As health statistics and wellness becomes a larger priority for Apple and their suite of tech offerings, the company is launching the ECG, or electrocardiogram, and irregular heartbeat notifications in Canada.
The features, which have been available in the U.S. last year and in the E.U. in March, comes to Canada and Singapore on Apple Watch Series 4 via a software update.
The ECG function, on Apple Watch with a Medical Device License from Health Canada, will capture an electrocardiogram when a user prompts a record upon feeling symptoms (i.e. rapid or skipped heart beat). This allows users to capture information in the moment for review by a physician. It’s important to note that the device does not check for heart attacks.
“We’ve seen the ECG App and irregular rhythm notifications on Apple Watch have meaningful impact on our customers across the United States, Europe and Hong Kong,” Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer, said in a news release. “We are excited to bring these features to customers in Canada, giving them access to empowering information about their heart health.”
Additionally, the irregular rhythm notification is being rolled out to all Apple Watch users (Series 1 and later), leveraging the optical heart sensor to notify users if it detects a rhythm that can appear as an atrial fibrillation (or AFib).
Canada’s Heart and Stroke Foundation estimates AFib affects over 350,000 Canadians, adding that it causes one-third of all strokes over the age of 60.
As these devices become more common in the Canadian market, the tech giant is hoping it can equip users with tools to help healthcare professionals detect and diagnose health issues, marking a significant next chapter in Apple’s venture in health data—stored on device and private to the user.
I’ve been an avid Apple Watch user for years. It’s a great device for surfacing notifications, weather, events, and health information, but I have to admit I’ve yet to fully unlock the power of the workout app and features.
Being a beginner skier, on a recent trip to Whistler, B.C., I put the technology through its paces to see if it could really help me on the slopes. Pro skiers like Canada’s own gold medalists Brady Leman and Marielle Thompson train with Apple Watch, so I put it to the test!
App feature: snoww
The app I started with is aptly named, snoww. Its approach is whimsical in design, functional in features, and friendly in competition. It loads on iPhone and Apple Watch, and directly on your wrist, you can start, pause, and end ski and snowboard tracking at a tap of a button.
“We designed snoww thinking about quick interactions and glances while out on the mountain,” said Eddy Healey, developer of snoww. “[It’s] easy to record accurate, relevant metrics as well as create a fun and social experience for our users.”
While on the slopes, users can see relevant information like distance, time, total runs, maximum speed, vertical gain, as well as a great way to find your friends should you split up. Whistler is a vast ski resort with dozens of runs, so being able to track my friends’ whereabouts is a powerful tool socially, but critical from a safety perspective, too.
Speaking of safety, Apple Watch really lives up to the “guardian on your wrist” mandate while on the hills. Emergency SOS is an option that surfaces when Apple Watch detects a hard fall. Users have a limited time to respond to a haptic notification before emergency services are contacted, and on the snoww itself, skiers can see in a one-view where friends are in realtime, meaning you can see which direction they’re headed and check their battery and signal levels.
From a social perspective, like Twitter or Facebook, you can follow your favourites to compete in leaderboards, earn trophies, compare statistics, and my favourite, use the walkie talkie app within Apple Watch to send short voice messages to one another without texting or making a lengthy phone call. Lastly, upload and share memories with friends on a photo stream within the snoww app.
Après ski recovery
After I hit the slopes, I took a chance to recover with some yoga. While it’s a good opportunity to put away the stresses of social media and frequent notifications of our smartphones, there is room for technology and fitness tracking.
Apple Watch intuitively gives yogis credit where credit’s due through the precision of heart-rate tracking and accurate active caloric burn—allowing you to focus on being zen, and less about keeping track. It will give you only the information you need, and the rest—the distracting stuff—is put away.
Hitting the trails
Finally, to help you close those rings, running is an activity that runs circles around other fitness trackers. It takes things way further than steps earned, providing deeper analysis like rolling mile, active calories, cadence, pace alert, and high/low heart rate.
