Apple Watch is perhaps Apple's most exciting division, as the product has such widespread use in health, fitness, exercise, and more. There are now around 100 million Apple Watches out there on people's wrists, according to an analyst, so what's in store for the next 100 million?
There are regular rumours about the upcoming iPhone and Mac models, and in those areas forecasting the coming year can feel like a filtering process: which theories are plausible? It's a little different with the Apple Watch, which is the subject of far less speculation. Not until later in the year, when the first betas of the next operating system - in this case watchOS 8 - are leaked, will there be any indications of the watch's new functions.
But the clues are there if you know where to look. In this article we look at the way things are likely to shape up for the Apple Watch in 2021.
Less internet and more health
Apple will release watchOS 8 in the autumn. But what will the next operating system do in terms of health and fitness? It's safe to assume that Apple will add new sports to its expanded list of training types, and that some popular training sessions will be given extra treatment and their own algorithms, as happened recently, for example, for dancing in watchOS 7.
Despite the fact that there are now a few dozen types of training on the Apple Watch, almost all of them access the standard reports for Other. Only a limited number get to use additional sensors and smarter algorithms, which leads to more accurate results. Maybe next year we'll add mixed cardio or strength training to that list.
A concept design developed by 9to5Mac proposes that the next version of watchOS will feature a standalone Health app, much like the one on iOS. This will enable Apple Watch owners to access a range of health and fitness metrics in a single place.
Apple is packing more and more Siri functions on the device, so it's quite conceivable that dictation will be made possible offline. Recent patent activity shows that Apple is considering such possibilities.
Since more and more hospitals, at least in the US, are using Apple's HealthKit interface, the manufacturer wants to expand its health app and offer significantly more parameters than are currently available. This makes it possible to log the results of individual blood withdrawals in the Heath app. Apple also wants to have children's health data stored on their parents' iPhones; family sharing of a second Apple Watch on the same iPhone has been possible since watchOS 7.
We would like Apple to develop an automated detection system for brushing teeth, similar to how it currently does hand washing. The parameters for the two activities are very similar: repeatable hand movements and noise patterns.
Interestingly, a study has shown that the Apple Watch can detect COVID-19 before you know you have it.
Tim Cook recently revealed in a podcast some clues about what Apple is planning to do with the Apple Watch.
For him, the Apple Watch is still in its infancy; after all, the product has only been on the market for five years. According to Cook, the direction is very clear: the Apple Watch should have even more sensors. After all, the watch continues to rely primarily on optical sensors for heartbeat and blood oxygen measurement.
Biosensors that can monitor bodily fluids are an exciting area. Xsensio, a start-up from Switzerland, is researching a biochemical sensor that's applied to the skin and can detect even the smallest amounts of sweat, saliva and more. According to co-founder Esmeralda Megally, a few nanolitres of fluid are sufficient.
The technology is called Lab-on-Skin and in form is roughly like a conventional plaster. The heart of Lab-on-Skin is a small 5x5mm chip which performs the monitoring and then transmits the data via Bluetooth to a connected smartphone or other device. As things stand today, Lab-on-Skin can be used for a few hours; the company's longer-term plans include further development of the technology for a week or longer, for example with a smartwatch.
Megally concedes that existing fitness bands can already warn of emergencies perfectly well. The physical data recorded by a smartwatch such as speed and acceleration can also provide information about the user's gait and, to a certain extent, their fitness. However, the biochemical data recorded by Lab-on-Skin - amounts of glucose, proteins, hormones and electrolytes - can provide much deeper insights into human health.
In the future, with the help of biochemical sensors, it will be possible to determine relatively quickly whether medication has side effects for the patient, and to warn of excessive stress levels - something that's especially important when driving. These sensors will provide a deeper insight into health and how it evolves over time.
If you search through Apple's current patent applications, it becomes clear that Apple has not given up hope of continuous, interference-free blood pressure measurement.
In a recent publication, Apple's inventors describe the use of pulse transit time, which measures the time it takes your pulse to travel a certain distance within the blood system. The difference between the heart contraction and the pulse rate is measured on a finger or, in the case of the Apple Watch, on the wrist.
The current patent provides several methods of how to calculate the pulse transit time with a watch. An extra bracelet with additional electrical diodes can help here and determine the ECG and blood pressure values using a closed circuit. Another possibility would be a band that's attached just above the elbow.
There are already concepts on the web that show a much more angular Apple Watch. It remains to be seen whether Apple will actually produce such a watch.
We're pretty sure the company is still working on a borderless display. With the Apple Watch Series 4, Apple enlarged the display without fundamentally changing the case - even the same bands still fit. But the manufacturer is trying to make the already narrow bezels on the Apple Watch display disappear completely.
There is also a patent for a transparent antenna design. This would theoretically make it possible to place the required antennas directly under or in the display and thus reduce the edges again.
Apple's late-2020 iPhones feature 5G support, but we'd be surprised if the company stops there. It will most likely switch to the next generation of mobile communications for other devices as well, with the Apple Watch high on this list.
The big picture
Whereas Apple is focusing on the iPhone's cameras, the Apple Watch will provide a wide area for research and development in the years to come. Sure, not all of the technologies outlined here will appear in the Apple Watch Series 7, but it's pretty certain that Apple will have several surprises up its sleeve for its smartwatch at the next September keynote.
For more clues about Apple's future direction, read about the new products coming in January, and our thoughts on the next Apple event. If you can't wait until autumn 2021, catch a bargain on the current range with our guide to the best Apple Watch deals.
This article originally appeared on Macwelt. Translation by David Price.