Apple Watch's data-gathering functions fall short of expectations

Apple Watch--Courtesy of Apple

Early reviews of Apple's ($AAPL) much-discussed smartwatch suggest that anyone wanting to make the device a cornerstone of their health or research programs will need to wait for later versions. The grumbles mainly relate to the accuracy and reliability of Apple Watch's heart rate monitor.

The inability of the heart rate monitor to take the pulse of anyone with tattoos on their wrists grabbed many of the headlines, even though other devices suffer from similar limitations. A more general problem lurked deeper in the early reviews: Heart rate data from Apple Watch is notably different than information gathered by dedicated devices. Some users reported a 20% difference in their resting heart rate, a significant enough divergence to question the utility of the device in clinical care and research.

Samuel Gibbs offered the pithiest summation of the smartwatch's limitations in his review in The Guardian. "Anyone serious about using their heart rate for training or monitoring health will need to look elsewhere," Gibbs wrote. Others chimed in with similar concerns. In ReadWrite, Gregory Ferenstein called the heart rate monitor "lackluster," adding that all the other fitness tracking features of Apple Watch are already provided by the iPhone. This is expected to change as more sensors are built into later versions of Apple Watch.

Despite the criticisms, Apple Watch is already being used in healthcare settings. A hospital in New Orleans has started giving the smartwatch to patients with high blood pressure to encourage them to exercise and take their medications, Forbes contributor Dan Diamond reports. And King's College Hospital in the United Kingdom is giving the device to some cancer patients. EHI News reports tech firm Medopad is providing the smartwatches to King's to encourage patient to stick to their treatment regimens.

Whether Apple Watch is more effective at encouraging adherence than SMS text messages is yet to be established. What is clear is healthcare is taking the device seriously, despite its limitations.

- read the Guardian review
- here's ReadWrite's piece
- check out Forbes' coverage
- and the EHI article