The handwashing tracking feature in the watchOS 7 (opens in new tab) took years to develop, and isn't just a hasty response to calls for rigorous hand cleaning in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. And there’s more to come, likely for the Apple Watch 6 (opens in new tab).
Kevin Lynch, Apple’s vice president of technology, told TechCrunch (opens in new tab) that it took a lot of trial and error to produce the handwashing feature that will ensure that an Apple Watch wearer cleans their hands for at least 20 seconds as per the World Health Organisation’s guidance. In fact, Lynch claimed it took “years of work.”
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The handwashing feature works by using the accelerometer within compatible Apple Watches to detect a particular washing pattern, as well as listen for the sound of running water. It also keeps a virtual ear our for the sound of soap being used.
Once it detects handwashing is taking place it triggers a 20-second countdown timer, complete with a handwashing animation. If the Apple Watch wearer decides to stop washing their hands before the 20 seconds are up, the app will prompt them to continue.
This all sounds like a rather straightforward and elegant solution to the problem of people not washing their hands effectively. But despite this effort, 9to5Mac (opens in new tab)’s testing of the handwashing feature in watchOS noted that the cleaning detection is rather unreliable.
This means there’s room for improvement, and Apple could bake in more cleaning-orientated health features into the Apple Watch 6 if and when it arrives some point this year.
Apple’s vice president of health Sumbul Ahmad Desai noted that while the company won’t be putting any of its own research into tackling the COVID-19 virus, it will support efforts to do so.
“While we haven’t studied specifically how Apple Watch can track COVID, we’re happy to support the research the medical community is doing,” Desai told TechCrunch. “We really support their initiatives by enabling our colleagues in the space, and we’re excited to see what they learn.”
With that in mind, there’s a good chance that Apple could tap into such research projects and then look at ways it could introduce features into the Apple Watch 6 that help tackle health issues beyond EKG monitoring and general wellness and fitness tracking. The health features in the Apple Watch Series 5 (opens in new tab) are already comprehensive, so Apple will need to draw inspiration from elsewhere to truly bring something fresh to the table with the Apple Watch 6.