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The 10 most likely sensors in a 10-sensor Apple smartwatch

Jon Phillips | June 24, 2014
Once you begin counting up the sensors, it's actually quite easy to get to 10. But you can forget about a blood-glucose sensor outright.

6. Heart rate monitor. It does what it says it does. Basis integrated a heart rate monitor into its B1 Band in late 2012, and Samsung's latest Gear wearables, released this April, also include heart rate monitors. Farzaneh didn't specify, but I'll assume he's referring to an optical blood flow sensor, from which heart rate can be divined. 

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IMAGE: JON PHILLIPS. The Basis wristbands already do heart rate tracking.

7. Oxymetry sensor. This one measures blood oxygen, a key data point for reporting accurate pulse rates (and thus heart rates).

8. Skin conductance sensor. This measures galvanic skin response--or, to put it in gross layman's terms, how much you sweat. The Basis B1 band already has this sensor, which helps calculate exertion levels, and thus calorie-burn numbers.

9. Skin temperature sensor. Here's another sensor that's already employed in the Basis band. When you compare skin temperature to ambient temperature, you can get a better idea of how hard you're exercising.

10. GPS. Don't you want to know where you're going, and where you've been?

Blood glucose? Forget about it

So there you have it: Ten possible iWatch sensors, and not a single one is particularly unusual. In fact, it may take as many as 10 sensors for Apple to release a feature-for-feature competitor to the Basis B1 band.

And let's not forget that Samsung has already announced the 2014 arrival of its Simband, which includes sensors to measure blood oxygen and CO2 levels, heart rate, hydration levels, skin temperature, and galvanic skin response--among a greater bag of tricks. Granted, the Simband is intended to be a development platform and not a retail product for consumers, but with sensors that effectively put a miniature electrocardiogram on your wrist, it may represent the pinnacle of what can be packed into a health-focused wearable this year.

samsunghealth heartbeat
The Simband can reveal an unprecedented level of real-time health data, including ECG data. Only independent testing will prove if that ECG data is accurat

The Wall Street Journal report that started all this sensor speculation notes that Apple's smartwatch will include more than 10 sensors. So how might we expand on Farzaneh's list? Well, whatever you do, don't expect a blood-glucose sensor just because rumors have been moving in that direction, or because Apple employs a former executive of C8 MediSensors, a defunct company once dedicated to making a non-invasive blood-glucose monitor.

"I know a lot of the guys who are working at Apple now, and they would all agree that [a smartwatch capable of measuring blood glucose] is a little nutty," Ries Robinson told me in March, after iWatch rumors first started bubbling up. Robinson is CEO of InLight Solutions, a company that develops sensor-based measurement systems for life-science applications. He also has more than 20 years experience in developing systems for the measurement of body tissue.


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