Apple unveiled three new research ventures for Apple Watch users and a dedicated Apple Research app at its Tuesday press conference, illustrating how the company plans to make medical research a core pillar of its healthcare strategy moving forward.
And while the event may have missed some expectations given the absence of Apple’s rumored sleep-tracking app, we think the company’s suite of research initiatives add far more value to the its health portfolio, especially given that Apple owns sleep tracking device maker Beddit.
Here’s a breakdown of the three new Apple Watch research programs unveiled at Tuesday’s event:
- A hearing initiative with University of Michigan and the World Health Organization (WHO). Drawing on the Apple Watch’s new ability to passively monitor sound levels in a user’s environment, the study aims to uncover insights related to how noise exposure affects long-term auditory health. The WHO reports that nearly 50%of people between the ages of 12 and 35 globally (1.1 billion) are at risk of hearing loss due to exposure to loud sounds, and the WHO called out personal music devices as a major cause for concern. It’s unclear if the Apple Watch’s passive audio monitoring feature is also capable of tracking users’ personal volume levels while listening to music or watching videos, considering that the sounds aren’t coming from an external source — and without this feature the value of the study’s results could be limited.
- Reproductive health research in partnership with Harvard and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Apple’s partners at Harvard and the NIH will leverage data from the company’s menstrual Cycle Tracking app to search for risk factors for conditions like infertility and osteoporosis. Unveiled this June, the Cycle Tracking app allows users to track their period, flow, and other related symptoms, such as cramping or bloating. It makes sense why Apple would tap reproductive health as a valuable area for research: Menstrual-tracking apps were reportedly the second most popular apps among adolescent women in 2016.
- Heart and movement studies conducted with Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the American Heart Association (AHA). Details on this study are scarce, as Apple simply stated that the study will look at how “metrics” from the device can be used as a preventative health tool by identifying at-risk users and intervening for the betterment of “overall health.” We think this study will most likely pull data from the Apple Watch’s fitness-tracking features, like its heart rate monitor and pace counter, to examine linkages between exercise and heart health. And if the Apple Watch can deliver reductions in users’ risk for heart disease, that could potentially help Apple convince payers of the device’s value as a preventative health tool: Annual medical costs for heart disease are projected to soar to over $800 billion by 2030.
Apple is leveraging its position as the market leader in wearable sales to funnel users toward medical research initiatives — and we think this will boost the company’s profile as an invaluable research partner. Apple Watch sales were estimated to comprise 50% of the global wearable market in 2018, with over 22 million units sold.
That gives partners interested in using the Apple Watch for medical research a massive, built-in participant pool to draw from. A major pain point in medical research is simply finding participants: A recent study found that 56% of patients don’t participate in clinical research simply because there are no options available to them at their local point of care.
But Apple Watch’s remote patient monitoring features combined with its new Research app could help eliminate that pain point: Stanford researchers to rack up more than 400,000 participants for research on the effectiveness of the Apple Watch 3’s electrocardiogram for the detection of atrial fibrillation.
While the study produced mixed results regarding the Watch’s viability as a clinical tool, researchers were nevertheless excited by the potential of the Apple Watch as a medical research platform. And adding a dedicated research portal should further boost the Apple Watch’s profile as an invaluable platform for researchers across the healthcare industry.
Interested in getting the full story? Here are three ways to get access:
- Sign up for Digital Health Pro, Business Insider Intelligence’s expert product suite keeping you up-to-date on the people, technologies, trends, and companies shaping the future of healthcare, delivered to your inbox 6x a week. >> Get Started
- Subscribe to a Premium pass to Business Insider Intelligence and gain immediate access to Digital Health Pro, plus more than 250 other expertly researched reports. As an added bonus, you’ll also gain access to all future reports and daily newsletters to ensure you stay ahead of the curve and benefit personally and professionally. >> Learn More Now
- Current subscribers can read the full briefing here.