Apple Watch Series 5 new features, specs reveal Apple's healthcare ambition

The new Apple Watch is what'll be remembered from Apple's iPhone event and the company is laying out the pieces that'll court corporate wellness programs.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Apple Watch Series 5 highlights how Apple is plotting to push heavily into healthcare applications and leverage its enterprise momentum.

At the company's iPhone launch event, Apple CEO Tim Cook ran a video showing a bevy of Apple Watch customers who used the device to get ahead of heart conditions, dial 911, and get life-saving alerts. The Apple Watch starts at $399 for Series 5 with GPS and $499 for the cellular version. Apple is keeping the Series 3 at $199, a price that should get Apple Watch more converts. 

The stories are legit -- we have one of our own at ZDNet -- and the not so subliminal message is clear: Apple Watch is your health and wellness companion. "Hearing these stories really makes my heart sing," said Cook.

Apple touted how Apple Watch was contributing to health research, development, and science. For instance, more than 400,000 people participated in the Apple Watch heart study. Apple is launching three more studies, including:

  • Apple Hearing Study, looking at the health impact on noise.
  • Apple Women's Health Study, looking at conditions and how they apply to menstrual cycles.
  • Apple Heart & Movement Study, which is looking at interventions that affect the heart.

You can enroll via the Apple Research app available in the US later this year. 

Among the key features:

  • An always-on display; 
  • A new low-power display driver and better refresh rates;
  • Same all-day 18-hour battery life; 
  • Optimized workout metrics on the display and apps;
  • Updated Maps app and built-in compass;
  • More selection in cases and finishes with silver, gold, and space gray aluminum as well as titanium and ceramic. 

Apple's healthcare building blocks in place

Apple laid out its blueprint to expand the Apple Watch into healthcare and human resources wellness programs last year. The 2019 iPhone event outlined a continuation of a broader plan for the Apple Watch to dominate digital health and wellness.

Simply put, Apple has been methodically putting the Apple Watch healthcare building blocks in place. The first signs of Apple's burgeoning interest in health came with the launch of its HealthKit platform and Health app, which debuted alongside the first Apple Watch. The launch of CareKit and ResearchKit showed that Apple was also thinking about how to work with medical professionals. 

Apple Watch Series 4 featured the ability to offer an ECG direct to consumers. Apple Watch Series 4 was reengineered for better battery life, but many customers still had to charge their device overnight. That reality meant that functions like sleep tracking were feasible but often fell by the wayside.

Nevertheless, Apple last year added a bevy of customizations for breathing, meditation, and other wellness activities.

And before the latest Apple Watch rolled out, Apple had landed more partnerships and corporate wellness programs. Apple has also forged deals to integrate with electronic health records.

Also: How Apple Watch saved my life | Apple wants your pillow to monitor your health while you are asleep Sure, Apple Watch saved my life. But it could do so much more  | WWDC 2019: Apple WatchOS 6 includes App Store, women's health, more complications | Apple Watch ECG app: How it works and what it means for the future of health

Today, Apple is actively pitching Apple Watch to be "the centerpiece of corporate wellness programs." Apple has partnerships with Virgin Pulse and offers corporate challenges as well as integration with wellness platforms.

While revenue from corporate wellness programs is likely to be a rounding error to Apple, these efforts make the device more sticky. Apple is also able to leverage its iOS, iPhone, and iPad momentum in the enterprise to extend its Apple Watch applications.

Also: See CNET's Guide to Wellness

Another development to watch is Apple's AirPod lineup, which can also have health applications that'll go with Apple Watch. IDC said second-quarter wearable shipments were up 85.2% in the second quarter to 67.7 million, with hearables representing most of the growth.

IDC noted that consumers were buying so-called "hearables" to go with smartwatches and trackers. Apple has 50.25% of the hearable market, followed by Samsung.

Here's a look at how the wearable market will be split between smartwatches, hearables, and trackers.


Apple's moat will be connecting Apple Watch and AirPods for healthcare applications and data. 

Fitbit Health Solutions as competition

Apple certainly has the scale for its Apple Watch, but Fitbit has said it is on track to top $100 million in revenue for its Fitbit Health Solutions unit.

Fitbit has data that's aggregated, coaching, and more experience landing wellness programs with Singapore, as well as UnitedHealthcare. Fitbit has also launched scales and appears more than willing to offer free devices to land enterprise deals.

Also: Doctor, developer: The NHS plan to create a new generation of high-tech healthcare experts

The caveat to Fitbit's enterprise ambitions is that it needs its devices to sell well. Fitbit was hammered after its third-quarter results due to slower than expected sales of its Versa Lite smartwatch. Fitbit has since rolled out updates to its smartwatch lineup.

Meanwhile, Fitbit is also selling trackers at a healthy clip. Fitbit's ultimate ambition is to use its customer data on an aggregate scale to sell premium services and subscriptions.

What's unclear is whether Apple will gain so much scale that the enterprise data, apps, and ecosystem will overrun Fitbit. However, there are likely more than enough corporate health plans and health system accounts to go around.  

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