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How Apple Watch Series 6 advances Apple's healthcare ambition

As Apple adds features like a blood oxygen sensor to the Watch, it's also forging new partnerships to use the device in health initiatives. This fall, Singapore will be the first country to leverage the Watch to improve public health.

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The new Apple Watch Series 6 will let users measure their blood oxygen levels, giving them easy access to another important health metric. The new capability underscores how Apple is turning the Apple Watch largely into a health and wellness device, as it grows Apple's overall focus on healthcare. 

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Blood oxygen levels are "a key measurement that contains critical information," Sumbul Ahmad Desai, Apple's VP for health, said during the Time Flies virtual event on Sept. 15. It's essentially a measure of how much oxygen your red blood cells are carrying.

See it now: Apple Watch Series 6 at Apple

Using advanced algorithms to measure reflections of green, red and infrared light plus a new sensor, the Apple Watch Series 6 can provide a measurement in 15 seconds, Apple said Tuesday. 

Health has been a key area of focus for Apple. In early 2019, Apple CEO Tim Cook said on CNBC, "If you zoom out into the future, and you look back, and you ask the question, 'What was Apple's greatest contribution to mankind?' It will be about health." 

Since then, Apple has forged partnerships with major players in the health sector with products like Apple Health Records, which gives consumers a hand-held electronic health records (EHR) system. Apple has also offered up its technology as part of a global response to the COVID-19 pandemic

Apple has made inroads working with enterprises, healthcare providers, and insurers because "they know it can make a big difference in the life of their patients, customers, and employees," Apple CEO Tim Cook said Tuesday. 

Apple is also working directly with governments in this area: This fall, Cook said, Singapore will become the first country to "leverage the benefits of Apple Watch by offering incentives for people to use it to stay healthy and active."

Singapore's Health Promotion Board worked with Apple to design LumiHealth, a personalized program to encourage healthy activity and behaviors using Apple Watch. It's part of the country's Smart Nation initiative, a national effort to leverage technology to deliver benefits to its citizens and businesses. 

Also: Everything Apple announced at its Time Flies event

Meanwhile,  Apple is launching a series of new health studies with research institutes to learn more about how changes in blood oxygen levels can serve as signals of respiratory conditions. For instance, it's working with UC Irvine and Anthem to learn how to use blood oxygen measurements from the Apple Watch to better manage and control asthma.

It's no surprise that tech companies like Apple, Google, and Salesforce have turned their attention to the health sector. The industry is in clear need of a digital transformation, and it's a lucrative business -- the US spent more than $3.5 trillion on health care in 2018.