Ultra marathoner Ray Zahab empowers technology to help identify routes, surface weather and safety alerts, and even provide entertainment through his AirPods.
On my run with friends, we used Apple Watch to take us through the paths near Lost Lake, trails into the woods, and navigate rolling terrain to discover the true beauty of British Columbia.
Technology shouldn’t get in the way of what you do, especially when it comes to fitness. It should complement and intuitively provide the information you need to optimally enhance your experience. And that’s exactly what Apple Watch does well—being that guardian looking after your health, safety, and keeping you connected.
At Apple’s annual Sep. event in Cupertino, Calif., the tech giant announced a new Apple Watch that brings hardware and software improvements that doubles down on its commitment to health. With Series 1 only launched three years ago, in just under a week with my review unit of Series 4, you can tell that this is what Series 1 should have been all along.
From a hardware standpoint, Apple Watch Series 4 packs a punch in still a small form factor. It retains its iconic design with some minor updates, featuring 40 and 44mm size options, enabling an over 30 per cent larger display through rounded corners.
watchOS 5 takes advantage of this through enhanced complications on the watch faces, apps have more real estate, and button inputs are easier. This is the first thing you’ll notice when you power it up. While I’m traditionally a silver kind of a guy, I’m a huge fan of the new gold finish, too, aligning with the new iPhone XS offering.
Your bands are still good!
You’ll be relieved to know the bands you’ve spent so much money on are still compatible with Series 4—phew! This was a worry from some tech analysts—that this is a way to force consumers to purchase new bands to be compatible with the new model.
As far as other improvements to the body of Apple Watch itself, a new Digital Crown now has built in haptic feedback. When you scroll through different menu options, subtle vibrations will help guide you through the user interface—a very nice detail.
If you listen to music or interact with Siri on Apple Watch, the speaker is 50 per cent louder—enough to fill a small room with ample feedback. The microphone has been moved to the opposite side of the device to facilitate clearer phone calls.
The ‘guardian on your wrist’
Health is where you see the most improvement, and Apple is very proud of that. Series 3 brought a high heart rhythm alert that became quite popular in notifying users of irregular patterns. Now, Series 4 will do the same with low heart rhythms.
At launch in the United States, Apple Watch will come with a first-of-its-kind over-the-counter electrocardiogram—or ECG—application, through a new heart sensor built into the back and Digital Crown. This will allow a new way to record information for medical professionals to analyze. However, no word on when this will come to Canada.
Last on the health developments, something that can be great for our aging population (and even clumsy people like me): fall detection. It utilizes the internal gyroscope and accelerometer to detect irregular movements like falls.
In these instances, users will receive a notification to decide whether they want to notify emergency services, and if there’s no response within 60 seconds, Emergency SOS will be activated automatically. Apple likened these new features as the ‘guardian on your wrist.’
Added cellular support in Canada
New this year is expanded cellular support for Apple Watch in Canada. Rogers has joined the other major wireless carriers to carry the device, meaning active runners can leave their iPhones at home and still be connected to music, podcasts, and loved ones wirelessly.
eSIM technology shares data from your phone plan, while connecting Apple Watch independently to the cellular network. This, combined with the faster dual-core S4 processor and W3 wireless chip brings the future onto your wrist.
How much will this cost, and do I need all this power on my wrist?
Apple Watch Series 4 will start at $519 CAD, with the cellular model starting at $649 CAD. Series 3 will also be available for those who are happy with last year’s model—it is still a great watch. Cellular is good for you if you like to run and be mobile without a phone, however for many (including myself), the standard model suffices. I’m happy to see all three major Canadian carriers—including Rogers—on board with support.
Apple Watch Series 4 is really designed for iPhone users. So if you’re an Android user, you’ll have to look elsewhere. If you use iPhone and are in the market for a new smart watch, this is a great upgrade. This is the first Apple Watch where I felt it could keep up with my fast fingers.
Rogers Communications is the parent company of Citytv and this website.