Sure, alerting people to the possibility that they have a cold is hardly one of the big problems in health. It’s not curing cancer or heart disease or diabetes. But even these small things have the potential to improve a lot of people’s quality of life, and they’re far more broadly applicable to the populace at large.
More to the point, these sorts of small improvements can lead in turn to bigger implications. Tracking the spread of certain diseases or patterns of progression for colds and other viruses, for example. Or being able to expand health collection information over a broader swath of the population. Apple’s already started down this road with its ResearchKit, which provides a framework to let health professionals and researchers collect information for studying health issues, and CareKit, which lets developers write apps that help people deal with their own medical conditions.
One story in particular, though, stands out in this arena: the report that the Apple Watch can reliably detect atrial fibrillation, which is often hard to recognise, even for the person experiencing it. I can speak to this, as one of my close family members has suffered from this condition for many years. While this kind of detection is a far cry from being able to treat the problem, it at least offers a peace of mind by giving a feeling of some agency over this kind of chronic and seemingly random condition.
I continue to believe that health is a big part of the Apple Watch and whatever other wearable devices Apple might make. While I applaud watchOS 4’s improvements, especially in the realm of personalised fitness notifications and challenges, I’m hopeful that Apple will continue to focus on these sorts of wide-ranging, envelope-pushing improvements that have the potential to change the way we think about our health on both a personal and a community-wide basis.