The new sleep tracking and hand-washing reminders are pretty great, too.

By Kylie Gilbert
Sep 16, 2020 @ 4:39 pm
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Courtesy Apple

When the first Apple Watch came out in 2015, it quickly became a celeb-loved fashion accessory even for non-athletes — perfect for sending a quick text when you've lost your iPhone in your bag, or for remembering to actually stand up from your desk throughout the day. In the five years since, Apple has gradually upped the ante for the health and wellness-obsessed — proving they can stand up to other wearables when it comes to tracking everything from your workouts to your menstrual cycle.

And now, with their much-buzzed-about Apple Watch Series 6, the tech company is introducing a new feature that could even have groundbreaking implications for preventing the spread of COVID-19 — yep, really. Here, the biggest new health and fitness features and announcements you need to know about.

A new blood oxygen level sensor could mean big things for respiratory conditions including COVID.

Courtesy Apple

The shiny new hardware feature on the Apple Wash Series 6 is the blood oxygen level sensor, which uses green, red, and infrared LEDs to measure oxygen saturation, or SpO2, the percentage of oxygen being carried by red blood cells from the lungs to the rest of the body. This can be used as a rough measure for your overall fitness — during intense exercise, you might notice a small drop in your blood oxygen levels as your breathing becomes strained, but the better shape you're in, the faster they should return to normal.

While Garmin and Fitbit already have a similar capability, Apple unveiled they have bigger plans in store with the feature. In a press release, Apple announced that they're partnering with researchers at the University of California, Irvine as well as other health research organizations to better understand how blood oxygen measurements can help with the management of asthma and heart failure.

They also announced they'd be linking up with health researchers and faculty from the University of Washington School of Medicine to investigate how blood oxygen and heart rate "could serve as early signs of respiratory conditions like influenza and COVID-19." (To be clear, although devices with similar capabilities were popular at the beginning of the pandemic when we learned that low oxygen saturation levels can be a sign of COVID-19, the watch isn't intended to be used for medical purposes — and more research is needed on the connection.)

You can now get reminders to wash your hands.

Courtesy Apple

If you aren't compelled to upgrade your existing watch, you can still take advantage of other new health features through watchOS 7, the newest version of the operating system Apple just released, as long as you have a Series 3 or later. One particularly handy (no pun intended) addition: Automatic hand-washing detection. Your watch will know when you're washing your hands and initiate a 20-second countdown timer so that you actually wash your hands for the full recommended amount of time per the CDC. You'll also get a nudge to wash your hands whenever you return home. Now we just need a reminder to put our mask on before we leave.

Sleep tracking is finally here.

Courtesy Apple

Previously, the only way to use Apple Watch to track your sleep was through third-party apps. But now, at long last, Apple has introduced sleep tracking with watchOS 7 — along with improved battery life to make it possible to use your watch all day and night. (If the battery is too low within an hour of your usual bedtime, you'll get a reminder to charge it.)

Using the watch's accelerometer to detect micro-movements, the new Sleep app can provide you with a streamlined analysis of your sleep on a nightly and weekly basis. There's also a new Wind Down app that lets you customize a bedtime routine (for instance, listening to soothing noises, or using a meditation app) — and puts your phone and watch into Do Not Disturb mode.

Fitness+ is here to take the workout streaming industry by storm.

Courtesy Apple

The most exciting new announcement for fitness lovers is Fitness+, a new workout service that's specifically built for the Apple Watch that's rolling out later this year. Apple partnered with a wide range of trainers to create studio-style workouts, available to stream on your iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV. In addition to equipment-free workouts like HIIT, yoga, and dance, it can also be used at the gym or alongside a Peloton or treadmill if you've recently invested in some new workout equipment during quarantine. Promising to be a more immersive experience (complete with fresh workouts weekly across music genres), another bonus is that your metrics will be incorporated into your workout for a more personalized experience.

Fitness+ will be available to Apple Watch customers as a subscription service before the end of 2020 for $9.99 per month or $79.99 per year. Everyone can try Fitness+ free for one month.

There's a new, cheaper Apple Watch available, too.

And, if you've simply been waiting around for Apple to finally release a cheaper version, well, your wait is up: Apple announced their Watch SE model, which starts at $279 (compared to $399 for the Series 6). Both new watches are available to order today.