Wearable technology: My recent experience with the latest Apple products

Earlier this year I was asked to use and review the latest Apple smartphone and wearable watch. Needless to say I was pretty excited to check out the Apple health app features and how the smart watch would play a role in monitoring my health data. I was given this opportunity via a recent Apple event I was invited to attend. There were so many great take home points, noting the following standouts:

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Design products and services that benefit everyone, not just the majority.
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Accessibility or Personalisation is going to be key to future successes in healthcare.

Given my clinical experience and expertise as an audiologist, the technology side has always appealed to me. In particular for the Apple range, the hearing health matters section in the Apple healthcare app and the sound level meter or noise feature in the smart watch was where my main focus laid when asked to use these products.

On a side note and a bit of a disclaimer, I have been an avid Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music smart watch user for about a year now. A feature that really appeals to me is the ability to leave my mobile phone at home. When I exercise I value having real time data available, for example my power output, cadence, heart rate, body temperature and accurate GPS data plus the option to listen to podcasts or music. With smart watches and probably wearable technology in general, I was hesitant to get caught up in the first edition hype. I waited till I knew iterations of the products and versions would show improvements, reliability and new features.

Initially, the smart watch didn’t appeal to me. I was content with my current set up of a Garmin edge 820 including a separate heart rate monitor strap, pioneer power meter and utilising apps via my smartphone such as, zwift training peaks and strava to monitor my progress. It wasn’t until I wanted to diversify my physical activities without holding my phone and using wireless headphones, that I investigated and researched which smart watch would work for me.

Between both these watches there are positives and negatives to each. This isn’t an in depth side by side comparison of the Apple watch to Garmin Vivo music, as I wasn’t comparing ‘like for like’. When it comes to wearable technology, it really comes down to personal preference. What is your purpose for using these technologies? Is it weight loss, to understand your sleep patterns better, to achieve step counts, to stream music without your phone…. The list these days of what a smart watch can do is endless.

I should also highlight that I started using smartphones from my teenage years, I’ve always enjoyed using technology and really enjoy teaching my clients the value of bridging the gap between technology, digital applications and how to maximise the use of these tools. Regarding smartphones, think back to the day when ‘3’ had the hamburger flip phone, preceded by Nokia and endless games of snakes. I even had a motorola razr 3 then a motorola V70. I have used both the Apple iOS and Android platforms; I’d chosen to do this over the years to ensure I had a better understanding across the major platforms and to see what features were compelling in the wearable arena to each platform. I realise what appeals to me may not work for others, and this is the beauty and lure of the wearable market; we all have options!

Apple iPhone 11 Pro and watch oS 6

The unwrapping experience of any Apple product is undeniably smooth. Given I’ve had Apple products in the past I could easily download and map my phone with my contacts, photos and music list over my home Wifi network. Similarly, to sync the smartwatch you need to follow the prompts via the already installed application on the smartphone, choose the background, apps and data you want to see on the home screen and wear the watch to collect the data.

Features that appealed to me and I enjoyed between the iPhone and smartwatch: The Voice technology, Siri User Experience:

  • The hands free ability to use command when driving

  • The hands free ability to make/take phone calls when driving

  • The hands free ability to dictate voice to text, then send text when needed

  • The accuracy of the voice to text voice experience

Why? The voice experience of Siri has significantly improved. The accuracy when voice to texting was used was about 90% and given I wasn’t always directing my voice straight to the microphone I was happy with this success rate. Yes some funny and inaccurate text messages were sent, however I don’t think one's expectation can be for 100% accuracy if you are not committed to clear pronunciation and direct microphone input.

Use cases: I see voice technology having a large role in the future; especially for homes and healthcare. House hold or daily examples; in the kitchen to get your smart device to run through a recipe, in the car when driving ( or various handsfree applications), to check on your loved ones via an application and to talk to your loved ones via a smart speaker or phone.

The ease of synchronicity between Apple products:

  • The smartwatch would ‘wake’ when placed on wrist and automatically bluetooth to phone when in close proximity.

Why? This is a large appeal of the iOS platform. Given the security and privacy of how Apple conducts business, this is a large advantage over the Android platform, and a major reason this ‘closed’ network can synchronise between Apple devices. No one likes to manually enter their contact list into products or update their photo library when you can download them or sync them via cloud based applications.

I know Android has applications where this can occur but there is something about the convenience and simplicity of how Apple does this with their products that wins out over other brands and platforms.

Use cases: real time (or as close to real time) synchronising data is the standard customer expectation with any device and services. For example, refreshing your email accounts, when finding out the weather or where your uber eats order is up to. Not to mention, data from device to application synching.

The Apple health data application:

  • Heart rate accuracy

  • Step count

  • Noise exposure

  • Headphone or audio use

Why? The ability to choose what you want on your ‘home’ screen is important to me. You could do this with the Garmin watch, however it wasn’t as neat and there were some limiting factors. The Apple smart watch also has a beautiful user interface; you have the option to choose from many that I would find it hard to believe you couldn’t find one that appealed to you. Garmin does not. It has options, but not to the same extent as the Apple watch.

Use cases: Wearable devices and health data are going to be staple items in our lifestyles. Doctors, healthcare professionals, support workers and more will learn how to utilise this data to change behaviours and improve quality of life, outcomes and living. If we think back to when Fitbit came on to the market in the early 90s, the first prototype made by Fitbit was a body worn pedometer. The technology wasn't ground breaking, but the application and use case was. Fitbit started the movement of using health data plus an application and community to change people's behaviours. A decade later and this paradigm shift is still occurring, gaining more traction and use.

