Apple's unveils new watch that could become major COVID-19 diagostic tool

SAN FRANCISCO -- Apple on Tuesday provided a glimpse at how it wants to become a major player in the health field. A new watch it showed off virtually may help to provide early detection of COVID-19 and related stress.

Sure, the Apple Watch tells time, but it's clear that Apple is positioning it to be a diagnostic tool for consumers and health care providers. The new Apple Watch Series 6 has a new sensor that could be a window to COVID-19.

"Using data from Apple Watch, researchers are studying the impact of COVID on the psychological well being of frontline health care workers by identifying early signs of stress while also looking to predict infection before symptoms appear," said Apple CEO Tim Cook during an hour-long online event, recorded at its spaceship-like headquarters in Cupertino.

Apple is partnering with a number of universities and health systems. A key feature added is blood oxygen monitoring.

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A valuable tool in the fight against the coronavirus could be one you already own. In two separate studies, researchers at Stanford University and UCSF are now looking into whether or not wearable devices can help detect early signs of viral infections.



"They're really doubling down on the health attributes of what a watch can do," said Mark Vena, senior analyst at Moor Insights. "And of course, adding blood oxygen sensor capability is a big step forward in that direction."

News about new iPhones, normally released in September, will be delayed about a month. In the meantime, Apple hopes newly unveiled iPads and a new plan that bundles its music, TV, game and cloud storage services, called Apple One, will be enticing to home-bound consumers looking for ways to make the best of sheltering at home.

The newest Apple Watch, however, hopes to position itself as the must-have device with health, fitness and COVID-19 on everyone's mind.

"That could pay off for them because all of these insurance companies will ask people to be using Apple Watches theoretically to collect this data," said Bob O'Donnell of Technalysis Research.

The Apple Watch has never come close to rivaling the iPhone's popularity, but it does dominate the market for smartwatches. Canaccord Genuity analyst T. Michael Walkley estimates about 51 million Apple Watches will be sold this year, a 5% increase from last year. The research firm GlobalData pegs Apple's share of the $64 billion smartwatch market at roughly 60%.
The new discount model, called the Apple Watch SE, will sell for $279 and be available beginning Friday. The price is a markdown from the $399 that Apple is asking for the next version of its higher end watch, the Series 6. Apple watches have been selling for an average of $377, based on Walkley's calculations.

Apple also announced a new fitness subscription service tailored for its watches for $10 per month, as well as a new option that will bundle its existing music, video, news and gaming services into a package that will cost $15 to $30 per month.

Tens of millions of people already subscribe to Apple's various services, helping the company double its revenue during the past four years within a division that creates products for the more than 1 billion iPhones, iPads, watches and other devices that the people already use.

The services division also includes Apple's app store, which is under regulatory scrutiny for charging a commission of up to 30% for products sold through other companies who have no other option but to use the store to reach the mostly affluent consumers who buy iPhone products.

AP Contributed to this report.
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