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Your iPhone could soon tell you how depressed, anxious and stressed you are — here’s how

Apple health studies
(Image credit: Apple)

The Apple Watch has a well-deserved reputation for its health-tracking capabilities, with Apple reportedly eyeing additional features for future smartwatches. But the Apple Watch may not be the only product of Apple's that has a future monitoring your health.

Future iPhones could play a role in tracking health conditions and possibly even detecting problems before they become apparent. At least, that's the takeaway from a Wall Street Journal report which says the company is working on iPhone features that would help detect conditions like depression and cognitive decline.

Specifically, the report says Apple is working with the University of California, Los Angeles, and biotech firm Biogen on separate studies to try and detect potential mental health concerns. Detection would rely on data collected from sensors on mobility, physical activity, sleep patterns and typing behavior among other factors.

There's no word on whether this research work would lead to consumer-facing features for future Apple products, though the company does have some priors in this area. As the Wall Street Journal notes, Apple worked with Stanford in a study that used smartwatches to detect atrial fibrillation a while back. Now, the ability to identify heartbeat irregularities is a standard part of the Apple Watch's feature set.

Health detection capabilities have become a topic of increasing interest at Apple. Just this week, the newly released iOS 15 update includes new features in the iPhone's built-in Health app that use sensors on your phone to monitor balance and steadiness as you walk. iOS 15's Health app also offers trend analysis and lets you share your health data with either your family members or your physician.

The upcoming Apple Watch 7 doesn't offer much in the way of new health features, though that's likely to change with future watches. Earlier reports have claimed that Apple is eyeing an impressive list of health-tracking capabilities for future versions of the Apple Watch, with some potentially surfacing next year. The features Apple is reportedly working on for its watch include blood-pressure monitoring, built-in temperature tracking and blood glucose detection along with more advanced sleep tracking tools.

The Apple Watch feels like a natural for such health monitoring capabilities, as it's something you wear on your wrist and already use to track physical activity. But the iPhone would work for some health monitoring as well. Sensors on the phone can detect movement, and as a device that most of us carry around all the time, the iPhone is at hand to capture a lot of data that might otherwise go unrecorded.

Apple has another motivation for expanding the iPhone's health-tracking features — it can be a differentiating tool for future phones at a time when handsets are becoming increasing similar. Device makers have already tried to use features like longer battery life, dynamically refreshing displays and cameras enhanced by computation photography to help their phones stand out from the crowd. Health tools would represent an entirely new frontier, and one that Apple has some credibility in, given its Apple Watch efforts.

Of course, all that's down the road and may not even result in new features for the iPhone. Still, the Wall Street Journal report on the multiple studies Apple's iPhone is involved in — supposedly, the company is also working with Duke University on an autism study that uses the iPhone's camera — suggest that this could be a big focus for future Apple products.

Philip Michaels
Philip Michaels is a senior editor at Tom's Guide. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics and old movies. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.