CDC’s National Diabetes Statistics Report in 2020 found that 34.2 million Americans — practically 1 in 10 — have diabetes. Meanwhile, about 1 in 3 American adults have prediabetes. That’s a significant population that would immediately benefit from a smartwatch sensor designed to read blood sugar levels when traditional testing methods might not be available.
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While the Apple Watch 7’s anticipated Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 rival is still expected to offer non-invasive blood glucose monitoring, Apple reportedly won’t introduce its version of the feature until 2022 or later. Instead, the upcoming Apple Watch will allegedly see incremental improvements to design and performance.
The Apple Watch is no stranger to incremental changes. Apple tends to wait to get its health features right, and that’s perhaps why its watch dominates nearly half of the global smartwatch market. The company doesn’t yet encourage annual or semiannual upgrades of its $399 smartwatch as it does with the iPhone. With the exception of the Apple Watch 4’s electrocardiogram app, Apple has been slower to market with wellness features compared to other top wearables.
Wrist-based pulse oximetry wasn’t new when Apple adapted it, for example. While the blood oxygen app was the marquee feature of the Apple Watch 6, it had been available on many of the best Fitbit models, Galaxy Watches and more. These brands, plus the best Garmin watches, also offered sleep tracking data well before the Apple Watch.
Apple is just starting to catch up to the mental wellness initiatives of its competitors with the introduction of Mindfulness app in watchOS 8, too.
The benefits of blood glucose readings on your wrist
Samsung is actively working on Raman spectroscopy, a method which employs a laser to help identify the chemical composition of glucose through the skin. As developed by Samsung researchers, the laser reportedly offers high prediction accuracies. Fitbit probably isn’t far behind with its own studies and implementations, either. It announced a blood glucose-monitoring tool for the Fitbit app earlier this year.
Last year, I documented the Apple Watch’s benefits for users with diabetes pumps when I helped one of my best friends decide which smartwatch model she should buy. While I can’t claim to understand the responsibilities of constantly managing a major metabolic body function, I’ve seen how advancing technology has eased and improved my friend’s relationship with correcting her blood sugar levels.
An Apple Watch can’t check your glucose levels alone; you need to pair it with a continuous monitoring system such as Dexcom, which offers a dedicated Apple Watch app (and a Samsung Galaxy Watch app and WearOS app, too, for what it’s worth.) Dexcom’s protocols push notifications from a user’s wireless insulin pump to their wrist via their smartphone. The Dexcom app for Apple Watch mirrors the information available on the smartphone app, showing a user’s current glucose levels and general glucose trends at a glance.
Still, there’s a major catch — you need your smartphone for monitoring to work. You can’t use your Apple Watch to get glucose readings from an on-body insulin pump when your iPhone is dead or out of Bluetooth reach. When this happens, being able to get an on-demand reading from your Apple Watch could be a game-changing — and even life-saving — tool.
It’s important to note that such a smartwatch feature probably couldn't replace all invasive tests. Even if it works well and provides convenience, there are other concerns at play, including how an additional Apple Watch health sensor would impact price and battery life.
That’s probably why a blood glucose reader is pegged as a 2022 addition, rather than being unveiled with the Apple Watch 7. But Apple should hope Samsung or other leading smartwatch makers aren’t ready with their own versions of the tool significantly sooner. We're exiting the pandemic with health awareness at an all-time high, so this year isn't the one to take a backseat on advancing wellness tech.