New Apple Watch OS debuts emergency call, medical ID functions

Screenshot courtesy of Apple

When Apple started working on a smartwatch, it envisioned a device that could monitor blood pressure, heart rate and stress levels, but those functions turned out to be too complex. Now, as the company launches the third iteration of its smartwatch operating system, it's still looking at medical applications, but ones that don't land the device under unwanted regulator oversight.

Apple ($AAPL) unveiled the Apple Watch's OS3 during the keynote at its Worldwide Developer's Conference Monday. Kevin Lynch, vice president of technology, introduced a number of new features, most of which target the user experience, such as simpler navigation and faster launch time for apps. But there are also a couple that can help users contact and communicate with emergency services in a crisis.

The new SOS function allows the user to make a call to emergency services by holding down the side button, Lynch said in the presentation. The call will be made through the user's connected iPhone or directly through the watch if it's connected to wi-fi. Whichever country the user might be in, the watch will know the appropriate number to call. Once the call is complete, the watch will then send a message to the user's emergency contacts along with a map of his or her location.

After it has notified the user's emergency contacts, the watch face will display the user's "medical ID," Lynch said. "It has things like, for example, your age, your allergies and other things you'd like to put there." This comes from any data that the user has entered into the iPhone Health app's medical ID function, TechCrunch reported. It also includes height and weight, medications the user might be taking and an emergency contact. The medical ID can help EMS treat the user more efficiently if he or she is incapacitated or unconscious.

It's important to note, however, that the user must manually enter data into the medical ID for it to work. And while the Health app is able to record health data such as blood pressure, the watch does not automatically monitor this. The user must input individual data points.

As it launched the the Apple Watch, Apple had to walk back many of the promises it made. Some functions, like an electrocardiogram and stress monitor, turned out not to work on everyone. For example, body hair and dry skin impeded the function of some sensors, while the fit of the watch also had an impact.

As for regulation, if the device prompted people to make medical decisions based on its output, it would need to be regulated as a medical device. In 2013, the FDA told Apple that it would regulate the watch if it included a glucometer for diabetics among its medical applications, but that it wouldn't if Apple marketed it to promote better nutrition instead. Apple has partnered with Dexcom ($DXCM) to bring continuous glucose monitor data to its watch face. In March, Dexcom integrated its latest CGM into the Apple Watch to allow users to see their data more quickly. They could already view it on the iPhone.

- watch the keynote
- here's the statement
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