Apple quietly adds updates to Noise app, mobility tracking

New mobility metrics could help clinicians to treat patients with conditions that affect their movement, while Noise app updates will help protect users' hearing.
By Jonah Comstock
06:01 pm

In addition to the features announced today at the WWDC opening keynote, Apple has also made some additional updates to health-tracking features in iOS14 and Watch OS7. The company unveiled the features — related to hearing health and functional capacity — in a press release today.

The first feature is an update to the Noise app, originally launched in Watch OS6. Based on World Health Organization recommendations, the app tracks how long an iOS user has been exposed, via their device, to dangerously loud noise levels, and alerts them when they reach an unsafe level of exposure. The new update adds audio reminders, so the user will actually hear a warning about their hearing, rather than just seeing it pop up on the screen. It will also automatically turn down the volume. Finally, users can track their noise exposure in the Health app.

The second feature is actually eight new metrics related to mobility which the both the iPhone and Apple Watch can now track: low-range cardio fitness, walking speed, stair-ascent speed, stair-descent speed, six-minute-walk distance, double support time, step length and asymmetry.

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These metrics are used by clinicians to evaluate mobility, especially among elderly patients, but are normally collected only in a lab setting. Having them monitored continuously in daily life will give clinicians more data to work with than they're accustomed to, and possibly mitigate the observer affect which can occur in a lab-administered walking test.

Any iPhone where motion-tracking has been enabled will also track these metrics, so users won't have to opt in explicitly, but users who have already opted out of motion tracking won't have to opt out again.

Apple has already deployed some of these metrics in partnerships with medical device company Zimmer Biomet (which has worked with Apple in a research capacity since 2018) and the Society of Cardiovascular Surgeons.



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