We began hearing rumours earlier this year that Apple was exploring the idea of adding blood oxygen monitoring capabilities to the Apple Watch, either as a new feature in the upcoming Apple Watch Series 6, or perhaps even enabling it within a watchOS 7 update. However, when WWDC 2020 came and went with nary a word about it in the watchOS 7 announcement, many believed that maybe it wasn’t in the cards for this year.
Of course, one might think that something like blood oxygen monitoring would require a new sensor, in which case it would be a hardware feature coming to the Apple Watch Series 6, and therefore Apple wouldn’t spill the beans during the watchOS 7 debut. However, the fact that Fitbit was able to add it through a software update understandably led to the expectation that Apple should be able to do the same thing with prior Apple Watch models as well. After all, an Apple Watch is a much more sophisticated device than a Fitbit and there have been suggestions that the necessary hardware has been in the Apple Watch since at least 2015.
With all of the focus being on the watchOS 7 software right now we haven’t really heard much at all recently about what the Apple Watch Series 6 might include, but a more effective blood oxygen monitoring sensor is still a safe bet, and it seems that Apple has in fact been hard at work on it.
According to a new report from DigiTimes, the Apple Watch Series 6 will not only gain the ability to detect blood oxygen, but may also include improved sensors across the board, although the details remain a bit unclear, since of the biosensors mentioned by sources, only blood oxygen seems to be particularly new.
“Apple Watch 6 will feature biosensors that can monitor sleeping conditions, detect blood oxygen and measure pulse rates, heartbeats and atrial fibrillation, and will also incorporate MEMS-based accelerometer and gyroscope, all allowing the new device to continue to lead in measurement precision among wearable devices.”
The Apple Watch has been capable of measuring heart conditions for a while now, and Apple already announced that watchOS 7 will bring the ability to monitor sleeping conditions, although the DigiTimes report does make us wonder if perhaps the Series 6 could gain additional sensors that would provide even more sleep tracking capabilities, since at least as of the current watchOS 7 betas, only basic sleep time and heart rate seem to be tracked when wearing the Apple Watch to bed right now.
Despite the lack of any mention of it in Apple’s watchOS 7 announcement, evidence for blood oxygen sensing capabilities was found in an early watchOS 7 beta by 9to5Mac back in March, which also revealed a few details about how the feature would work to help users get notified when blood oxygen levels drop below a healthy threshold — readings that could suggest a serious respiratory or cardiac problem.
It was never clear from the code, however, what Apple Watch models would support the feature, but despite the belief that current models could support blood oxygen monitoring, it seems that it may indeed only be coming to the Apple Watch Series 6. This could simply be a matter of Apple trying to differentiate the new model in some way, but it seems more likely that Apple is aiming for a more sophisticated set of blood oxygen monitoring sensors than what other vendors have been able to implement so far.
That said, this wouldn’t be the first time that Apple has delayed announcing a new watchOS feature until a new Apple Watch model is released. Back in 2018, watchOS 5 added irregular heart rhythm notifications to all Apple Watch models going back to the Series 1, but Apple didn’t mention that at WWDC 2018 as it actually formed part of the much bigger announcement of the ECG capabilities in the Apple Watch Series 4.
So in a similar vein, it’s entirely possible that Apple could still bring blood oxygen monitoring to existing Apple Watch models, but that it’s waiting to announce this until the Apple Watch Series 6 is ready with more sophisticated sensors and advanced health features that may go beyond what the current Apple Watch is capable of.