As Apple Watch tops Cleveland Clinic accuracy trial, hints emerge about its future

By Jonah Comstock

It's been a big couple of days for Apple's Apple Watch, which came out ahead in a small study published in the Journal of American Medical Association Cardiology journal yesterday. Additionally, news broke today of two patents that could predict some intriguing future features for the device, and Politico reported on a potential new healthcare use case with the device.

The JAMA study was a small study of 50 adults, each wearing two out of four wristworn heart rate monitoring devices included in the study: The Apple Watch, the Fitbit Charge HR, the Mio Fuse, and the (now discontinued) Basis Peak. They compared the reading against a Polar chest-strap heart rate monitor and against a gold standard EKG.

With 90 percent accuracy, the Apple Watch performed the best of the wrist monitors, though none of them was on par with the 99 percent accurate chest strap. The Mio Fuse was a very close second. Fitbit and Basis posted accuracy in the 80s.

Apple Insider first spotted two Apple patents for new Watch features. One, interestingly, would use the heart rate sensor as a means of identification, in place of or supplemental to Touch ID. This could allow the Watch to automatically and passively verify its user's identity. The other patent is for a wristband sensor that could identify gestures, allowing Apple to use the Watch as a controller for another device or it could be a new control scheme for operating the Watch itself. Gesture controls have been particularly relevant to healthcare in the past, as they can be useful for physical therapy or to allow a scrubbed-in surgeon to view imagery without touching a device.

Of course, Apple patents a huge number of technologies that, for one reason or another, never see the light of day as actual products. So while these are interesting developments to speculate about, they don't signal a definite planned direction for the company. 

What might be more promising in that regard is a presentation by Apple partner IBM reported by Politico this morning. Apparently IBM, Apple, and Japanese insurer JapanPost are developing a system that uses the Apple Watch and an iPad to connect seniors to their caregivers. The Apple Watch will collect data on the senior's heart rate and movement that will be available to caregivers and the iPad app will ask questions and give prompts to help the senior manage their health.