When Apple announced the Apple Watch Series 4 on Thursday morning, I was on the lookout for features that weren’t just convenient or impressive, but genuinely mind-blowing.
It’s a habit I’ve developed after noticing the long list of upgrades and refinements that come with the launch of new hardware – whether it be by Apple, Samsung or anyone else – can be a little overwhelming.
In the end, one or two features can be the difference between a bad, a good and a great product.
The Series 4 comes with plenty of improvements including a larger display, all-new watch faces, an S4 chip and haptic feedback for the Digital Crown, all of which are excellent upgrades.
But the most striking feature of the new Apple Watch: there are three different ways it could save your life.
The catch? If you don’t live in the United States, you’ll only get access to one of them.
Electrocardiagram (ECG) app
You know those machines they have in hospitals that beep ominously and show a patient’s heartbeat as a moving line? That’s an ECG, and it’s an important method doctors use to measure the electrical activity of the heart.
The Series 4 has an electrical heart rate sensor and built-in electrodes that are capable of taking an ECG over a 30-second period, which the wearer can initiate by pressing a finger on the Digital Crown while the ECG app is open. This data is saved in a PDF so it can be easily shared with a doctor, which is particularly handy for assessing symptoms that have faded by the time you get to an appointment.
The bottom line is anything that makes it easier for wearers and their doctors to recognise and diagnose heart problems is a good thing.
But a quiet footnote on the Series 4 release indicates bad news for anyone outside the States: “ECG app coming later this year (US only).”
Yep, it can be a bummer to live Down Under. Given the app has been endorsed by the American Heart Association and given a classification by the FDA, our best guess is it’s a regulatory issue regarding technology with medical applications.
It’s worth noting the US Federal Drug Administration (FDA) says the app isn’t recommended for anyone under 22 years of age, and should not be used for anyone suffering from a known heart condition that may affect heart rhythm.
Irregular rhythm notification
The Series 4 is also capable of notifying the wearer “if an irregular heart rhythm suggestive of AFib is detected”. AFib (atrial fibrillation) is a type of abnormal heart rhythm which can lead to serious complications if left undiagnosed and untreated.
Apple doesn’t guarantee the Series 4 will detect AFib in an affected wearer, and the FDA says it “is not intended to provide a notification on every episode of irregular rhythm suggestive of AFib and the absence of a notification is not intended to indicate no disease process is present”.
That being said, it’s well worth adding the feature if there’s still a chance it will make some people aware of a previously unknown condition.
Irregular rhythm notification comes standard with the ECG app, which Australians won’t have access to. The brief silver lining was that with watchOS 5, the Series 4 “intermittently analyses heart rhythms in the background and sends a notification if an irregular heart rhythm suggestive of AFib is detected.”
I say a brief silver lining because another footnote scratched the notion pretty quickly: “Irregular rhythm notification coming later this year (US only).”
Automatic fall detection
At last, some good news for Aussies. The Series 4 comes with another unique feature that could one day save your skin, and it’s not restricted to just our friends in the States.
Apple has figured out a way to use the improved accelerometer and gyroscope to detect a sudden, hard fall. If wrist trajectory and impact acceleration indicate to the Watch that you’ve eaten dirt, it will display an alert with the option to call emergency services.
The Series 4 will even call emergency services and send them your location automatically if you remain immobile for 60 seconds. And what happens if you dust yourself off and stand up, uninjured? The alert can be dismissed and you can go on your merry way.
The Series 4 looks like a really, really solid product, and there’s plenty to like from Apple’s September 12 presentation. Let’s just hope Australians can enjoy the ECG app and irregular rhythm notifications at some point in the future.
The Series 4 will be available for pre-order in Australia on Friday, September 14 and begin shipping on Friday, September 21. Pricing as follows:
- Series 4 with GPS: from A$599
- Series 4 Nike edition: from A$599
- Series 4 with GPS and cellular: from A$749
- Series 4 with GPS, cellular and stainless steel case: from A$1049