A new Apple Watch and software with advanced heart-monitoring capabilities could boost the detection of abnormal heartbeats in millions of people, but it could also raise the chance of false positives, a cardiologist and researcher says.
Apple unveiled three new iPhones, including two with bigger displays, but perhaps the more dramatic announcement from Cupertino, Calif., on Wednesday was its new Apple Watch, with the new health-related tools.
The Apple Watch Series 4 will let users take an electrocardiogram, or ECG, and share it with their doctor.
Apple said it's the first ECG product offered over the counter directly to consumers.
Such heart data is important for some people because they could be at risk for a stroke. However, it could also increase the chance of false positives, Dr. Eric Topol, a cardiologist with the Scripps Research Institute, told NPR.
"It's definitely going to expand the detection," he said. "A lot of people have [abnormal heart rhythms] who don't have the symptoms. There are a lot of unknowns here."
Jeff Williams, Apple's chief operating officer, said the watch has "become an intelligent guardian for your health." He said Apple has received clearance from the Food and Drug Administration for its new ECG app, and that the data will be protected by encryption on the Watch and in the cloud.
Topol noted that a similar product — AliveCor's Kardiaband, a band for the Apple Watch — offers EKGs (aka ECG) and received FDA clearance last year.
Appearing at the Apple event, Dr. Ivor Benjamin, president of the American Heart Association, called the heart-monitoring features "game changing," especially the ability to detect an irregular heart rhythm, known as atrial fibrillation. He said it will help patients share information about their symptoms with their physicians, not just when they're in the doctor's office.
Another new feature on the Apple Watch will detect when a user has fallen, and the device will automatically generate an alert to initiate a call to emergency services. If the user is immobile for more than a minute after the notification, the watch can automatically call for help "and send a message along with location to emergency contacts," Apple says.
The new Apple Watch will start at $399 and be available on Sept. 21.
Apple also announced three new smartphones: the iPhone XS, with a 5.8-inch screen, starting at $999; the iPhone XS Max, with a 6.5-inch screen (the largest iPhone ever), starting at $1,099; and the iPhone XR, with a 6.1-inch screen, starting at $749. All three will feature the new A12 Bionic chip, improved cameras and longer battery life.