Health Data: the next big thing

The health data display was compelling. I am an experienced health data collector or user of applications such as Garmin connect, Training Peaks and Strava to name a few, however the Apple health data was different.

What I liked was the simplicity and natural flow of the data the application had collected.

I can imagine this will appeal to the general or mass populations that don’t need to know the nitty gritty of their numbers (read: those who aren’t addicted to the finite details of their data, like me, and making incremental improvements to place in the top 25% of races). The overall general view of the data captured will really appeal to most people. It certainly appeals to me when I am not training for specific events.

I also valued knowing what my noise exposure and audio or headphone use was over the time period I was using these products. The noise level meter built into the smart watch gives 2 readings; 1. OK; which indicates the noise level around you isn’t going to cause you, your ears or your body any harm and 2. Loud; which vibrates or alerts you that the environment you’re in may cause long term damage to you, your ears or your body, if you stayed in this place.

The loud feature would alert when noise was present above 85decibels, however you can select the level (volume) you want your watch to vibrate at to activate this alert. See image insert below. The noise feature also highlights the recommended exposure time to these noise levels. As you can see, the level or volume of the noise you are exposing yourself to has a different and lowering recommended exposure time. And you should note, the exposure time (how long you are exposed to this volume of noise - the duration) decreases significantly as the decibels get louder. It is not a linear scale. For every 3dB increase in volume or noise exposure, you should be more than halving your exposure time.

Remember, the duration and the frequency of noise exposure can equate to hearing damage.

I wore the watch as much as I could and the following places were interesting to note where noise levels reached over 85 decibels (meaning the watch was alerting me to noise exposure that was unsafe and I should remove myself from these situations to reduce any damage).

  • At a routine 30 minute dental appointment. I showed this to the dentist and she was really shocked to see the levels and have me explain what they meant. She said the number and alert itself would not have changed her behaviour, however understanding the long term implications of noise exposure as I had explained it to her made her consider getting ear plugs for work. She understood the neural acclimatisation and commented that she felt her hearing was deteriorating.

  • Walking by an open air construction site. I wasn’t in the city and not particularly close to the construction site (I’d estimate I was walking about 50m moving away from the site) and my watch vibrated. I stopped to double check the numbers with an application on my android phone, because I wasn’t really that close and was sure the level couldn’t be greater than 85dB. But coupled with the traffic noise and compounded by the acoustics of the surroundings the level was close to 88dB. In other words, really loud.

  • I did enjoy watching the noise level meter fluctuate as I hung out with my friends when out for lunch. There would be noticeable peaks and troughs due to the conversation, acoustic environment, if coffee was being made in the cafe and general chatter and people in the environment. The watch didn’t alert me to loud levels of noise exposure in this environment; remembering that the alert will go off after a certain amount of time has measured that the noise is too loud - the noise level meter takes an average of the noise and then alerts you.

Do I think the noise feature will revolutionise how customers view noise exposure and hearing? Can this feature change behaviours?

No; however I do believe these features will help to highlight how important noise prevention is, hearing health and contribute to the changing narrative around hearing, ear health and noise. This will come down to where the user is at with their health journey. Remember, Apple isn't trying to be a healthcare provider, it is positioning itself as a health data package (product provider and educator). What you do with the data and knowledge the product and application provides you with is another story.

Again, it's tricky as noise is invisible. The damage you are exposed to can take years to become evident in your behaviours. Your brain and behaviours are excellent at adapting to background noise or loud noise levels. So a watch beeping or alerting you to noise may not immediately get you to change your behaviours.

A small comparison

In comparison, the Garmin watch doesn’t have any voice technology applications. There was no voice to text occurring with the Garmin watch; however like the Apple watch you can receive notifications, alerts, text messages on the Garmin watch. There is no noise level meter in the Garmin watch/product range either, but again this feature is unique to Apple at the moment.

The health data via the Garmin connect application is insightful. Again, customising the data screens you want to see makes a big difference to how you interact with the application and how often you utilise it.

Like the Apple watch, with the Garmin watch you can choose applications to sync to it. For example; I used my Spotify account to stream music and podcasts to my bluetooth headphones. You can also sync other applications via the Garmin connect application to personalise your watch. Apple has a wider range of applications available to stream via their products which I believe comes down to certain privacy laws and regulations, especially those pertaining to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and privacy laws in each country. Additionally, Apple is taking the lead in ensuring quality of applications get into the Apple App store (over quantity). This makes sense to me as they position themselves to be leaders and change-makers in the healthcare and accessibility field; a larger focus on the bigger picture of the world and how their product and services can work in these areas.

Take home

Wearable technology is here to stay in some form or capacity. Like any piece of technology or innovation, there are a myriad of convergences that occur to speed up the uptake process and use cases. I believe corona virus will be one such catalyst and the other will be the customer requesting their doctor or healthcare professional to analyse such data.

Additionally, the intelligence of these wearables is only going to get better. The standard that exists today will evolve considerably over the next decade especially as technology improves, the data collected will improve and what we do with this data will get smarter.

Drop me a line, comment or question via Facebook, Twitter or Linked. The more this conversation develops, the better my understanding of how people interact with technology becomes. Or simply tell me what piece of technology you use/like.


Kat Penno

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