Could New Apple Earphones Help You Track Your Fitness?
Apple always tries to stay ahead of the curve, but now it looks like the iPhone creators are trying to stay ahead of your curves. Not only do they want you plugging in your headphones to listen to your iPod; Apple are now creating a pair of headphones for monitoring your heart rate and tracking your activity, fitness and overall wellbeing.
According to technology and wellness expert Samuel Gibbs, ‘Apple has patented designs for earphones and headphones that are capable of monitoring a wearer’s movements and vital signs through a series of embedded sensors. The patent describes both headphones and earphones fitted with accelerometers like those in smartphones for detecting motion, as well as temperature, perspiration and heart-rate sensors for monitoring a user’s activity, fitness and other statistics… The patent also details the possibility of using motion detection to activate gestures such as changing track or pausing and playing music through the headphones.’
The patent was filed back in 2007, but it wasn’t until Tuesday that Apple was granted the patent for a ‘sports monitoring system for headphones, earbuds and/or headsets.’ This means that the pioneering tech company has been investigating the possibility of integrated health monitors for at least six years. When asked during an earnings call last month, Apple’s chief executive Tim Cook, recently confirmed that promised future ‘product categories’ were still on track saying: ‘Yes. Absolutely. No Change.’ This comment stoked expectations of an Apple smartwatch, which is also expected to have a significant role in health and fitness monitoring.
Cook confirmed, ‘We’re working on things you can’t see today. We have zero issues coming up with things that we want to do that we think we can disrupt in a major way. The challenge is always to focus to the very few that deserve all of our energy.’ In December of last year, Apple was rumoured to have met up with senior agents of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which, if you don’t know, is the regulatory body charged with overseeing food safety, sales of medication and the approval of medical devices in the US. Michael O’Reilly, previously the chief medical officer of a medical sensor company called Masimo who joined Apple last year, was involved in the meeting, as was Bakul Patel, a senior policy adviser who drafted the FDA’s mobile medical app guidance and plays a role in medical gadget approval.
Gibbs asserts, ‘It is clear that Apple is looking at medical applications for its apps and hardware at the very least. Health and fitness tracking could be one of the primary new focuses for Apple’s next mobile software update. Apple news site 9to5Mac claimed that Apple was developing a new “Healthbook” app to collect and store data on fitness activities, including steps taken, calories burned, and distance walked. The Healthbook app was said to target medical and health data, tracking a person’s heart rate and blood pressure, as well as other blood-related statistics like glucose levels, something a pair of sensor-packed earphones could link into as well as a smartwatch.’
However, while Apple already holds patents for the collection of sensory information – including blood-pressure monitoring – whether or not that technology is mature enough to build into a smartwatch or earphone-like device remains to be seen. In an interview in 2013, Tim Cook noted, ‘The whole sensor field is going to explode. It’s a little all over the place right now. With the arc of time, it will become clearer.’ It is also unclear how this patent awarded to Apple will affect LG, who have also announced its own fitness tracking earphones capable of monitoring the wearer’s heart rate.