is only available for use by Apple Watch users who are 18 years of age or older, as determined by their birthdate as set in the Health app. However, Apple seems to be taking that one step further now with its new Family Setup feature, effectively locking out the blood oxygen sensor from users whose Apple Watches have been set up as part of a family — regardless of the user’s age.

In fact, after a quick look at Apple’s support article on Family Setup, we’ve discovered it’s not just the blood oxygen sensor either; Apple Watch Family Setup users also won’t get access to the ECG, irregular heart rhythm notifications, Cycle Tracking, or Sleep tracking.

In other words, if you’re buying an Apple Watch for another family member to use with Family Setup, there’s almost no reason to spend the extra money on an Apple Watch Series 6, as all you’ll really be gaining is the always-on display. In fact, it’s starting to make a lot of sense as to why Apple chose to exclude these sensors from the Apple Watch SE.

Limitations of Family Setup

There’s actually a list of non-health features that Apple Watch Family Setup users won’t have access to either, including Podcasts, Remote, News, Home, and Shortcuts, which seems like an odd set of exceptions, although we suspect these may be partly because they require a paired iPhone in order to function properly, which an Apple Watch Family Setup user won’t have.

This may also explain Apple’s reasoning behind excluding advanced health features. Since there’s no personal iPhone associated with an Apple Watch using Family Setup, that means there’s also no Health app for information on these vital stats to be recorded in. While pure notifications might still arguably be useful, a lack of any recorded history of this data would make them considerably less practical when it came to following up with a family doctor.

While there are ways that Apple could eventually address this, there’s no simple way forward as long as the user doesn’t have a personal iPhone to record this data on, since Apple likely wants to avoid running afoul of privacy issues that could arise from recording one person’s health data on someone else’s device.

It’s also worth noting that it’s not strictly an age issue, since Apple does enable age-restricted features like Fall Detection on Family Setup Apple Watches, and users 13 and over will also be able to use high and low heart rate notifications, just not irregular rhythm notifications. What’s also interesting is that kids under the age of 13 will also be tracked in the Activity app using move minutes, rather than active calories.

While these health restrictions might be somewhat disappointing if you were considering an Apple Watch for an elderly parent or another relative, it’s important to keep in mind that the ECG and SPO2 sensors are not considered to be valid for actual medical diagnostic purposes anyway, so an Apple Watch shouldn’t be considered a substitute for a proper medical-grade health monitor.

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